After retiring from the printing business in 2005, illustrator Mary Ellen Stottmann began playing around with oil painting as a hobby and a way to pass time. She was expecting a grandchild around the same time and began to tinker with creating wall murals of stuffed animals and puppets for baby Baxter.
A few years later, she met up with writer Linda Baker, who had publishing experience and also a desire to craft stories for children. The two decided to combine their talents and form Baxter’s Corner, a publishing company whose mission is to use creativity and storytelling to foster open discussions between children and adults.
The company’s latest book, “Gerome Sticks His Neck Out,” marks its seventh release and will be available this fall. The books are sold separately at Carmichael’s Bookstores and on the Baxter’s Corner website, or they come in packages along with stuffed animal puppets and those aforementioned canvas wall murals depicting characters from the books.
Each story focuses on an animal or insect as the main character and teaches some sort of lesson geared toward children pre-K to first grade. Each book also includes a Beyond the Storybook section that helps spark conversation between the adult reading the book and the child, plus gives informative facts about the animals, the lessons learned, etc.
“It is more important than ever that we foster the development of good character traits in young children now,” says Stottmann in a press release. “This will impact their behavior choices in the future. Our culture is so full of messages focused on instant gratification, self-advancement and even violence that we hope to counteract through our stories.”
Other titles include “Oakely in Knots,” about an octopus with anxiety; “Sideways Fred,” about a frog with short legs; “Ellema Sneezes,” about an elephant afraid to sneeze; and many more.
“Our stories have simple messages about responsibility, respect, cooperation, compassion and acceptance,” says Stottmann. “The whole purpose is to bring values back to our system.”
Stottmann tells Insider the Beyond the Storybook section was important for her and Baker to include because it’s intended to make it easier for communication between a busy parent and a child.
“We wanted to have all the followup questions right there at the end of the book to make it easier and more convenient for everyone,” she says.
So far the books have done well, and the more people find out about them, the more positive feedback she receives. Baker also volunteers at various schools around town and reads them to their intended audience.
And eventually, Stottmann says, she’d like to manufacture the puppets and stuffed animals that come with the books in-house.
Although her grandson Baxter is the ripe age of 11 now and has aged out of the books — “He doesn’t like me to come to his school anymore,” says Stottmann — he still acts as the company’s salesman, model, editor and critic.
“He’s given us very good feedback over the years,” she adds.
Baxter’s Corner also works with local nonprofit Cabbage Patch Settlement House each summer to help children write, illustrate and even publish their own stories.
“Gerome Sticks His Neck Out” will be released in the fall, and the other titles are now available at Carmichael’s, Amazon and Baxter’s Corner for $14.95.