A GROUP OF ANGELS

They say it takes a village to raise a child. But maybe, just maybe, it takes a group of angels to watch over children, over all of us. Certainly, it takes a group of angels to create a successful book.

I know I have been watched over by many angels. Among them Lee Wardlaw, who invited me to observe a writers’ group several years ago, when I was just beginning to write my “Books for Kids” column. There I met children’s authors Marni McGee, Valerie Hobbs, Mary Hanson, Hope Slaughter and Ellen Kelley.

Recently, I encountered these angels again. The setting: a Montecito Italianate villa with sprawling grounds. Young violinists, cellists and pianists played on the lower lawn while on the upper terrace there was a spread of gourmet cheeses and crackers; and wait staff circulated with platters of canapés and mini corndogs. Appropriately dressed in afternoon lawn attire, men, women and children mingled, exchanging updates on their lives with acquaintances old and new.

The event: the launching of Marni McGee’s latest book, “While Angels Watch.”

A visual delight, “While Angels Watch” has the sweet assurance so typical of McGee’s bedtime books. Angels have been on Earth since the beginning, the book asserts, filling it with colors, teaching the animals to fly and swim, rejoicing with all of Creation’s beauty and uniqueness. But, the animal kingdom wonders, do angels watch over children, too? Certainly, the cat tells the duck, angels love children, watching over them by day and guarding them by night. Designed to send the listening child into a peaceful sleep, it speaks subtly of a higher power – One that not only watches, but sends divine love, help and protection to all of life.

Adding art to its tone, Tina Macnaughton has captured the uplifting flavor of McGee’s message in soft, gentle illustrations highlighted with golden streams of Angel Light misting down.

When McGee’s friend, Nanette Giordano offered to open her home for the launching of this, her twelfth book, McGee indicated she preferred it not be all about her, but rather a benefit for others. So, this elegant afternoon was held to support the Music and Arts Conservatory of Santa Barbara, a program where children of all economic backgrounds may pursue their artistic abilities. Good Books, the publisher, donated 100 copies of the book and McGee donated her profits to the conservatory. Additionally, several of the original prints from the book were put up for silent auction.

Book Scoops

Writer Ellen Kelley has two books up for release within the next year – “Buckamoo Girls” this fall and “My Life as a Chicken” in May 2007. Hope Slaughter and Mary Hanson have books in the works. And a new member of the group, Angela Russell, is in the process of writing her first children’s chapter book.

Valerie Hobbs just released “Sheep.” Deftly written from the perspective of a dog, it is an allegorical story about putting together all the learning from all our experiences – the good, bad and even horrific. Jack is a Border Collie born on a sheep ranch. As a young pup, he eagerly awaits his time to take on the family job of sheep herding. But just as his training is beginning, the ranch is destroyed by a wildfire. Jack, his brothers and his sisters are sold and crated off to different pet stores.

Sold to a young girl, the energetic young pup finds himself chained to the house most of the time. So, at his first opportunity, he runs away. From then on, Jack’s journey is as much about finding his purpose as it is about finding a permanent home. Though he longs to be a sheep herder because he believes it is what he was meant to do, it is when Jack reaches out to someone who really needs him, risking everything for the happiness of that other, that Jack finds his own happiness. Underlying Hobbs’s story is a belief like that of McGee’s: that there are others who enter our lives, acting as angels watching over us.

McGee has two more books launching in 2006 – “Winston, the Book Wolf,” a picture book, in September, and in November, “National Geographic Investigates: Ancient Greece,” another of McGee’s works in the historical non-fiction genre.