Story Time

Kid lit is hot stuff this winter in Columbia. Ever since Eugene Field alighted on the University of Missouri campus, CoMo has been fertile ground for children’s literature.

The newest generation of talented local writers is churning out delightful creations for children and those who love them. Meet seven authors and illustrators riding a wave of success in modern children’s literature. Deeply committed to inspiring and educating children, these creative conjurers have taken ordinary life lessons to new heights as they spin tales of inspiration for their youthful audiences.

Barb Bassett
Author and Illustrator
You’re Never Too Big To Hold (2010)

Barbara Bassett decided to write and illustrate Youre Never Too Big To Hold in the hope of communicating what she calls a life-transforming realization. When hospitalized in her 40s, she was overwhelmed by fear; a hospital attendant held and comforted her for half an hour. Through this experience, Bassett discovered the genuinely therapeutic effects of physical closeness — for adults as well as children. “Through the simple act of holding, we can all comfort each other — no matter how ‘big’ we are,” she says.

The book’s bright watercolor paintings show shape-changing beings of all sizes and colors, called “pillow people.” These figures gently hold each other throughout different trials and tribulations, illustrating the author’s belief that “holding is for everybody.”

A Columbian since 1970, Bassett earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1990. Her book has been selling at Poppy, in downtown Columbia, since 2011.

“Honestly, I could go on and on about this book,” says Poppy owner Liz Tucker. “Although we displayYoure Never Too Big To Hold in the children’s section of the store, it is often purchased by adults for other adults who are going through some sort of trial in their life.” Tucker has sold the book to grandmothers buying for their grandchildren, children buying it for their parents and friends buying it for loved ones.

“Several times we’ve had customers purchase multiple copies of this book with no recipient in mind, kind of saving it until the need arises,” Tucker says “It is a very sweet, uncomplicated book that has done a lot of good for a lot of people.”
You’re Never Too Big To Hold is available for purchase at Poppy, Columbia Books and the Rock Bridge Hy-Vee florist shop. Buyers may also order it through the book’s website,

Dar Hosta
Author and Illustrator
Animalization (2010)
Doggie Do (2009)
If I Were A Tree (2007)
Mavis & Her Marvelous Mooncakes (2006)
I Love The Alphabet (2004)
I Love The Night (2003)

“Writing and illustrating children’s books was one of the most unplanned parts of my life,” Dar Hosta says. “After having my own children, my interest in visual art began to surface and I started doing regional art shows.”

At the time, Hosta’s art was exclusively what readers now see as her collage work present in her books. “Much of it had a playful, whimsical quality to it and no matter where I showed it, people commented that it looked as though it belonged in a children’s book,” she says.

After hearing the same feedback for a few years, Hosta decided to independently publish her first book — “fueled solely by creative impulse.” She hadn’t expected such success with I Love The Night, but the book eventually was picked up nationwide by both Barnes & Noble and Borders, won the Teachers’ Choice Award in 2004 and was chosen, along with her second book, I Love The Alphabet, as a featured member’s selection for Children’s Book of the Month Club.

Hosta encourages her readers, family, friends and fans to be more open to cultivating creativity in their lives. As a mixed-media artist, Hosta creates some works in collage and others as paintings on canvas. She hand paints all of her Japanese paper — called kozo — cuts it into different shapes, arranges it and glues it down before finishing each picture with liquid inks, oil pastels and colored pencils.

Most of Hosta’s books are “concept books” — they aren’t stories with a beginning, middle and end, but instead focus on ideas and concepts such as nocturnal animals, dogs and trees. Her inspiration comes mainly from nature, she says. “While I would love to be a funny, edgy kind of children’s book creator, I find myself firmly planted in a more lyrical, nature-inspired category.”

Born in Milwaukee, Wis., Hosta moved with her family to Columbia in the fourth grade. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri in 1992, and a language arts certification from Cleveland State University in 1994; she is also a Kaizen-Muse creativity coach. Hosta now lives with her two teenaged sons, Ethan and Caleb, in Hunterdon County, N.J., where she also owns and operates Dar Hosta Fine Art & Design and Brown Dog Books. Her parents and sister still live in Columbia, so Hosta visits often and still calls Columbia “home.”

