Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Greetings, Mom’s Choice readers! We hope this finds you well- thanks for joining us for another installment of our interview series. We were honored to get the chance to speak with Mom’s Choice Award-winner Lydia Cohn, who published the MCA award-winning book, The Story of the Can’t That Could.
MCA: Hi Lydia! We are so excited to get the chance to talk to you about The Story of the Can’t That Could and also learn a little more about the woman behind it. Can you start by telling us about yourself?
Lydia: I am one of seven children. The fifth child born. When I was five years old, my parents moved us from a very small row home in one county to a nice modest home in another county so that we could all attend public school in one of the best districts in our state. My dad worked in Data Processing at a bank in Philadelphia, PA. It was a good position but, my parents struggled financially due to all the needs of such a large brood. Soon after the move, my mom began going to night school to learn how to be a hairdresser.
She was only twelve when her father died and as a result she was put into an orphanage (many single moms did that back then so they could go to work). This experience made her determined that she would never do that to her kids. She imagined that if something ever happened to my dad, she could own a little shop somewhere to support the household and live upstairs with the seven of us.
Anyway, for a long time, while she went to school at night and literally passed my father on the train platform as he would be coming home, the seven of us took on many household chores. We had a very organized schedule posted on the fridge. Many of our friends and family would comment how our house was run like a ship. We all learned to cook, clean and do laundry. Even the boys. Once mom got her hairdressing license, she began working six days a week from 9 AM to 9 PM. I honestly don’t know when she had the time to write poetry. But, she did. I guess it was a way for her to relieve stress.
Both my parents grew up poor. Sometimes I felt like we did too, but I realize we had it so much better than they did.
My siblings and I all became self-sufficient independent people. I was lucky to find a great job with a small local medical instrument manufacturing company when I was just 14 years old. My first responsibility was to get the bulk mail pieces out as fast as possible. I got paid by the piece so I was fast. Really fast. My boss came in one day with a stopwatch and timed my every move. From that observation, he set standards for all of us. The others were not at all happy with me.
Impressed with my dedication and work ethic, the owner had me learn how to assemble products, how to package product for shipping, how to control inventory, and how to keep the mailing list up to date. Once I graduated from high school, I began working there full time. A year later, I married my high school sweetheart. The company continued to teach me virtually everything about running a small business…invoicing, accounts receivables, account payables, disbursements (with the exception of payroll), selling, coordinating the territories of the salesmen, booking their appointments, making their travel arrangements. You name it, I learned it.
Fourteen years later, I found myself in the midst of a nasty divorce. My ex was having an affair with a woman I worked very closely with and whom I considered to be one of my best friends. After I found out it became difficult to continue working for the company I had grown to love. All my assets were tied up due to the divorce. We sold our house and the money sat in escrow while the lawyers fought it out. I was lucky to find a small apartment before leaving my job but soon found I had no money in the bank, no credit cards, no job and I needed to earn money fast. I borrowed $500 from my mom and took a leap of faith by signing on with a direct sales cosmetics company, called BeautiControl. They were growing rapidly and I loved their product and concept of “dressing for success”. I learned how to do color analysis, how to choose and apply makeup and how to take care of my skin. Taking all I had learned working at the small company, and with the tenacity that ran in my blood, I climbed the ladder and became very successful as one of their top salespeople, Director and Trainer. Out of over 8,000 direct sales consultants, I ranked #13 in personal sales. I moved quickly up to management earning a new car every three years, trips, jewelry, and all kinds of accolades. As a Director (I had a down line of over 300 people), I placed #5 out of over 500 Directors. The sales my group produced at the height of my career with this company was 3/4 of a million.
Along the way, I met my now-husband. We’ve been married for 27 years, have two lovely daughters and are still madly in love. I left my direct sales business behind not too long after our second child was born. I just felt as though the girls needed more of my attention and my husband’s business had grown such that I could afford to take this time with them.
Now that our girls are grown and living on their own, I have a full-time position as CFO of Mid-Atlantic Events Magazine. My husband started this magazine 33 years ago around the same time I had started my Direct Sales Dress for Success business. Sometime around 2005, his bookkeeper took ill and had to leave her position and so I jumped in as a temporary fill in. Well, here I am several years later still running the back of the house for the magazine. Once again, all that I had learned from that job I took with the small company years ago, and all that I had learned from running my own business came into play. The position allows me to work my own hours so it never interfered with being available to our girls. And, now it allows me to be available to promote my book.
MCA: One of seven children! Wow, your mother certainly had a full household, and all while going to school and working full-time. and still finding time to write poetry! She sounds like a real superwoman. Can you tell us about your mother and her poetry and writing?
Lydia: We know that she began writing when she was very young. Her sister remembers my mom writing a poem when she was a teenager about their baby brother. It saddens me to know so much of her work was lost over the years. None of us recall her ever mentioning a desire to be published. Not even my dad. So, I’m guessing it was just something she did as a hobby. I know she loved doing crossword puzzles and she was very knowledgeable with grammar and spelling. I wish I knew more. I do know she would be floored to see what’s happening today with her characters being brought to life and so well received by kids and adults. Elementary school teachers have been particularly excited because the story is about the importance of adopting a positive mindset and apparently, “growth mindset” as they call it, is a big topic in their classrooms these days.
MCA: I bet she would be very proud to see everything you’ve been able to accomplish with her work. Tell us about the moment you decided to publish her work!
Lydia: Since I was a young teen, I’ve thought about publishing my mom’s poetry. But I had no clear vision of how to make that happen. I didn’t see a poetry book going over well with young kids. I revisited the idea several times over the years as the poems sat in a folder in my desk drawer.
