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Friday, January 18 Living

Dissatisfied with existing children’s tales, Greenwich dad starts his own publishing company

As a father who treasured story time with his three children, Paul J. Collins found himself at a loss when shopping for books to read aloud.

Though colorful and sometimes engaging, most books lacked meaningful messages. What were his kids learning from these books?

So Collins took matters into his own hands. The Greenwich banking executive gave himself a second title: children’s book publisher.

His company, Moonlight Puppies Press, now has six books for sale on its online store, with more on the way. And they’re as polished as anything a larger publisher would release.

The lushly illustrated, perfect-bound hardcover volumes are written with humor and have memorable characters. The title character in “Tony the Tarantula,” for example, first appears to have a cocky attitude. He teases and shoves around the other kids at school. All the kids are anthropomorphized creatures.

In 27 pages, though, our protagonist is transformed from annoying bully to everyone’s buddy. His teacher, Ms. Ladybug, puts Tony in his place by staging some contests with his classmates.

They run track, lift weights and compete for the title of “deadliest insect.” Tony comes in last in all of these, bested by a tiger beetle, a dung beetle and mosquito, respectively. And he learns to appreciate the differences that exist between him and his classmates.

A preface reminds readers that “bullying is a problem we all need to address. Let’s create a positive and proactive mechanism to deal with it at every school.”

Each book begins with a full page devoted to another character, Professor Sci-Ants, presenting 10 “Principles of Life.” “Family is the most important thing,” “Appreciate what you have” and “Happiness comes from getting things done” are three them, and each book addresses one or more items on the list.

With humor and action, Collins avoids coming off didactic or patronizing.

“If you look, they’re all action stories. I think kids get captivated by action in a story,” Collins says. “I also think it’s important kids have a sense of humor. They like to laugh, and I like putting twists in my story.”

“The Seamstress and the Prince” at first glance looks like a Cinderella story. The twist is that the hero, named Caroline, was a brave soldier in the king’s army and came home after losing a leg in battle.

She hides her wooden leg under long skirts while competing with other bachelorettes for the prince’s hand in marriage. She’s an underdog, but she doesn’t give up. On an agile donkey, she wins a horserace to find the prince.

When she reveals her wooden leg, it doesn’t matter at all to the smitten prince.

“I love you for just being you — beautiful, intelligent, courageous and resourceful. Your wooden leg doesn’t matter to me, my princess,” the prince says.

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The story is true to form, mixing adventure with admirable behavior that rewards the main character in the end. Caroline believed in her dreams, had the courage to act and didn’t let handicaps hold her back, which are another three of the professor’s Principles of Life.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Collins moved to the United States in 1984. The Wharton School graduate is the son of Sean Collins, the Irish long jump champion of 1948 and founder of the Irish Equine Center.

Moonlight Puppies Press was incorporated two years ago and his first book came out a year later.

A portion of his sales, which could eventually include plush toys, will go to a foundation that he has established to support various charities, including Doctors Without Borders and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

So far, all the books are written by Collins and illustrated by contract artists such as James Madsen, Omar Aranda and Scott Brundage. But he’s been coming up with storylines well before Moonlight Puppies was incorporated.

His own children, when they were the age for bedtime stories, would encourage him to make up his own plots and characters.

“So I would make up a story with a prince, a crocodile or a bear,” says Collins. “I would come up with stories on a flight or a train.”

From his first book, his stories were infused with “values and morals and adventure,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want my kids to be successful, but I also want my kids to be nice.”

Lee Steele is the editor of Sunday Arts & Style. Twitter: @leesteele

Lee Steele|Features Editor, Sunday Arts & Style

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