For the last eight years, Lashone Murphy has worked at the Morristown Neighborhood House to give underprivileged kids access to the arts, tutoring and recreation.
What she really has tried to deliver, however, is confidence and self-esteem.
Now she hopes to impart those essentials to a wider audience, via her first children’s book, The Day I Made the Sky Smile.
“It’s important for children to know that we all have a gift,” said Lashone, 37. “Just because your friends are good at something that you’re not, you can’t give up. You have to keep searching. It’s important for youths to know they have a gift, and they should have esteem, and they should inspire other kids.”
The Day I Made the Sky Smile tells the story of Savannah, who is “almost 10,” and her quest to find where she fits in her family and the world.
Although it’s a fictional tale, Savannah and her older brother Kenny are based on real siblings from the Neighborhood House, where Lashone is director of arts and recreation. She also serves as site director of STARS, the Nabe’s after-school program at the Frelinghuysen Middle School.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Autographed copies of The Day I Made the Sky Smile
can be purchased for $15,
Sept. 7, 2013, at 2 pm,
First Baptist Church of Vauxhall,
5 Hilton Ave.
The self-published book started taking shape just before Lashone joined the Neighborhood House staff, in 2005. At Kean University she had prepared for a career as a speech pathologist. But she also aspired to become an author.
On Saturdays she and a friend would visit the library in her hometown, Rahway, to brainstorm. Lashone’s friend urged her to write about something she loves–dancing.
While dance figures prominently in her book, it’s not the subject of the story.
“It’s nice to have a nice book and illustrations. But to me, it was important to have a message, to make kids think. If they have a situation down the road, I want them to think, ‘Miss Lashone said…’ and use that in their lives,” Lashone said.
Lashone projects a quiet confidence, which she credits to loving support from her late parents and solid faith.
Even so, she can relate to the uncertainty she sees in some kids at the Nabe. Shy as a child, she also felt out of place as a young adult in a church choir. Then she discovered liturgical dance–a form of worship–at the First Baptist Church in Vauxhall. It was an epiphany.
“I was in the choir because they asked me. But I realized it was not my gift. Then I saw dancing, and knew that’s where I should be. I thrived,” Lashone recounted.
She began filling a notebook with ideas for the children’s book. But responsibilities at the Neighborhood House soon took precedence, and the project was set aside.
While visiting family with her boyfriend, Lashone mentioned that she needed an illustrator.
“Hello? I’m right here!” responded the boyfriend, Morristown native Charles Caldwell.
Charles, 48, happens to be a gifted artist; the couple met when Lashone recruited him for a Neighborhood House art expo.
Their collaboration got the project back on track.
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“We pushed each other,” Lashone said. An illustration of Savannah’s father bears a striking resemblance to Charles, while the heroine’s mother looks an awful lot like–surprise!–Lashone. Their only friction involved how to depict the mom’s hair.
“We had an argument over that one,” Charles said with a laugh. “On the next book I will listen to every word she says!”
Hair issues aside, the book’s message resonated with Charles, a Neighborhood House scholarship recipient and graduate of the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
“All kids need to dream about something, no matter what they decide to do in life,” he said. “I can never tell you how to be successful. But I can tell you how not to fail: Continue with your dream and persevere, and everything will work out fine.”
Lashone’s dream right now is finding a publisher and finishing a sequel. The Day I Made the Sky Smile can be purchased for $15 from Lashone; drop her a line at LashoneM11@icloud.com