In addition to writing, illustrating and making fine art, Hosta visits schools and classrooms to conduct workshops and readings. “I have a deep passion for education and, while I don’t teach in a classroom in the traditional sense, I have continued teaching as a visiting author/illustrator and artist in residence,” she says. “I love working with groups of kids and adults and making beautiful things for the world to enjoy. It inspires me and gives me creative energy. If these events happen as a result of my being a book creator, well, then that’s the best part.”

Find out more about Dar Hosta’s books and artwork at her website,

Michael Ray Palmer
Ballpark Dog (2011)

One night, after telling his children a bedtime story he had made up himself, Michael Ray Palmer realized that his kids enjoyed his made-up stories better than the traditional ones he read to them. Palmer decided to write a children’s book about the stories he had been telling. The stories are loosely based on his childhood, with a dash of exaggeration and some added detail.

Palmer’s first book, Ballpark Dog, is inspired by his experience working part time at a youth baseball park complex and a neighborhood dog that enjoyed frequenting the park. The book tells the story of a young boy named Cory, who has recently broken his arm and can’t play baseball for 21 days. Cory befriends the Ballpark Dog and discovers the Ballpark Dog has a secret of his own. Palmer describes the book as “how a little boy and a little dog come together for an adventure with a happy ending.” The story is colorful and dynamic, reminiscent of the ballpark summers many might remember from their own childhoods.

Although Ballpark Dog is Palmer’s first children’s book, it is not his first creative project. Palmer graduated from the Charlie Parker Music Academy in 1980. While there, Palmer studied under jazz guitarist Dennis Hurley and has since completed several musical works under the name eSTATIC. Palmer is currently producing, composing, arranging and collaborating with musicians around the world. His newest work is an instrumental soundtrack with an African percussive feel to it. Palmer moved to Columbia from Kansas City in 2005 to be closer to family.

“Everything I create, whether it be music or a book, I treat as a project,” says Palmer, who is also trained in computers and graphic design. “I look at it as a process that has a start and an end. The key for me is to keep the theme or texture of what I am trying to convey all the way through the project.”

Palmer also reads Ballpark Dog and Branches of a Tree to elementary-age children. “The smiles and engagement of the children are enjoyable and sometimes funny,” Palmer says. “I feel it’s worth the effort to take the time to impact a child in a positive way.”

Sadly, the real Ballpark Dog passed away last year, Palmer says. His legacy lives on in Palmer’s book.

Ballpark Dog is available on iTunes and Amazon, or by clicking on the Tate Publishing link on the Ballpark Dog website, Discover Palmer’s musical endeavors

Tracey Pfeiffer
Hey You Monsters! Get Back! (2013)
Illustrated by John Darkow

“I never really planned on writing a children’s book … it just sort of happened,” says Tracey Pfeiffer. Her oldest son, Wilson, was what Pfeiffer calls a terrible sleeper as he neared 3 months of age. After trying the pediatrician-recommended Ferber method to no success night after night, Pfeiffer found herself banging her head against a kitchen cabinet. She took up a mantra, “My name is Wilson and I’m almost 3, and I have a problem with bedtime, you see!”

Hearing the rhyme inspired Pfeiffer to begin writing Hey You Monsters! Get Back! “The more that kid screamed, the more inspired I got with the book,” Pfeiffer jokes. “So when you ask what inspires me, the answer would be everyday life!”

Hey You Monsters! Get Back! is a tale of a boy named Wilson, his fright of monsters lurking in the shadows of his bedroom, and the mysterious voice that keeps them at bay. Night after night, Wilson encounters monsters emerging from various places in his room. Just before anything bad happens, a voice rings out “Hey you monsters! Get back!” and the monsters retreat. Eventually, Wilson realizes the moon is the one saving him each night, and when it’s dark and stormy, Mr. Lightning steps in to save the night. Pfeiffer hopes the story helps children overcome their nighttime fears and helps parents get a little extra shut-eye.

Pfeiffer doesn’t have a formal background in writing children’s books, but she has enjoyed a lifelong love of rhyme. “I vividly remember being introduced to the world of rhyme by my third-grade teacher, Becky Cox. She made writing poems fun … and I guess it just stuck with me,” Pfeiffer says.

After meeting Columbia Daily Tribune illustrator John Darkow while working on a project with her husband years ago, Pfeiffer decided to approach Darkow to do the illustrations for her books. Darkow came to the Pfeiffers’ house and worked with their son to take photos as the inspiration for the illustrations. “He’s an incredible artist,” Pfeiffer says.

