There are certain elements that make a children’s book fantastic. First, it must teach; second, it should have great cadence; third, the illustrations need to be eye-catching enough to keep attention; and fourth, the author’s passion is present in the narration. Tarps Off! by Curtis and Stephanie Dracz contains all four of these features.
Curtis and Stephanie currently live in Beijing and operate Can Life Sports, a company dedicated to teaching the culture and lifestyle of sports. They primarily focus on hockey which is very foreign to the area.
“Building culture in hockey is new to China, so we have to be consistent with our messaging and education,” explained Curtis.
Curtis and Stephanie Have Success
There is good reason for their success. Not only do they have the foundation of teaching to build upon, but Stephanie is also in education. This translated to the development of Tarps Off!. There are many ways to educate a young mind; it doesn’t necessarily have to be traditional subjects a child would find in school. Tarps Off! focuses on the importance of a strong relationship between father and son, but resonates with any parent-child bond. It also uses hockey to drive home the lesson. “Tarps off” is hockey slang for taking one’s shirt off, as many players and fans may already know.
“There’s no right or wrong time for this (well maybe some wrong times), but it’s mainly used as an expression of having fun or celebrating a good time. That’s where it all started for this book—why can’t children have fun with this term as well.”
In the book, the son shares his day with his father. He excitedly gets out of bed. They exercise, eat, play outside, get a treat, and finally settle in to tensely watch their favorite hockey team on television—all situations that call for tops to be tossed off. Until his mother comes home, of course.
Curtis and Stephanie take aspects of their life to strengthen the writing. They have a young daughter, Avery, who does her best to re-enact the scenes of the story in real life—though Curtis admits it would be nice if she grasped making it through watching a full game, but that will come in time. Curtis himself has always been around the game as a player, referee, scorekeeper, coach, and even adding mascot to his resume. It all started with his father’s commitment as a volunteer to their local hockey association when he was growing up.
Stephanie is also an athlete and has competed on the world’s biggest stage. Though Canadian-born, she was an American competitor in artistic swimming at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. She earned a bronze medal during the games. Eight years later, she was paired with Curtis during Can Life Sports’ first Hockey Night in Beijing event.
Curtis shared, “It all started because we were both considered ‘athletes.’ It was nice to be in the same category as an Olympian, so I gave it a shot. Turns out we had a lot more in common.”
The two shared their love for sports, and after becoming parents, writing a children’s book just seemed right in line with their passions. Stephanie, with her teaching background, always aspired to create a children’s book, and Curtis began to admire the craft and genre more after reading to Avery on a consistent basis.
He laughed while reminiscing about the writing process. “Although it was fun, there were some ‘edgy’ times. With that said, Stephanie was great with making sure it has educational components included, such as telling a story in personal narrative, having word repetition, and recounting your day sequentially. I got to handle the business side of self-publishing —manufacturing, shipping, storage, and the Amazon set-up, so crafting the final product served our strengths well.”
One of the more underrated features of a children’s book is flow. The words don’t need to rhyme, but there needs to be rhythm. It not only helps the parent show enthusiasm while reading to their child, but it will also make things easier for kids when they get prepared to read themselves. Paired with the wonderfully unique illustrations of Erica J. Chen, an artist with a “small world” connection the couple found on Facebook, Tarps Off! hits all elements that make a great children’s book.
Curtis and Stephanie both used their backgrounds, shared interests, and love for their daughter to craft the read, and it is shown in the final product. The couple plans to make a series out of the book.
“The focus now is to get Tarps Off! in the hands of as many hockey fans as possible.”
Tarps Off! is a great read not just for hockey fans but for every parent and child to enjoy.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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