The Birth of Mason Goes Mushrooming
Mason Goes Mushrooming, by Melany Kahn, is an enchanting children’s book that follows a young Vermont boy and his dog on their mission to hunt edible mushrooms. You would never know that it is the author’s first book, until you speak with Melany about her experience bringing it to life. To turn a passing thought into words on a page is rarely a straightforward process, but Melany put in the work and Mason Goes Mushrooming successfully debuted this past October.
Many stars aligned to make this possible. When Melany began writing the book, she was already well versed in the art of storytelling, with a BA in English/Creative Writing from Wesleyan University and an MFA in Film from The Tisch School at NYU. Plus, Melany had good insight on what children, the target audience for her book, enjoy. Along with her other degrees, she has a Masters in Social Work from Boston College, as well as years of experience working with children in a court setting. Not to mention that she’s raised four children, two biological and two “bonus.”
She wanted to write this book to introduce more kids to the wonderful world of mushrooms and the excitement of hunting for them. That’s why it was important for her to write it from the perspective of a child. There are plenty of mushroom books in the world, but most of them are geared towards adults.
“I always had the idea in my head that this would be a great children’s book,” Melany said of the concept that became Mason Goes Mushrooming.
Melany believes that mushrooming is a wonderful pastime for people of all ages. She has been hunting for mushrooms in Vermont since her own childhood, when she learned how to forage from her parents – the late abstract painter, Emily Mason, and the late landscape painter, Wolf Kahn. Once she started her own family, she began frequently taking her children (and pets) out into the woods to look for mushrooms. She referred to the activity as “taking a walk with a purpose.” Fun fact: the title character, Mason, is named after and based on Melany’s son.
The practice of taking these mushrooming walks eventually expanded outside of the family. Growing up, the real Mason attended the Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro, VT. During this time, Melany began teaching other students about mushrooming. She is passionate about hands-on learning, passing on practical skills, and educating children on subjects they’re naturally curious about. So, for the last 20 years, she has volunteered to lead school groups and mushroom clubs through the forest to gather and identify edible mushrooms. Part of her curriculum includes explaining the culinary aspects of mushrooms through recipes, cooking demonstrations, and tastings. This is how she came up with the idea to add recipes, an unusual thing to find in a children’s book, to Mason Goes Mushrooming.
Another significant feature of the book is its beautiful watercolor illustrations by Ellen Korbonski. Melany met Ellen during her time at both Wesleyan and NYU and they’ve stayed in touch ever since. After lockdowns had lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ellen came to visit Melany in Vermont. At one point during the trip, Ellen was working on a watercolor painting of a bluebird. Not for the first or last time, Melany was awestruck by her friend’s talent. This inspired Melany to float her children’s book idea by Ellen, who loved it and immediately agreed to collaborate as the book’s illustrator.
However, the story stuck in Melany’s head needed some structure. She decided to split the book into four sections: spring, early summer, late summer, and fall. Now that she had all the elements needed to create a book, the writing process could not be put off any longer. Children’s books are not as easy to complete as some might think. Each section needed to have its own compelling adventure, and these were reworked again and again. Thankfully, Ellen is not only a great artist, but a great accountability partner as well. Melany said Ellen was a patient and supportive partner throughout the entire process and that they were consistently pushing each other, in a good way.
“It was a real collaboration,” Melany said.
Bringing Mason Goes Mushrooming into the world involved different minds and talents. Melany even thinks of her editor as a doula. Once everyone was satisfied with the final draft, it was time to take on the task of printing out physical copies.
Initially, Melany was working with a printer located in Chicago. But she and her publisher, Dede Cummings at Green Writers Press, had second thoughts about working with them when they learned that the printer could not guarantee their ability to meet Melany’s deadline. She had her heart set on debuting the book on October 4th, her father’s 95th birthday.
When the original printer broke that news, Dede suggested that they switch to Springfield Printing Corp. Dede had worked with SPC over the years on separate projects and had reported very positive experiences. Serendipitously, Melany found out that both her father and her mother had worked with SPC in the past – her father on posters and her mother on an award-winning exhibition catalog for the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. This one-degree-of-separation to her parents, who started Melany on her foraging journey, mirrored the deep connections of mushroom root systems – tying Melany to SPC in what she is convinced was a fated manner.
SPC guaranteed that they could meet the desired delivery date, and it became a done deal. Melany was invited to SPC multiple times throughout the spring to be involved in the printing process. By being flexible about paper choice, she made it possible for SPC to meet her deadline.
“I wasn’t going to die on my sword for a certain type of paper,” Melany said; words every printer wants to hear.
What she appreciates most about SPC is the team’s willingness to redo things until the final product comes out just right. She also said that the in-house graphic designer is a terrific asset to SPC. It was very difficult to get scans of Ellen’s artwork that even compared to the brilliance of the originals. If they could do one thing over, it would be to initially use a higher-resolution art scanner to provide SPC the highest image quality possible with which to print the pages. Melany remains grateful to SPC for all the effort they put into creating a beautiful final product and working through any challenges that arose together as a team.
Aside from outstanding service, going with SPC meant printing with a local company that shares Melany’s values. Since they are a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified printer, both the author and the readers can rest assured that the book's paper was responsibly sourced. Melany insisted on including, “Printed Locally at Springfield Printing Corp. North Springfield VT,” right next to the FSC stamp of approval on the first page so that readers could be fully aware of where the book was born.
“They deserve every bit of credit they get,” Melany said of SPC.
Thanks to the hard work of all the people mentioned, thousands of copies of Mason Goes Mushrooming have already been sold since October. Be sure to get your hands on this book as soon as you can! It makes a great gift for the curious children in your life.
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