What happens when a mother and daughter team up to write? An award-winning book series is born.
During the pandemic, longtime Cherry Hill resident Norma E. Roth and her daughter, Shayna Penn, wrote a children’s book together named for their dog, “Lovable Lucy,” its main protagonist.
Penn was working as a theater stage manager in New York when she found herself among those laid off during COVID. After several months of isolation, she was invited to move back with her parents and their pet, Lovable Lucy, in Florida.
It was during that time that Penn reinvigorated an old conversation with her mother about writing a book together. When her kids were younger, Roth was a correspondent for the Burlington County Times newspaper and a medical blogger for South Jersey Radiology. She also held other writing jobs.
“I had this fruitful writing career and my kids wanted to write a book about Lovable Lucy, our dog, because she had so many adventures in her life, and wouldn’t be fun to write that?” Roth recalled. “At the time, I didn’t really want to do it, but Shayna wanted to do it with me.
” … When she moved in with us, she asked if I would reconsider doing this because she made it a happy project and she needed something positive to focus on. And I agreed.”
Penn is now living in Los Angeles, but continues to work actively on a fourth book. The “Lovable Lucy” are award-winning, early-reader books focusing on the Roth pet as the main character. She explores the world around her with her family, her neighbors and canine friends. Roth explained that the stories are all told through Lucy’s perspective and the things that she’s experiencing and feeling.
Roth and Penn wanted to explore social and emotional growth of children ages 2 to 7 through Lucy. They do so by taking the dog’s experiences in real life, relating it to the dog in the book and making it all relatable for kids to be able to see themselves in different situations. They were committed to diversity, intentionally making Lucy’s human family a blended one.
In the early days, as they developed their manuscript, mother and daughter worked with a focus group of parents, educators and kids primarily from the Cherry Hill area and got advice and feedback that was incorporated ino their texts. Roth noted that their work was also inspired by Penn’s experience growing up in the township schools, and she praised the district for its diversity and inclusion.
Since their first book, “Little Lovable Lucy’s Big Day,” Roth and Penn have written two others and have a fourth in the works. The books have won multiple awards, including the Mom’s Choice Awards, Reader Views awards and the noted Kirkus Reviews Recommended Review award.
But their second book has been banned in Florida for featuring two men standing together beside a rainbow mailbox. Roth noted that the mailbox was what got it flagged.
“We also believe that diversity in any book, and especially in children’s books, matters,” Roth noted. “It really matters to the children, and you don’t really realize that until you start looking at a book from one perspective.
“… We’re really proud to reflect the communities that we live in in our stories, and the people that we met along the way, and they’re there also.”
The pair’s latest book – published in August – features a deaf character based on a childhood friend of Penn’s – and Lovable Lucy gets to meet the character’s service dog.
“Shayna was really committed to having a character in the book be deaf like her girlfriend, and I think it’s a good thing, because hearing-impaired people are all around us, and differently abled people are all around us, and I think that’s important for that to be reflected in children’s stories as well.”