Ready for Stocking Stuffing?! We R 1-on-1 with Author of Mr. Munchlee’s Magic TopHat 

“The first one to notice this mustached man
was a girl named Luzianne, who was willing to lend a hand.
Mr. Munchlee’s glee attached to her like a contagious cold,
and a giggle started to tickle her ten little toes.” -Mr. Munchlee’s Magic TopHat

As you flip from page to page Mr. Munchlee will transport you to this world where magic isn’t just an ethereal dream, it’s his reality. His mission is simple, to help spread his love of color through the imagination of everyone in Tookietown.

Mr. Munchlee’s Magic TopHat is the perfect present for children this holiday season, especially if you are looking for a great gift that will remind children that sometimes all you really need to bring about happiness is a vivid and beautiful imagination.

When a Tookietown has forgotten how to smile Mr. Munchlee comes to the rescue and throughout 32 pages of this delightfully rhyming story he invites readers and listeners to use their imagination and help him spread happiness!

The Y Life caught up with the imagination that created Mr. Munchlee and his storybook world, the books author, Corrie R.Rice, over cappuccinos and she filled us in on her inspiration for the book and why it was so important for her to share this story with the world.

In the story Mr. Munchlee hands a little girl, by the name of Luzianne the magic map… This magic map instantaneously begins to carve the imagination of the young, so we just had to know what was so important to Corrie about conceiving this imaginary world within children, which she so perfectly does in her book?

“I think Einstein said it best, when he said ‘Without imagination, you have nothing.’ I really want to encourage this generation and the younger generations to use their imaginations, because with so much technology, I feel like everything is so easy now and so fast.

It’s not the same as when I was growing up and you stared out of the window driving in the car, because that is all you had to do and you think of stories, and we would use our imagination that way…”

That is so true, I as most Millennials probably remember, driving in my car as a little girl on road trips with my family and looking up at the clouds playing guessing games with the clouds, to see who could use their imagination most creatively…

“Exactly. I just wanted to encourage that and talk about it, bring it up with the story, because I think a lot of kids have heard the word, but I don’t know how much they are encouraged to explore it.”

So Corrie, tell us a little bit about Mr. Munchlee’s TopHat?

“This book, started out as a poem and that’s how it kind of evolved. So the inspiration has come from a man that comes to a town, which has forgotten how to smile; He starts with one little girl, shows her how to use her imagination, to think of different places and things, if they are sad and they need to smile. It’s the journey of him showing this little girl how to use her imagination, from things that live inside of his hat.”

I loved reading it myself.. It has a little bit of an Alice in Wonderlandy type aura with the hat, the little girl and the wiser older Mr. Munchlee. I just have to ask you about the rhyming, it was just adorable, almost sing-sony and since you studied poetry and pose during your time at University, I suppose you used that knowledge to influence your work on this book and the whole book rhymes?

“Well most of my writing background has been in poetry and short stories, that’s what I find whimsical and fun about playing with words to see how they go together. So since this started as a poem, one of my friends, the illustrator actually, read the poem and said ‘Why don’t we turn this into a kids book, I will do the drawings..’ I said ‘That’s an awesome idea, I would love to do a children’s book’!

I have always wanted to write one, so this is now both of our first books. We took the poem, which was a little too short to begin with, so we expanded it, we fit it to the page count we needed and kind of kept the rhymy poetry sense to it.”

Well, the poetic sense was absolutely penned onto every page, I want to chat about Tulia Lulu, the stage name alias behind your illustrator, Christina Rodriguez, who happens to be quite the talented mixed media artist (drawing, painting and collaging). Tulia illustrated quite beautiful pictures to help your words come to life; In fact, the illustrations are very notable in this book, so much so, people are talking about how unique they help make this children’s book to be…

“I am so excited, she is just a super talented artist! She actually took my poem and drew the pictures that she thought went with it, and I didn’t tell her any direction to go, she just let her imagination go when she read it and I think it came out exactly the way it was meant to! We did go back and forth a little bit, brainstorming, but she creates things, like on one of them she looses her shoe and then the rest of the story she only has one shoe, which is so cute.

We went and did research on toys in the library; We researched a bunch of vintage toys, and came up with the monkey and the feathers”

The vintage inspired color motif, strewn throughout the book, reminded me of your background as a stylist for models, television shows and movies… I feel like somehow the styling had a role in inspiring the book in some way, could that be true?