A graduate of Shepard Elementary, Jefferson Junior High, Hickman High School and the University of Missouri, Pfeiffer is a Columbia native through and through. While at Mizzou, Pfeiffer was a Golden Girl for four years until she graduated with a degree in secondary education, social studies. She then taught American history for four years at both Jefferson Junior High and Rock Bridge High School before becoming what she calls “Chief Domestic Engineer of Pfeiffer Inc.” Pfeiffer and her husband, Judge Mark Pfeiffer, have two sons, Wilson and Brady.

Although Hey You Monsters! Get Back may be Pfeiffer’s first book, it might not be her last. The new author already has other books in the works, and hopes they too will become bedtime reads someday. In the meantime, “Writing stories is a fun escape for me,” Pfeiffer says, “I just hope people take a look.”

For more information about Hey You Monsters! Get Back! or to purchase a copy, or

David Schramm
Author, Tell Me About Truman the Tiger (2012)

In 2011, David Schramm attended a University of Missouri women’s volleyball match with his wife, Jamie, and their four children. Truman the Tiger was there performing his mascot duties for the crowd and the Schramm children fell in love with the enigmatic, energetic tiger. Schramm realized how little most people, especially children, know about the MU mascot.

“Writing this book and seeing it all happen has been a really fun process,” Schramm says. “It was especially fun for our children, two of whom are in the book.”

Schramm’s favorite part about writing Tell Me About Truman the Tiger was researching Truman, writing the story and then waiting to see what the illustrations by one of his publisher’s illustrators would look like. Schramm has fond memories of reading Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree with his parents every Christmas. Perhaps that’s why his inspiration to write Tell Me About Truman the Tiger comes from his children, and the activities they do together, such as attending Mizzou sporting events. The book contains characters inspired by the Schramm’s youngest children, Aubrey and Hayden. The narrative follows the children on game day as they learn about the history of Truman the Tiger from their grandfather — inspired by Jamie’s Grandpa Johnson. Aubrey and Hayden discover everything from the “Fightin’ Tigers” from the Civil War to enjoying Truman’s famous tail spin today.

Born and raised in Payson, Utah, Schramm received his bachelor’s degree in marriage, family and human development from Brigham Young University, his master’s degree in family, consumer and human development from Utah State University, and his Ph.D. in human development and family studies from Auburn University in Alabama. A professor and extension specialist in the department of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri, Schramm and his family live in Columbia.

In conjunction with several local agencies, Schramm has launched March Reading Madness as a way to motivate children to read. Last year, 11,000 students in 28 schools in Jefferson City and Columbia committed to read more than 5 million minutes over the course of 10 days. Schramm plans to continue the program again this year and invite other school districts to participate.

Schramm has written another children’s book about mascots for one of his alma maters — Brigham Young University. The book tells the history of BYU’s mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, and will be available in the summer of 2014.

Tell Me About Truman the Tiger is available for purchase at Barnes & Noble, the University of Missouri Bookstore, Hy-Vee, Tiger Spirit or through Schramm’s website, to learn more about Schramm’s March Reading Madness program.

Michelle Spry
Author, Tom T’s Hat Rack (2013)

“I really had no clue what it meant to write a book, let alone create it,” Michelle Spry says. “I had a dream and a vision and had people willing to help me turn my dream into a reality.”

Although she and her husband (Midway Electric Inc. co-founder Brandon Spry) don’t have children, Spry decided several years ago that she wanted to write a book that would positively impact children — specifically at her partner school, Midway Heights Elementary School. Based on her lifestyle of paying it forward and inspired by the courage and kindness of her good friend, Tom Trabue, Spry decided to encourage others to perform simple acts of kindness for others through her book, Tom T’s Hat Rack. In May 2012, Trabue was diagnosed with stage 3A Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Trabue is a civil engineer and a partner with Trabue, Hansen & Hinshaw Inc. and KimberMedia.

As co-founder and president of Midway Electric, Spry is a Columbia business owner and community member who is active in the Columbia Chamber of Commerce. In 2008, Spry became a partner in education with Midway Heights Elementary School west of Columbia. There the Hickman High School graduate started a read-a-thon program with a fellow partner in education member, Tanya Alberty. Each spring, approximately 70 local celebrities, business people and community members are recruited to visit kindergarten through fifth-grade students at the school and read a story.

