BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY / AJT //

Thirty-three years and nine published books into her writing career, local author Maxine Rock has finally tackled her first children’s book. Rock penned “Adventures in Faun Forest” with the help of two very special collaborators: Julia, 9, and Rachel, 12 – her granddaughters.

Julia Schiffer (L-R), Maxine Rock and Rachel Schiffer pooled their talents to create a children's book.

Julia Schiffer (L-R), Maxine Rock and Rachel Schiffer pooled their talents to create a children’s book.

Now a full-length, published novel, “Faun Forest” began as a series of bedtime stories for Julia and Rachel. Each night, the girls would gradually shape the fictional world with their contributions; they also are credited with the editing and illustration of the book, respectively.

This, however, is only the latest development in a story that arguably began at the New York University School of Journalism, where Rock supported herself in part with her skills as a writer. She went on to attend the University of Michigan for graduate studies and then later accepted a fellowship to John Hopkin’s Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

She spent the next 10 years as a professional journalist writing magazine articles and news features for various publications. Then, in 1980 Rock teamed up with friend and physician Dr. David Taylor to write her first investigative novel, “Gut Reactions: How to Handle Stress and Your Stomach.”

The pair traveled around the country promoting the book together. Ultimately, “Gut Reactions” would be the jumping point for Rock’s string of publications to come. She went on to publish eight other informative non-fiction works on a wide range of topics, including “The Automobile and the Environment,” and “The Marriage Map: Understanding and Surviving the Stages of Marriage.”

For her tenth book, Rock decided it was time to try something new.

“All of my previous books have been about how to do something,” said Rock. “I wanted this one to be a legacy for my children and grandchildren.”

And so came about “Faun Forest,” the story of ten 10-year-old “fauns” (half-boy, half-goat) who inhabit and protect a mythical forest of other hybrid creatures. In the 80-page adventure, all of the forest folk combine elements of multiple real-world animals, such as the “furtles” or “pantahpusses” (fox-turtles and panther-octopuses).

“That brought forward a constant theme with the children,” said Rock, “which is that nobody’s purely anything. That’s sort of a political statement as well. I was encouraging them to be open-minded about everybody, because everybody has many facets to them.”

And beyond that lesson of acceptance, Rock and her granddaughters have also infused lessons about the environment as well as acceptance. The fauns – to each of whom a chapter is dedicated – must protect the forest from invaders looking to use its resources for their personal gain.

“That’s why, in a way, it’s just as much an adult book as it is a children’s book,” said Rock. “What I enjoy is that the kids really picked up on that.”

In addition to the larger contextual themes, Rock also made a point to write “Faun Forest” using adult vocabulary. She holds the belief that if a child comes across a word that’s unfamiliar, they will either learn its meaning from context or look it up in the dictionary.

“They weren’t just doing it as a bunch of stories,” said Rock of her granddaughters, “but they started forming their own ways of looking at the world through these stories. They knew they were expressing feelings about the environment and about people in general.”

Finally, as if the positive message weren’t enough, a portion of the profits from “Faun Forest” will go to cancer research. The decision was that of Rock’s daughter, Lauren Sue, named after her great aunt who died at the age of 7 from leukemia.

“I’m really happy with the book,” said Rock. “It turned out to be something that not only was a family adventure, but one that other people got drawn into as well.”

After some thought, she added, “And you know, 10 is a nice, fat, chubby number. I like the idea of it being my 10th book. There’s even a character in the book that’s named ‘Ten.’ He was the 10th and last faun.”

Rock is currently working on her next novel, “The Eaters,” a young adult science-fiction thriller. “Adventures in Faun Forest” is now available via call publisher Booklogix at (770) 346-9979.