Author Diane Madden and her tortoise Neeps visits the Jay-Niles Memorial Library as part of the Summer Reading Program Monday, July 1, in Jay. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Jay — The Jay–Niles Memorial Library continued its annual summer reading program with events for children, teens/tweens and adults, each held on different days. The children’s event July 1 featured a visit from children’s author Diane Madden, who brought her new book to life.

Madden captivated a full audience of young readers with a reading of her latest book, “The Story of Neeps and Tattie,” accompanied by her pet tortoise, Neeps. Inspired by a trip to Scotland in 2019 with her friend and co–author, Amy Johnson, the book details their experiences and the adventures of two tortoises.

While waiting for the Loch Ness ferry, Madden and Johnson encountered a local gardener who mentioned her two 52–year–old tortoises hibernating in her refrigerator. Fascinated, they began researching land tortoises and decided to write a story for children, starting their first draft on travel brochures in the backseat of their rental car.

Madden said Scotland’s rich culture and history significantly influenced the book. “The landscapes and the people we met there brought the story to life,” she said. “Visiting Scotland was a dream come true for me, and I wanted to capture that magic in the book.”

During the event, Madden not only read from her book but also introduced everyone to Neeps. “Neeps loves to get out and interact with the audience too,” Madden exclaimed. Neeps, her 4–year–old tortoise was a star attraction delighting the young audience with his presence.

Madden shared more about the creative process behind her book, emphasizing the impact of her work with the Raising Readers program. “During my time with Raising Readers, I learned the elements that make a children’s book impactful at various stages of development,” she explained. “It was crucial for our book to be oversized with engaging illustrations, minimal text, and a font that’s easy for young readers to follow. If a parent can’t read or speak our language, they can tell the child a story from looking at the photos.”


Madden said they found an illustrator, Abigail Swartz from Maine to illustrate the book. Madden asked Swartz to include images of Nessie, the Loch Ness monster throughout the book for children to find.

As part of the Jay-Niles Memorial Library Summer Reading Program, author Diane Madden reads her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” in Jay. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Madden, as a new grandmother, said she finds great joy in sharing her book with her granddaughters, Leah and Sophie. “Seeing the expressions on their faces during the story is priceless,” she said. “The refrigerator scene always steals the show. Even two and a half year–old Leah knows that tortoises in a refrigerator are not an everyday occurrence.”

Madden touched on her long–standing friendship with Johnson and their collaborative process. “Amy and I have been close friends for years,” she noted. “She is a former teacher and has amazing organizational skills. Our combined work experiences allow us to work so well as a team, and she is always my voice of reason when we need to make any decisions about our book.”

The authors wanted their book to be a keepsake, opting for an oversized hardcover with a dust jacket. Madden added, “Our book is purchased by many grandparents and as baby shower gifts,” she noted. “Amy lives in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and is doing book signings, school visits, and library visits with her pet tortoise, Tattie, just as I am doing here in Maine with Neeps. Each year we give a portion of the proceeds from our book sales to tortoise rescue organizations.”

Looking ahead, Madden and her co–author have many ideas for future adventures for Neeps and Tattie. “We’re focusing on getting our book into the hands of as many children as possible, through bookstores, schools and libraries,” she said.

Author Diane Madden has a full house as she reads her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” Monday, July 1, at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library in Jay. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

Madden said a major milestone for her was the recognition her book received from Kirkus Reviews. “A recent epic moment for us was when we received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and were featured in their January 2024 edition,” she said. “Kirkus again featured us in February 2024, naming ‘The Story of Neeps and Tattie’ as ‘Best indie Book for Children.’ For more than 87 years, Kirkus has been one of the most trusted and authoritative voices in book discovery.”

The event concluded with a coloring activity. Madden made herself available for questions and book signings, creating a memorable experience for all attendees. The children crowded around Madden during the reading, and of course to get a better look at Neeps.

Madden’s visit to the Jay-Niles Memorial Library is part of her ongoing efforts to engage with communities and promote literacy. “I’m thrilled to visit local libraries and interact with children and their families. It’s wonderful to see kids excited about reading and learning.”

“Having a tortoise as a pet is a commitment as they live so long,” she said.

Diane Madden, children’s author, has a table set up with her book “The Story of Neeps and Tattie” on display at the Jay-Niles Memorial Library Monday, July 1, in Jay. Rebecca Richard/Franklin Journal

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