“It’s amazing how it all just came together! First of all, Tulia just wanted to do it black and white, with just a little bit of color on each page and it kind of starts that way, because it goes with the story, the town is sad and black and there is no color. Then he (Mr. Munchlee) comes with his burst of color and there is only color from him at the beginning of the story, and as the story goes on there is more and more color…
As he spreads his love, the more colorful, and it fits with the unfolding of his coming to town.”

The subtextual message of spreading love is etched throughout this book… Everything in life has some sort of subtext, this book would probably be spreading love, but was that the subtext you had in mind, when you were writing this book?

“Well, I think it’s kind of an awareness that this little girl wasn’t aware of… her imagination! Then she realizes she had it and could use it, and it doesn’t stop there because now that she knows it, she can’t keep that information just to herself, she has to spread it and share it.

Sharing was definitely a BIG theme! I feel like we are all in this world together and if we can help each other somehow, maybe it’s with some bit of information, a smile or anything that encourages each other as we are going through this life together… that was kind of the sub-sub text.”

That is really interesting, because I don’t think a lot of people hear that messaging from authors. Even as adults we can learn lessons from children’s books, since we are reading these books to kids, we end up learning from the books as well and many times we are reminded of the simple lessons in life.

Now Millennials are becoming parents and we are having to start picking books for our children and it is a generational shift, especially this holiday season. Whether the books are for our siblings, our own children or future children… What would we take from this book, is there an adult lesson to be learned too?

“I think so… I think we get so busy in our lives, everything is just moving at such a fast pace, that sometimes we forget to smile or say hello, it’s simple.”

Is there any one character you were not 100% sure of putting in the book?

“Actually, the next step with the Mr. Munchlee book’s is… we want to develop the other characters! Like the monkey or the robots, because they are in here and they are a part of her world… And ask where do these monkeys come from? And what are they doing exactly? We want to explore that, because I just love the monkeys I think they are so cute! Then there is a mouse, that you see throughout the book and the peacock… but, taking a journey with them somewhere and Luzianne too of course”

Now I just have to know, so what inspired Luzianne’s name?

“Luzianne is a Tea Company. It is a tea that I grew up drinking, a very Southern tea, so I kind of wanted her to be a little bit of a Southern Bell”…
(L: You are also kind of a Southern Bell Corrie)
Corrie lets out a quick giggle in agreement and continues… “Yes, me and my influences! Tookietown is actually a place in the South too, it’s in Tennessee… Tookietown! I always thought that is the funniest name, in a good way!”

Funny enough that is not just the only influence of Corrie’s childhood, which bodes to influence the contact of the story…. Corrie was born and raised in South Carolina and she has always been fascinated with thinking up stories, she said it all with one little phrase, “I am just a small town girl”.

“I am originally from a town called Irmo in South Carolina, home of the Okra strut! (Giggles ensue) We are famous for our Okra! It was great growing up, there was a lot of outdoor activities, I spent a lot of time on the rivers and the lakes. I was also inspired by Mary Poppins, for some reason it stuck with me as a child; That and Pollyanna, those were two stories that when I went back to my childhood, really made an impact on my life.

I too love those inspirational stories like James and the Giant Peach or BABE, which influenced me, but I wondered… OKRA? I learned, that Corrie actually likes to eat okra!

It’s interesting, because when I think about children growing up in a small town like that, since I didn’t have that opportunity as I was a city kid born and bred, my perspective is a little bit shifted. As I just think of what it must have been like to grow up in a simple and wholesome place, where kids can ride their bikes and you can have ice cream, while dipping your toes in the river… It just seems like a storybook life made of happiness and smiles and I think that is precisely what Corrie tries to emulate in this storybook!

We too agree with Corrie R. Rice when she said…

“This book is great, because it’s easy to read, you can read it to your younger children that can’t read yet. The beginning readers can read it, although there are a couple of words in there, that might be challenging, but it is a simple easy read and I hope it brings a smile to everybody’s face who reads it. I think it would be a good gift as well, to help spread the smiles!”

Don’t forget to log onto Amazon or head over to your local bookstore and pick-up this lovely children’s book for the special little munchkins in your life!

Click HERE to Order at Amazon