Tom T’s Hat Rack follows the story of a 10-year-old girl and her retired neighbor, a cancer survivor who recruits her to help him with a special project. The book is illustrated by Peggy A. Guest, a local illustrator known for her murals throughout central Missouri and the gnome sculpture she and her husband Joe created for a small community park in Rocheport.

The book also includes a set of instructions for readers to build their own hat rack.

“I hope that anyone who reads this book looks at hat racks just a little differently and smiles after reading the story,” Spry says. Readers are encouraged to build and donate their hat rack to a local cancer hospital or other beneficiary.
Tom T’s Hat Rack is available for purchase online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Locally, Tom T’s Hat Rack can be found at Village Books in Columbia and My Favorite Things in New Franklin. for more information.

Deborah Zemke
Author and Illustrator
Doodle books: Fairy Doodles, Sports Doodles, Doodles at Dinner, Doodles at Lunch, Doodles at Breakfast, Please Pass the Doodles, 101 Doodle Definitions, Chicken Doodle Soup

My Furry Valentine (2009)
How to Win Friends and Influence Creatures (2009)
Wishes for You (2009)
All I Want for Christmas (2008)

“I love the many and varied things that can happen when you put words and pictures together and have been happily engaged in that for more than 25 years,” Deborah Zemke says. The author and illustrator of 24 children’s books, Zemke has also illustrated more than 40 books by other authors, including children’s books, cookbooks and business and education guides. She’s designed one type font and two illustration fonts licensed by International Typeface Corp. Zemke has also created an iPad application for D is for Doodle.

The Detroit-area native arrived in Columbia with her husband and daughter when the flood of 1993 washed into town. She enjoys the local public library and praised the teachers she has met and worked with in Columbia-area public schools. Zemke works out of her Columbia studio, with her Border collie studio assistant, Abby.

“My first children’s book started with me doodling circles,” Zemke says. “The circles turned into people. The people started talking, and naturally, misunderstandings occurred, involving Mike, a bike, and an ensign named Barnacle Sue.” This particular story was Zemke’s first book, The Way It Happened, which was published in 1988 by Houghton Mifflin. Since then, her children’s books have received success and praise, including the popular Doodles at Dinner series. Zemke has also illustrated the bestselling The Night Before First Grade (2005) by Natasha Wang, and most recently The Deep, Deep Puddle (2013) by Mary Parker.

According to Zemke, she grew up “reading lots of books, climbing trees and running around with no specific purpose.” Her first published book was self-made, in which Zemke set the type by hand and printed the entire manuscript on a letterpress while studying visual arts at York University in Toronto, Canada. “After graduating with a BFA, I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in Detroit, Wisconsin and California, learning about type, design, print and the interaction of words and images,” Zemke says.

For the past five years, she has painted the majority of her illustrations digitally. “I draw on paper, scan, and then paint digitally on the computer,” Zemke says. “This lets me make plenty of mistakes that I can throw away without having to start all over. I like being able to do both methods: paint and pixel.”

Regardless of practice or process, Zemke is deeply invested in the way a story is conveyed. “The main thing is that every picture tells the story,” Zemke says. “With a book there are, of course, many pictures and the individual pictures need to be composed to move the story forward and engage the reader/viewer within the imagined world of that book.”

Zemke’s favorite letter is Z and she enjoys going on walks with her studio assistant and giving presentations and workshops to elementary, high school and university classes.

Zemke’s books are available through major and independent book retailers in-store and online. Zemke’s books are also available for purchase through her website, The D is for Doodle app is available for download through the iTunes store.

Top 5 Bestselling Hardcover Children’s Books of All Time
(according to Publisher’s Weekly, U.S. sales only)
1. The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey (Golden, 1942)

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne, 1902)

3. Tootle by Gertrude Crampton (Golden, 1945)

4. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1960)

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine, 2000)

Top 5 Bestselling Paperbacks Children’s Books of All Time
(according to Publisher’s Weekly, U.S. sales only)

1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams (HarperCollins, 1974)

2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Dell, 1968, and Puffin, 1997)

3. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (Dell, 1976)

4. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw (Firefly, 1986)

5. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Dell, 1973)