It wasn’t until our oldest daughter, Jess, began working for Mascot Books, a hybrid publishing company, that the vision became crystal clear. She called me up one day and said, “Mom, I know you’ve always wanted to publish Grandma’s poems. Have you ever thought how each one of them could be a children’s book unto its own?”. The light bulb lit up! She was right! A brilliant idea! I had never thought of that!
A short time after, at a family gathering, she and I told the family of her idea to publish Grandma’s stories in a series of children’s books. I was so surprised to learn my siblings had forgotten mom wrote these awesome poems! And, their kids only knew of one poem, The Story of the Curious Elf, which was sometimes read to them on Christmas Eve, and incidentally, is the title of our next book to be released in the fall of 2020. And, so our journey began. Jess and I went to work to preserve my mom’s poems (now stories) leaving a legacy for our generations to come but, also sharing her creative work with readers everywhere.
MCA: Very interesting! What is it like for you, knowing that people are able to read and enjoy your mom’s work, especially after her passing?
Lydia: The very best part of this whole journey is knowing mom’s work is being loved and appreciated. It’s been a very emotional journey. I found myself holding back tears when I drove to my first live reading at a school. It made me so sad that my mom couldn’t be the one in my shoes. She would have LOVED reading to the kids. You can imagine, a woman who has seven kids, loves kids. I prayed that I could hold it together and yet I continued to hold back my emotion the entire visit.
It happened again when I was at my first Barnes & Noble “Meet the Author” event. When I returned home from that event, I pulled out the original typed poem which was written back in the 1960s, put it in a clear protective sleeve, put a picture of my mom on the backside and now I take her with me whenever I’m making an appearance about the book. I still get choked up when I show the original poem to people but, I am somehow comforted knowing she’s with me and she gets the recognition she deserves.
Another very rewarding experience has been witnessing my dad’s reaction to the book. Last Christmas, the book was in process. I had received the black and white storyboard pages which didn’t have the words on it yet. I’ve had this story memorized since I was in the third grade so, at our family dinner, I pulled out my IPad, showed the book in a slide presentation to the whole family as I recited the words. Dad cried. I knew he would. He’s a crier. Happy tears though. Once the book was released he was especially thrilled when I read some of the blogs about the book and the five-star reviews that were posted on Barnes & Noble’s and Amazon’s websites. When I told him the book was awarded the Mom’s Choice Gold Seal of Excellence, he was once again brought to tears.
My parents were very in love and mom’s been gone for eleven years now. He is so proud of this project and very grateful to Jess and me for bringing it about. We are so thrilled at how the book has been so well-received.
MCA: It is truly amazing what you have been able to do with your mom’s legacy. Can you tell us a little more about what the response has been like to The Story of the Can’t That Could?
Lydia: I am stunned and thrilled at the response to the book! This project has never been about selling books or making money. Our focus has always been to share mom’s stories because they are just too good to be sitting in my desk drawer. We want our family’s future generations to enjoy mom’s talent and marvel over her stories as we do. We have a fairly large extended family and I’ve especially enjoyed the reaction the youngest members of our family have had. They LOVE the character “Can’t”. Realizing now, that this book is so good that many, many other families and generations get to enjoy mom’s story, well, I just can’t put that emotion into words. It’s made this process so very rewarding!
I find this interesting…very soon after I had a copy of the book, and weeks before its official release date, I met a fellow author who happens to be a second-grade teacher. She was excited about my book and shared with me that it fit right in with something that was being talked about in all the elementary schools across the country. Elementary school teachers were teaching their students the importance of transitioning from a “Fixed Mindset” to a “Growth Mindset”. She invited me in to read the story to her class and that was so much fun. She was right. “The Story of The Can’t That Could” is all about adopting a “Can do” attitude. So, the timing of our book is absolutely perfect even though the story was written decades ago.
I was in a woman’s clothing store last April when I noticed there was a small children’s section with several children’s books in it. I asked who their buyer was and it so happened to be the person I was speaking with. I now had the book on my phone in color but still no words on the pages. I whipped out my phone, recited the story as I slide through the pictures and she LOVED it. She insisted on being the first store to have the book and so she was. She purchased 24 books! I did my first official signing at her store.
Truly, people everywhere just love this book. Kids love the adorable, diverse characters. Parents love the message and teachers love how it ties in with the concept and importance of having a “Growth Mindset”.
MCA: If your mom were physically here with you, witnessing where her work has gone, what would you imagine her reaction would be?
Lydia: OMG! I think her reaction would be exactly like mine. She would be so humbled and genuinely thrilled at all the fuss. It would take a little convincing to get her to come out to read her story but she’d be so hooked on how much fun it is to meet all the kids. The older I get, the more I find I am so much like her. I don’t however, have the gift to write. But, I do have the gift to market and share her work. I now know what retirement looks like for me. LOL.
MCA: Sounds like a nice gift to have! So, the final question I have for you is, what’s next?
Lydia: We are planning to release the next book in the fall of 2020. It’s a Christmas story called, “The Story of The Curious Elf”. Another one of my favorites. Here’s the beginning…
One Christmas Eve I went to bed.
“Santa’s coming”, Mommy said.
As I lay there, eyes half-closed,
Blanket pulled up to my nose,
I thought of all the things I might,
Get from Santa this Christmas night.
As I was drifting off to sleep,
I thought I heard a wee voice weep.
You’ll have to wait for the book to hear the rest!
MCA: Well after hearing the beginning, I’m sure it will be worth the wait!
You can learn more about Lydia Cohn and her award-winning book, The Story of the Can’t That Could by visiting her MCA Shop pages.