Author promotes literacy at children’s hospital

Ten years ago, a car accident terminated Fairfield resident Joseph Shandrowski’s career as an electrician. But it did spark his imagination and his desire to make others, particularly children, happy.

“I could relate a little bit, and wanted to get some smiles on their faces,” Shandrowski said.

He returned to school and started writing, eventually publishing his own children’s book, “Huga Tuga in Letter World.” The book hit the shelves in September 2001. Huga Tuga is a blue whale who teaches a fictional girl about the origins of words and, Shandrowski hopes, teaches real children to be imaginative while making them more literate.

On Wednesday afternoon, Shandrowski and his sister-in-law Jill Marino — also the book’s illustrator — brought the Huga Tuga Literary and Creative Workshop to the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. Seven young children gathered to watch the Huga Tuga show, an educational and theatrical program that encourages children in kindergarten through third grade to explore the boundaries of their imaginations.

“We want kids — to believe in the idea that anything is truly possible,” Shandrowski said. “If you follow your imagination, believe in your ideas, you can make it. You see it everyday in the hospital.”

Shandrowski said Wednesday’s event was Huga Tuga’s first appearance in the hospital. The author and illustrator duo generally make appearances in elementary schools in Connecticut. In the 2001-02 school year alone, Shandrowski said Marino and he delivered their program to over 5,000 children in 14 schools.

“We go into schools about two weeks prior to the show to introduce ourselves to the kids, and we build up the excitement that way,” Shandrowski said. “We’ve been to 14 schools this year, and all 14 have said they would like us to come back.”

Approximately 20 people, including pediatric patients, their family members and nurses, attended the workshop, which included storytelling, coloring activities and games. During the show, aMarino and Shandrowski read their book, which is the first of the “Wonder Series.”

“[The series] is about all that we ever wonder about,” Marino said.

Shandrowski said an exhibit featuring Beluga whales in Orlando, Florida’s Sea World inspired the image of Huga Tuga. For the future, Shandrowski said Marino and he are working on a Huga Tuga television show with a California-based production company. A soundtrack is also in the works.

Although Huga Tuga is not the only group around that conducts such shows for children, Shandrowski said Huga Tuga is unique in comparison to other performing authors and illustrators.

“We have an advantage in that all of the work is done on our own,” said Shandrowski.

He also said Huga Tuga is trying to get more exposure. By the end of this school year, Shandrowski said he hopes the program will reach a total of at least 40,000 children and will continue to leave a lasting impression on its audience.

“It’s good to know when we go back that our name is still bouncing around,” Shandrowski said.

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