BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times April 11-17, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
Back in 1974, Nancy Poffenberger’s son wanted to play the piano, but he did not wish to take formal lessons. Nancy devised a simple method, involving putting stickers with colors and letters onto the piano keys and preparing an accompanying instruction book. Soon, the neighborhood children were coming over and playing – and enjoying themselves. So Nancy, herself a 4th grade teacher, made up about thirty books and field-tested the system she had devised in various schools in and around Cincinnati. The teachers loved it, and before long Nancy Poffenberger was the author of Piano Fun Book One – which has now been in print for over thirty years.
The book was originally brought out by a small commercial publisher, but that firm soon folded. The copyright reverted to Nancy, and she reissued the title through her own company, Fun Publishing. Over the years, the original book was supplemented by several other “Piano Fun” books and by several “Recorder Fun” and “Xylo-Fun” titles. These titles, which have been featured in major publications regionally and nationally, all remain available. Nancy enjoys the extra measure of control over her work that comes with being her own publisher.
Simplicity is the key to the success of this series. Not only does it work for the youngest students, it works for older people who want an easy, tested method. It has also been a success in special education programs, in nursing homes, and elsewhere.
Fun Publishing became something of a family enterprise, as Nancy was aided by the expertise of her husband, John, who is a patent and copyright attorney. She even got John interested in authorship, and his How to Coach Winning Soccer, a basic guide for novice coaches, is one of their Fun Publishing titles.
Nancy switched gears from being the “music lady” to some new concerns soon after the disaster of 9/11 struck. A grandmother (now of nine grandchildren), she felt that young children were not being addressed in any useful way about such momentous world events. Television was filled with images and endless reporting and analysis, but there were no materials directed at children – who could only be shocked and confused by what the media presented. Inspired by a talk at a regional book fair in Indianapolis to try something “out of the box,” Nancy decided to fill this vacuum. In an epiphanic moment while driving home, she planned the book that she subtitles “a simple account for children.” Published in 2002, September 11th, 2001 is a straightforward, accessible narrative interspersed with illustrations by schoolchildren. The book was praised by educators and did very well on a national scale.
More recently, Nancy brought out a related children’s book – Iraq, 2003. This one aims at an overlapping but somewhat older audience. Illustrated by Val Gottesman, the Iraq book places Iraq geographically and relates regional events from 1980 up to President Bush’s declaration of an end to the major conflict in May of 2003. Teachers value it because it enables them to fulfill state education requirements in geography, history, and current events in an interesting way.
Nancy Poffenberger is a Northwestern University graduate and winner of the university’s outstanding student-teacher award. She taught Elementary school in Palo Alto, California, and attended graduate school at Boston University before settling in Cincinnati. She and her husband began visiting Naples for winter vacations about ten years ago. Recently, their Naples time has increased – and now they have become Florida residents and spend about half of the year here. And Florida must be getting into Nancy’s blood. She hinted that she is working on a new book with a Florida focus.
Nancy presents hands-on workshops around the country using her keyboards, recorders and xylophones, along with the music books she has written. These programs are perfect for children, teachers, or retirement centers. She has also branched out as a motivational speaker, with such topics as “Music for Life: Making Music on Your Own” (suitable for all ages), “Stirring Your Creative Juices After 50” (age group obvious), and “Bringing Your Book to Life: From Idea to Print.”
Nancy Poffenberger’s books are available from major book retailers and from her own website, funpublishing.com. To engage her for a demonstration or as a motivational speaker, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at email@example.com.