Cherry Hill native Allison Schwartz wants young boys and girls in the township and beyond to understand, recognize and celebrate all the things that make them who they are.
That’s why the artist and newly minted author decided to take a big leap forward and publish her first children’s book, “Different Froggies, Different Toes.” Released on Oct. 1, the book had Schwartz crafting the words and message, as well as the illustrations.
“I had gone to school to study animation, because I always had a strong passion for cartooning, and I wanted to do something for my first book with a lot of illustrations so I could flex my creativity,” Schwartz told the Sun on Oct. 27.
Schwartz wanted to reach an early-reading audience, preschool and kindergarten-age kids, with a message that it’s completely normal to be different. She wanted to highlight how each person has personality traits that make them unique, and it’s just a matter of finding those traits and strengths and celebrating those in others.
“It’s a common message, but one that needs to be told a lot,” Schwartz noted.
Avid readers of a certain age might see the front-cover depiction of one brown and one green colored animal and think back to the award-winning “Frog and Toad” series penned by Arnold Lobel throughout the 1970s.
“It wasn’t at all intentional,” Schwartz explained. “Actually, part of my inspiration came from observing real frogs. But now that you mention it, I can totally see that.”
The initial sparks of inspiration for a career in art came in Schwartz’ own youth, when she watched Saturday-morning cartoons and played video games. Once she reached middle school, Schwartz found an interest in two-dimensional animation, thanks to a classmate of her sister’s who happened to own a Nintendo system that featured the Flipnote Studio app.
“It’s a very useful tool for young animators,” she revealed. “It was at its peak around 2011 to 2013. Young, budding artists could share their work with each other from a distance.”
Every young artist needs a mentor, and Schwartz found one once she arrived at Fairleigh Dickinson University four years ago: Professor Janet O’Neil. Yet it wasn’t until August 2020 when the idea behind the book took root. O’Neil was teaching a children’s book course where she required students to either recreate old fairy tales in book form or produce their own stories.
Once Schwartz decided to commit to writing, O’Neil further offered assistance with suggestions on how to self-publish.
Perhaps it is this standard tale of becoming an author, as well as her own origin story, that necessitated a desire in Schwartz to write about facets of existence that are not so similar.
She is an alumna of Cherry HIll High School East, class of 2017, who graduated from FDU in the spring. Both sides of her family migrated to the township decades ago after growing up In Northeast Philadelphia. What’s more, her twin sister Lisa also recently ventured into children’s books with her own work, “Sir Ken D. Kane and the Fabled Frog.”
“I don’t know if that entered into my mind, but again, now that you brought it up, it might have been something in my subconscious,” Schwartz said about the similarities.
Both books are currently available in both hardcover and softcover editions in time for holiday shopping and can be found on three sites: Target.com, barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com.