BOOK CUBBY: Houston Children's Book Authors

WANDA AND THE OBLAHLAHS - What's an Oblahlah?

by Lorel Kane


       
Wash your hands! Brush your teeth! Throw out that gum before you go to bed!  Haven't all parents barked orders like that to their kids every now and again?  Of course.  Do the kids listen?  Not always.  In fact, if you tell your kids the same things over and over they may just tune you out.

         So, what's a parent to do?  Houston businessman Joe Sutton decided more than 30 years ago the best way to get his rambunctious daughters to obey was to tell them a story.  One of those stories is now a book, called Wanda and the Oblahlahs.

         Sutton was a Colonel in the Army when he first conjured up the character of Wanda.  Since he always told his young daughters bedtime stories, he  decided to turn that ritual into something more.  He channeled some of life's lessons through Wanda, a little girl who didn't always listen to her mom and dad. "My oldest daughter (Gretchen) was about three and my youngest (Megan) was just born.  My older daughter liked to chew gum and we had a difficult time getting her to take it out when she went to bed. I invented Wanda to drive home the point."

         Sutton drove home that point by telling Gretchen how Wanda, who also refused to spit out her bubble gum, woke up one morning unable to talk.  All she could say was,  "Oblahlah, oblahlah," pronounced OO'-blah-lah. "The Oblahlahs are just the sound I thought one might make if his vocal cords were stuck together with gum, "Oblahlah, Oblahlah," he explained.

         Wanda became the vehicle for many other lessons, like picking friends, the dangers of straying from home, and manners. "Wanda was like a girl's version of Dennis the Menace.  Her misadventures turned story time into a beloved family tradition," Sutton said.

         Sutton says his daughters never resented turning that family tradition into what people now call a "teaching moment."  In fact, they often asked him to "tell us a Wanda story," when their friends came for sleep-overs.

         After repeated tellings, Sutton's sister, artist Jane Sutton Frawley, got involved with the story. "My sister came to visit our family and heard me tell the girls the Wanda story at bedtime.  She was so taken by the story, she said I should make it into a book and she would do the illustrations.  She is a fine artist and did an incredible job interpreting my words."

         That was 36 years ago.  Sutton was in the Army back then and didn't really think about publishing a book.  In fact, Sutton said, he actually forgot about the book idea.  Yet, he never forgot Wanda, continuing to tell her stories to his five grandchildren.

        Several years ago Megan, now the mother of two sons, found the original transcript and illustrations in a shopping bag in Sutton's attic. "When Megan found the book, it was her idea to publish it," Sutton recounted.          

         Now Wanda and the Oblahlahs  is available for all parents to share with their children.  Sutton says sharing stories with children and grandchildren is a wonderful bonding opportunity. "Too many times parents substitute television, video games and the internet for that interaction.  Just tell them a story, made up or real life.  They love it," Sutton advises.

       Wanda and the Oblahlahs is just one of many stories Sutton made up over the years. "I don't think I've ever counted how many stories I've made up, to be honest.  Storytelling comes very naturally to me.  I feel like it's a way to nurture one's creativity." He says some of those other stories might also become books one day, too.

         Sutton is donating all proceeds from Wanda and the Oblahlahs to charity.

 





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