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Daughter inspires Woodbury dad to create book and costume combo for wee ones

Kaelee Mozingo, 2, of Woodbury reads “Monkey Do Good,” which was written by dad Josh Mozingo. She also wears the monkey costume that goes with the book. The two are part of Storysuits, a concept that her dad created as an interactive alternative to electronic books and toys. The costume is the same one worn by the girl in the story. Mozingo wrote the book after he discovered that strong female protagonists were "few and far between" in children's literature. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

This interactive toy Josh Mozingo created for his 2-year-old daughter, Kaelee, doesn’t have flashing lights or a touch screen.

“Monkey Do Good” is a children’s book that comes with a monkey costume that preschoolers can wear while they read. The suit is the same one that is worn by the book’s resourceful girl hero, who wakes up in the crook of a tree in the jungle and ends up helping the animals who live there.

Mozingo, a Woodbury resident, hopes to introduce the concept, Storysuit, on the commercial market. He and his wife, Tanya, hope to raise $30,000 on Kickstarter by March 20 to pay for printing and costumes. Mozingo said they were encouraged when Kickstarter named them one of the Projects We Love, symbolized by a red heart.

The idea for the book came to Mozingo as he and his wife were preparing for Kaelee’s birth. Gifts for the new arrival piled up. She got animatronic animals, talking books and electronic musical instruments. Mozingo felt that too many bells and whistles could make Kaelee a passive observer instead of a kid who exercises her own imagination.

“I came to realize that I’m going to be competing with electronics and things that offer a lot more stimulation than a book,” Mozingo said. “I thought that a creative way to get my daughter excited about reading was to pair it with a costume that wasn’t a princess costume.”

He didn’t want it to be a princess costume, he said, because girls were already underrepresented in children’s literature.

Before Kaelee was born, Mozingo read a study that examined more than 5,600 children’s books to determine the ratio of male and female protagonists. Male central characters were represented 1.6 times more than females, according to the study, which is titled, "Gender in Twentieth-Century Children's Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters."

“It kind of sat uneasy with me,” Mozingo said. “I really started looking at children’s books with a more critical eye. A lot of children’s books have female characters that are pink, glittery and kind of passive.”

A prototype monkey suit was handmade by prototype engineer Adam Murray and brought into compliance with industry standards by design specialist Kelly Salutz. They tested out the prototype suits and book combinations at a day care center. It was a hit, he said.

Writing the book took a lot longer than he thought.

“What I thought was going to be a weekend project became a two-year adventure,” he said. “When you pick up a children’s book you just assume there’s relatively little text so it will be easy to make it work.”

He created “Monkey Do Good” with illustrator Jessica Scheberl. He would read drafts to Kaelee to make sure he was on the right track.

“I think my daughter taught me a lot more about writing a children’s book than any class I took,” he said.

For more information, visit storysuits.com. To contribute, visit kickstarter.com/projects/storysuits/storysuits-presents-monkey-do-good.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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