Author issues passports into world of words

Published June 22, 2007

When Elise Leonard taught math in upstate New York, she put her students' names in the word problems. They laughed and learned.

When Leonard became a stay-at-home mom she penned a romance comedy under the pen name Elise Lanier to keep herself busy.

Harlequin Next published it last January and reviewers called it "very funny."

Leonard's next evolution is into an author of "high-energy, funny, kick-butt kind of books."

She calls it Al's World, a series that targets young boys who are trouble readers.

The Al in Al's World is a kid called Alphonse Netti. He and his best friend Keith find themselves in all kinds of adventurous predicaments.

There are chase scenes with helicopters, a suspected escaped killer, a kidnapped old man and a runaway monkey to name a few.

"But in their bumbling kind of inept way, " Leonard said, "they're always saving the day."

It started when a small educational publisher approached her about writing books for children with underdeveloped reading skills, known as "high-lo" books. It was the first time Leonard had heard of the genre.

Researching these types of books, "I saw what was out there, " said Leonard, "and it wasn't serving the needs of our nation's boys."

Leonard figured she could do much better.

"I worked with inner city kids at the middle and high school level, " said Leonard, who now makes her home in Temple Terrace. "I kind of know what my audience likes: comedy and action."

But what she called action, the publisher called violence.

She basically wanted to put an action movie onto the pages of a book to get underdeveloped readers up to speed.

She found Simon & Schuster Inc. and moved forward with the Al's World series.

Four books are scheduled for release between now and the beginning of the year and Leonard said she has another eight "waiting in the wing."

Monday Morning Blitz and Killer Lunch Lady, the first two books of the series, are set to be released Tuesday and are already available for preorder on Amazon.com and the publisher's Web site for $5.99.

Leonard, 47, hopes that if she can make the book affordable and the stories easy to read and fun, "kids who think reading is horrible will pick up an Al's World book, will see that books are cool and then pick up another one and another one, " she said.

"I want to help kids build their reading muscles."

Amber Mobley can be reached at amobley@sptimes.com or 813 269-5311.

Fast Facts:


Al's World series book release schedule:

Al's World No 1: Monday Morning Blitz; June 26, 2007

Al's World No. 2: Killer Lunch Lady; June 26, 2007

Al's World No. 3: Scared Stiff; Sept. 26, 2007

Al's World No. 4: Monkey Business; Jan. 26, 2008


Author info:

Name: Elise Leonard

Location: Temple Terrace

Family facts: Leonard and husband, John, have been married 27 years, "and we still like each other, " she said.

The couple's two sons - Michael, 16, and John Jr., 14 - attend King High School.

Previously published book: Treading Lightly (Harlequin Next), about a middle-aged woman's battle with osteoporosis and life changes.


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