Dawn Menge is the author of a series of books revolving around Queen Vernita. Educational in nature, Menge’s books are designed to be used in the classroom at a variety of age levels. So far, only Queen Vernita’s Visitors and Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains have been released; three more books are due out. Her books are currently published by Outskirts Press.
Menge was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to do a Q&A with me.
AC: How did you get started writing children’s books?
DM: I have a clear credential and masters in special education. I previously held a national preschool credential and I have worked in elementary schools. I have worked with the severely handicapped students for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools for fourteen years. I currently teach in a storefront with the 18-22 year-olds. Our focus is functional/vocational skills. I first wrote Queen Vernita’s Visitors as an assignment in a math course for my credential.
I also have three children ages 26, 24, and 21 and three grandchildren 5, 3, and 1 month.
AC: Where did Queen Vernita originate?
DM: Queen Vernita is based on my grandmother Vernita. All of the characters are real people in my life. The adventures are in the book are based on activities that we have been involved in. Queen Vernita’s focus is on the flora and fauna of Alaska.
AC: It is said that Queen Vernita is based upon experiences and friends in your life. Would you care to share a particular incident or person that influenced a part of this book?
DM: The ideas I get for my books are based on my travels. This summer I spent time in several states including Idaho and Hawaii. The experiences that I had with my friends and families are the influences that I use. Most characters are based on their birth month but the subject they learn for the month is based upon their personality. When I went to Kona this summer I spent it with two classmates that I have known since I was in the fifth grade, also their families and mine. The fourth book will be based on this trip. It is going to be called Queen Vernita Visits the Enchanted Islands. We swam with the turtles, swam inside the lava tubes, and learned about sea horses.
The third book entitled Queen Vernita Meets Sir HealthyBean the Astronomer was coauthored with my brother Heath Rhoades. Heath is the team lead astronomer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Table Mountain, California. He specializes in software and technology for the optical telescope systems. Mr. Rhoades participates in asteroid and comet astrometry and is conducting research in asteroid light curve studies, as well as training and assisting visiting scientists.
AC: Please give me a brief synopsis of the first book, Queen Vernita’s Visitors.
DM: Queen Vernita is based on the months of the year, days of the week, seasons, and it even includes knowledge of leap year. In each month, a new character comes to visit Queen Vernita. During the seven days of the week, there is a new activity.
AC: Two books exist about Queen Vernita. The end of Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains insinuates another sequel. What will the next installment feature?
DM: The third in the series will be Queen Vernita Meets Sir HealthyBean the Astronomer. The fourth will be Queen Vernita Visits the Enchanted Islands. The fifth is Queen Vernita Visits the Volcanic Valley, which is based on volcanic activity and the effects in the environment.
AC: How has your work with the severely handicapped population had an impact on your writing career?
DM: Starting with my third book I have included characters that have disabilities to help educate the readers. I will be including visual impairments, autism, Down Syndrome, deaf, etc.
It is my passion to educate the public on disabilities and to promote our population’s abilities rather than their disabilities.
[The following is an excerpt from her upcoming book Queen Vernita Meets Sir HeatlhyBean the Astronomer.]
Glen was born with Down Syndrome. This means that she has an extra 21 chromosome. A chromosome is made of proteins and DNA. Chromosomes are what we are born with and they make us different from everyone else.
On Monday, Glen learned that Pluto is a Dwarf planet. Pluto is part of the Kuiper Belt, which is a collection of small icy bodies on the outer edge of our solar system.
On Tuesday, Glen learned that Pluto is thought to be made of ice and rock.
On Wednesday, Glen learned that a day on Pluto, or one full rotation around it axis takes about six Earth days.
On Thursday, Glen learned that Pluto has 3 moons called Charon, Nix, and Hydra.
On Friday, Glen learned that Pluto was named for Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.
On Saturday, Glen learned is the tenth largest body that orbit’s the sun.
On Sunday, Glen learned that Astronomers think the temperature of Pluto could be as low as -375 ºF.
Glen was very interested in learning all about Pluto.
” What was your favorite part of learning all about Pluto” Asked Cora the teacher.
“Pluto was the best thing that I learned.” replied Glen.
“The 30 days of November went by so quickly, I can’t believe that it is over already.” Queen Vernita exclaimed. “Next month is December the beginning of the season of winter and the last month of the year.
AC: What is your purpose in writing this series? What would you like parents, children, or teachers to get from it?
DM: I would like parents and teachers to use each month as a catalyst for further research into each subject. If a child is interested in learning further about seals or crabs they can make a trip to the library or research on the Internet. There are also many outdoor activities which families can enjoy, as in snorkeling, camping, horseback riding, or bowling.
The books have been recommended for ESOL: classes even at the middle school level.
AC: What is your advice to any young fans who are feeling particularly inspired by your books?
DM: For anyone who would like to write or do anything in their life. They just need to do it. Everyone should be doing what they have a passion for and what their hearts tell them to. The love for what they are doing will come out and many will benefit.
AC: Dawn, thank you so much for your time!