Since the release of “Stay Where I Can See You” in September, Lori Samlin Miller has read her book to hundreds of children at numerous schools around the Philadelphia area.
Cherry Hill author Lori Samlin Miller loves stories.
As a child, Miller’s favorite place was the library. She enjoyed reading books and hearing her parents tell stories.
“My mom and my older sister were avid readers,” Miller said. “My father was a great story teller. He wouldn’t read from a book, he’d tell a story right from his head.”
As an adult, Miller has become a storyteller. A special education teacher for many years, Miller loved reading to her students. She also enjoyed reading to her four kids at home.
Now, Miller is creating her own stories. In September, Miller’s first published children’s book, “Stay Where I Can See You,” was released on Amazon, enabling her to provide joy to children all over the country.
Publishing her first children’s book did not happen overnight for Miller. The seeds for Miller’s future as an author were planted many years ago.
Becoming a storyteller
Sitting in the Cherry Hill Public Library with copies of “Stay Where I Can See You,” Miller feels at home. Libraries have been Miller’s favorite places to visit ever since she was little.
“We had a free public library nearby,” Miller said about her childhood. “Every summer and in after-school programs, we were enrolled there.”
Miller’s love of the library carried over into adulthood. She would frequently take her kids to the library so they could read and check out new books.
“I loved taking them to the library,” Miller said. “Getting them a library card was a huge deal.”
Miller also loved teaching. She recalled playing school as a child, even during summer break. She attended college at what was then Glassboro State College, graduating in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in special education.
For many years, Miller dedicated her life to teaching part-time and raising her four kids. During that time, Miller couldn’t find the time to write on a regular basis, though she was always coming up with creative story ideas in her head.
“There was no real time to dedicate to my craft, other than reading new books and thinking of new stories,” Miller said.
A little more than a decade ago, Miller decided to focus more on writing. She returned to Rowan University, where she graduated with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism and Creative Writing. Miller would go on to freelance for a number of local publications.
Piecing together a story
Miller became inspired to write “Stay Where I Can See You” about six years ago during a trip to the beach in Margate. She recalls being on the beach when she spotted some seaweed lying nearby.
“I went to pick up the seaweed and there were these little, tiny turtles underneath,” she said.
Miller specifically spotted diamondback terrapin turtles, a species common to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the eastern and southern United States. Miller had seen turtles a number of times before and had developed affection for the animals. Spotting the baby turtles on the beach, Miller realized how vulnerable they were and got the idea for a book.
“Stay Where I Can See You” is a fictional story based loosely on Miller’s experience. The story depicts a mother turtle and its babies as they try to avoid numerous dangers on the beach and in the ocean.
Though a fictional story, Miller wanted the book to be grounded in reality. There are a number of themes arising throughout the story.
“It reinforces something children should know: stay where your parents can see you. And for parents, keep your children where you can see them,” Miller said. “It also sensitizes children to other species and how precious they are. And it tells the story through the point of view of mother turtle.”
Another Cherry Hill resident, Frank Zampino, did the illustrations in the book. Zampino had previously illustrated a book released in 2012 called “The Final Swing.” The book’s author, Laura Wieland, recommended Zampino to Miller.
Miller said she wanted the pictures to be able to capture the proper emotions of the characters.
“I needed it to be the right amount of suspense for a 3 to 8 year old,” Miller said.
Miller said she was impressed with Zampino’s art and was excited to work with him.
Zampino was an animation major at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He said this background was crucial in helping him learn illustration.
“The background in animation really helped me,” he said. “I took storyboarding classes. That carried over into my illustration work.”
Zampino recalled listening to Miller and reading her story. He did his best to draw the picture of the story as she envisioned it.
“Picturing her story as it goes on, I’m picturing it as if I’m making a short cartoon about it,” he said.
“She had some really good input,” Zampino added. “We’d meet at the library and I would show her my sketches.”
Miller said she enjoyed working with Zampino and was very pleased with how the book came out.
“We worked it all the way through,” Miller said. “Sketches, taking it to the next level and then finished.”
Telling her story
As a first-time children’s book author, Miller knew she would have to do a lot of outreach to let people know about the book. Since the book’s release, Miller has traveled to dozens of schools, reading her book to hundreds of children. It’s something Miller absolutely loves. She tries to visit as many schools as possible.
“They’re mesmerized,” Miller said of the students. “They’re hanging on every word each and every time.”
“The kids just love it,” she added. “I’m thrilled. I couldn’t be happier.”
Miller also read at after-school literacy programs. She is passionate about childhood literacy and said it’s exciting to see the children get drawn into her story.
In addition to being an author, Miller volunteers once a week as a caring clown at Cooper Hospital in Camden. As a caring clown, Miller visits with patients in the hospital, providing them with some humor and a sense of comfort.
Around Thanksgiving, Miller was offered the chance to bring her book to the hospital to read to some young patients who were unable to go home for the holidays. Miller loved the experience and is hoping to read to patients again later this year.
Miller’s impact hasn’t just been in the Philadelphia area. People have purchased her book from all over the country and have left positive reviews on Amazon. Out of the 24 reviews posted on Amazon, 23 gave the book five out of five stars.
“I read a comment on Amazon that came from a reader from Huntsville, Ala.” Miller said. “Not only did they love the story, it is, from a science and environmental point of view, sensitizing young children to other species and presenting to them real facts.”
Writing more stories
Miller is not done with writing. She has numerous other ideas and plans to put more of them on paper in the future.
In addition to her work with “Stay Where I Can See You,” Miller spends time working on “The Kosher Vegan,” a food blog she started in 2015 where she provides dozens of recipes to all sorts of meals. Miller has more than 100 recipes on her blog and hopes to combine some of them to make a cookbook.
“For a vegan like me and a teacher like me, it’s always natural to put it in a form where you can share it with someone else,” Miller said.
Miller plans to continue reading “Stay Where Can I See You” at local schools and hopes to work with Cherry Hill Public Schools to possibly get the book included in the curriculum. Miller admitted the joy she is feeling in reading the book and seeing the enthusiasm on kids’ faces has made all of the hard work worth it.
“It took me six years, but it feels like it was meant to be,” she said.
“Stay Where I Can See You” can be purchased for $12 on Amazon.com. Readers can also learn more at Miller’s website, www.lorisamlinmiller.com. The website includes more facts about turtles, games and photos of Miller speaking at schools around the area.