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‘Electro-Pup’ makes library debut

COURTESY PHOTO Author Jeff Baron has been taking his new children’s novel, ‘Electro-Pup’ to classrooms to get feedback from students so he can tweak the book before publication.
Author Jeff Baron has been taking his new children’s novel, ‘Electro-Pup’ to classrooms to get feedback from students so he can tweak the book before publication.

Islanders have met playwright, screenwriter and children’s book author Jeff Baron before. But they haven’t met “Electro-Pup” who will be making his debut at the Shelter Island Library Friday afternoon.

“Electro-Pup” is the third children’s book the part-time Islander has written in recent years and while it’s not a sequel to his first two — “I Represent Sean Rosen” and “Sean Rosen is Not for Sale” — “Electro-Pup” was “inspired” by a part of the second book in which the title character talks about wanting a dog.

HarperCollins published the first two books and Mr. Baron is still tweaking “Electro-Pup,” literally traveling the country to premier his story before audiences of school children in grades two through five because before he goes to print, he seriously wants their input.

That’s why he will be at the Shelter Island Library between 2 and 4 p.m. Friday with his live presentation of  “Electro-Pup” in which he will serve as narrator. But other voices are recorded, creating a theater-like experience.

His purpose in taking his newest book to students isn’t a promotional gimmick. He really wants to know what kids think, about everything from what kind of book cover might attract them to how various parts of the story ring true and engage them or what lags to the point where they might become disinterested.

The book has changed with the input he has received so far — he has cut out some dialogue he saw wasn’t holding the students’ interest in order to move forward more quickly to get to the funny and exciting parts that engaged them.

With his visits so far to 11 schools, public and private with different ethnic populations, the feedback has been very much the same whether the students listening are second graders or fifth graders, he said.

Even the way in which students expressed their opinions was similar in their language, Mr. Baron said.

So when he shows up at the library Friday, he may not find many surprises from the input here, but he’s still on a serious quest to tighten up the book and enhance its appeal.

The process of interspersing his own reading with voices of various characters has led him to also begin work on a podcast since he knows many readers are enticed by the oral readings.

Two of the voices those in attendance will hear are locals — Forrest Compton, one of the stars of the “Edge of Night,” the daytime drama which he worked on for 10 years, as well as “As the World Turns” and the comedy “Gomer Pyle;” and Maeve Browne, a young local who has done a bit of acting and seemed like the right voice for Becca, the character who seemingly has a crush on main character, Luke.

Other voices his audience will hear at the library are actors he knows or people he has met who have the right sound to his ear for the parts he invited them to take.

The teachers have told him that if he ever wanted a new career, he would be a natural joining their ranks.
“I love kids,” Mr. Baron said. “But I kind of like being a very special guest star,” he said about his classroom appearances.

After several presentations, his one concern was whether he was picking excerpts he thought would work well so the last few have been situations where the students got to hear 20 of his 24 chapters read to them by teachers and then he appeared to wind up what was a cliffhanger to present the last four chapters.

It was valuable feedback he received from the overall book, he said.

What’s “Electro-Pup” all about? It’s the story of Mojo, a dog who reads peoples’ minds and Mr. Baron describes it as a comedy/adventure featuring a cast of 14 actors and one dog.
“Electro-Pup” is intended to be the first in a series. He’s thinking about trying to shop the story to Hollywood as a television series even before the book is published, an unusual move since most books are published before they might be picked up for films, television programs or theater productions.

But Mr. Baron likes doing things his way and is not yet sure how he will proceed.

Teachers who have invited Mr. Baron into their classrooms have told him that they were impressed by how engaged their students were and he noted that in the classrooms he has visited so far, even quiet students who didn’t initially speak about their opinions became vocal during the 45-minute to hour-long sessions.

Having spent so many years writing for television, film and the theater, he still describes himself as new to children’s books. But his initial Sean Rosen book came out in 2013.

What’s paying the bills in the meantime, he said, is a play he wrote now celebrating its 20th year in production, “Visiting Mr. Green,” that starred Eli Wallach in its original incarnation. It is now making the rounds throughout the world with productions being staged in countries, including Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania and many other countries.

Because he licenses the play himself, he is still receiving healthy residual checks each time the play is staged.

And while he intends to move forward with the “Electro-Pup” series, he is also contemplating a new novel for adults. All he’ll say about that now is that it “takes place in heaven.”

While he’s seeking ongoing input from children, he hopes his appearance at the library will draw adults as well and he describes “Electro-Pup” as a story for “ages 6 and up (way up).”

Friday’s presentations will be all 24 chapters with each lasting about four minutes. Snacks will be provided, Mr. Baron promised.