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Inspiration station
by Mollee Francisco
Feb 03, 2012 | 939 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mary Casanova
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Hooked on Books organizers Mary Erickson and Lori Kendall feel like they’ve hit the jackpot.

While they’ve always managed to bring in successful and interesting authors for their annual event, this year they’ve not only snagged a Minnesota author, but a Minnesota author who just happens to be tackling timely topics with her latest books.

“We got really lucky, to tell you the truth,” said Erickson, who manages community development and services for the Eastern Carver County school district. “Hooked on Books … and the Arts, too” will take place at Chanhassen High School from 9 a.m.–noon, Saturday, Feb. 11.

This year’s event features the work of Mary Casanova. A native of St. Paul, Casanova now lives with her husband Charlie in the small town of Ranier, just outside of International Falls. She is the author of 19 children’s books and novels.

Casanova’s work is geared towards children of all ages from picture books like “Utterly Otterly Day” for young kids up to his-torical fiction novels like “The Klipfish Code” for older kids. Her catalog also includes a small, but growing, selection of “American Girl” books.

“The breadth of what she’s doing is amazing,” said Erickson.

Casanova will be joined at Hooked on Books by her friend and fellow collaborator Ard Hoyt, who has illustrated a number of Casanova’s picture books including “Some Dog!” and “One Dog Canoe.” He has 15 published books to date, including children’s works by TV comedians John Lithgow and Molly Shannon.


Casanova wasn’t born with a love for reading or writing.

“I didn’t get interested in writing until high school,” she said in a phone interview.

Casanova figures that being one of 10 children, writing was a way for her to “truly have a voice.” “I realized it was a powerful tool for communication,” she said.

But Casanova wouldn’t find a direct route to becoming an author. She married and started a family, working a series of part-time jobs as she meandered toward a career in writing.

“Writing was always something I worked towards,” she said, noting that she kept convincing her husband to give her “one year extensions” on her dream of becoming an author.

Casanova was 32 years old and working on a master’s degree when she stumbled upon a two-credit class on writing for youth that would put her on her path to success. She found inspiration in fellow Minnesotan Gary Paulsen’s young adult novel “Hatchet.”

“Maybe I have my own North Woods story,” she thought. Casanova’s “Moose Tracks,” a book about a young boy who witnesses poachers slaughtering a moose, was published in 1995.

“I thought I was lucky to get one book published,” said Casanova. But she wasn’t done yet. The books kept coming.

“I loved the craft,” she said.

“It’s a high art form to write for kids.”


Casanova knows she’s reaching children at a critical age in their reading development.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” she said. “I want to help further their love of reading or help them discover their love of reading.”

She also has the opportunity to reach out to those who show a passion for writing, which is why she spends plenty of time on the road each year speaking at events like Hooked on Books.

“I love if I can inspire them,” she said. “Writing takes courage. We leave our fingerprints on everything we write.”

Casanova displays a wide variety of interests with own her writing, covering everything from the great outdoors and animals to history and human behavior.

“I’ve learned nothing is off limits,” she said.

Her only rule for herself is that she sticks to subjects that have a personal connection.

“What I write has to have something I care about or something I want to learn about,” said Casanova. Her research for her books has taken her around the world from Belize to France to Norway.

“I love what I do,” said Casanova. “Each book, each year, each idea is a gift.”

Several years ago, Casanova was approached to write for the American Girl franchise. In 2002, “Cecile: Gates of Gold,” about a young girl asked to serve in King Louis XIV’s court, was published. Casanova has since published four more American Girl books including Jess, Chrissa and McKenna – the newest of which came out in late December.

“I really like writing for them,” said Casanova, of American Girl. “I get to write about what I care about.”

Erickson and Kendall are particularly excited to feature Casanova’s American Girl books because both the Chrissa and McKenna books they tackle timely topics of bullying and learning problems.

“They’re incredible teaching books,” said Erickson.


Erickson and Kendall love having the chance to make heroes and celebrities out of authors like Casanova with the Hooked on Books event.

“Hopefully, we’re inspiring kids to write and read,” said Erickson.

Regardless, the theme of the day is always fun with a variety of activities for kids of all ages. Among all of the day’s offerings, there are nature journals to be created, mini-cupcakes to decorate, dancers to watch, musicians to listen to and poetry to write. Each activity draws its inspiration from a children’s book.

“We’re celebrating the arts,” said Kendall. “All the things that are connected to books.”

Organizers work about a year in advance, getting all of the district’s elementary schools involved to make Hooked on Books a success. The event is expected to draw upwards of 1,500 attendees.

Now in its seventh official year, Hooked on Books just keeps growing.

“We’re always trying to add new twists,” said Erickson.

“That’s what’s really, really fun,” added Kendall.

“It’s a feel-good day,” said Erickson. “It’s a good day for the community.”

Hooked on Books…and the arts, too

Featuring: Minnesota author Mary Casanova and New York Times bestselling illustrator Ard Hoyt

When: 9 a.m.-Noon, Saturday, Feb. 11

Where: ChanhassenHigh School,2200 Lyman Blvd., Chanhassen

Ages: Geared towards preschool – grade 5

Cost: Free and open to the public

More info:


A video from last year's Hooked on Books is posted below.

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