SPRING HILL — A local writing teacher, putting her skills to commercial use, played a key role in producing a children's game recently honored by a California company that recognizes family-friendly products.
Ellen Paul, who teaches English composition at the Spring Hill campus of Pasco-Hernando State College, responded to a query for a writer on a freelance writing website two years ago. The post, from Betty Delman, of Buford, Ga., sought a writer to help her develop a game teaching responsibility for children and pets.
Paul was a good fit.
"I've been a writer for years and years and years," said Paul, 66, "and in animal rescue for years."
"Betty (Delman) came up with the concept, but she's not a writer, not a designer," Paul said.
Delman initially proposed a set of trading cards picturing popular pets with a story about each one on the reverse side. Paul suggested adding questions for adults to ask children, which put the game into the educational toy category. The game targets 4- to 9-year-olds.
Further brainstorming by a team that eventually included other pet enthusiasts and early learning specialists produced Happy Kids-Happy Pets, five sets of 55 collectible cards, each with an accompanying CD.
On the recordings, child actors read stories of life learnings by the featured pets, which young listeners can translate to lessons for themselves, Paul explained.
"One story is about a dog being bullied," she noted. Another set deals with choosing the right dog for the household, considering size, energy levels, exercise requirements and kid-friendliness. Other sets focus on dog care and cat care.
"They're all written to help a child become a more giving, healthier, happy, loving, gentle person," Paul said. "Many of the stories conclude with a probing question that relates to the story. A parent, teacher or adult can generate an insightful conversation by asking the teachable-moment question."
Two years after Delman came up with the idea, the team introduced the game in March at the American Pet Products Association convention in Orlando.
There it was nominated in the pet category for a Family Choice Award from the Family Magazine Group, said Candace Evans, who runs the award program.
The volunteers who nominate the games and toys include about 300 college instructors, parents, business owners and humane society members, Evans said. A panel of judges picks the winners.
They use a formula to rate the products, but can also take into account the evaluators' comments. Among the comments about Happy Kids-Happy Pets:
"Innovative and relatable to every age."
"Addresses life lessons each child encounters and can utilize."
"Empowers the child to subliminally understand the essentials of self confidence for themselves and their pets."
The team of creators paid the awards program entry fees of $50 for each set of cards and for the complete package.
According to the program's website, the Best Toy, Pet Category listed 53 winners. Other categories ranged from one winner in Teens and 'Tweens to 77 winners in Babies and Parenting. Across 14 categories, winners totaled 263.
Happy Kids-Happy Pets is available online at HappyKids-HappyPets.com for $17.95 plus shipping and handling from Atlanta, Ga. It is being manufactured at a plant in Pennsylvania.
"We're already working on a second series," Paul said, "because we keep coming up with ideas."
Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]