Yale staff member creates adventure for a tiny tree frog in debut book

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Josué "Josh" Rodriguez reads his new children's book, "Chasing the Moon," to his sons Julian (left) and Jesiah at their home. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

While putting his firstborn son, Julian, to bed at night, Yale staff member Josué D. Rodríguez enjoyed making up bedtime stories about a tiny coquí (a Puerto Rican tree frog) and his many adventures. Often, he’d start a tale and let Julian, then a preschooler, finish the story.

Julian is now 11 years old, and it’s been many years since he and his father shared stories about “Mr. Coquí.” But the character has never strayed too far from the thoughts of Rodríguez, who is the data manager for the New Haven Lexinome Project, a Yale-based study of the genetics of dyslexia conducted in partnership with the New Haven Public Schools.

“I always thought that maybe I should write down some of the stories we made up,” says Rodríguez of his old nighttime ritual. “The character stuck with me for many years. Last fall, while my wife [Jocelyn] was away and I was doing the bedtime routines with the kids [Julian and four-year-old Jesiah], something brought the coquí character to mind, and I decided it was time to write.”

In less than a couple of hours, Rodríquez created the children’s story “Chasing the Moon: A Coquí Story,” which he decided to self-publish. “Chasing the Moon” tells the story of a young tree frog [Coquí] living in the rain forest in Puerto Rico, who loves to sing in the light of the moon. One night, however, he discovers that the moon has disappeared, and with it, his ability to sing. With the help of one of his friends, a grey kingbird, he flies off in search of the moon, and learns something about himself, and the moon, on the journey.

Rodríguez created the book using Adobe InDesign and hired illustrators to create the images for his story. The hand-drawn pictures, he says, accurately reflect the flora and fauna seen in Puerto Rico’s rainforest. The book was produced by Ingram’s Park, a self-publishing business that lists the book in the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain, on the Amazon website, and in international outlets.

“I did some research and discovered how difficult it is to be picked up by a publisher these days,” says Rodríguez. “That’s a process that can take several years. So I decided to self-publish as a way to at least get started.”

Rodríguez also created and self-published a paperback version of the book through Amazon Publishing, as well as a coloring book of illustrations from the story. In addition, he adapted the English version of the tale into a Spanish-language one.

“Often when you read translations of books from English to Spanish, it doesn’t feel right; the rhythm and the cadence are all off,” says Rodríguez. “I didn’t want that, so instead of translating word for word, I adapted the story for Spanish so it could retain its poetry and rhythm. I wanted the book to feel native in both languages.”

Rodríguez dedicated his book to Julian, the son with whom he first shared a love of storytelling, but says his son Jesiah is of an age to be more excited about the book than his older brother. Rodríguez and Jesiah have created a little song for the book, which the younger Rodríguez sings to his father’s accompaniment on guitar.

“The song has a tropical Latin beat to it,” says Rodríguez, who will perform the song with Jesiah at his first public book reading event for “Chasing the Moon.” It will take place on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Children’s Museum, 22 Wall St. in New Haven, as part of the museum’s “Saturdays at 2” children’s book reading series. Admission to the museum and the program is $7.50 per person. Each participating family receives a copy of “Chasing the Moon” at the event (while supplies last).

Rodríguez, who was born and grew up in Puerto Rico, says he recalls a story from his own youth about a coquí that made a lasting impression on him. The book, “La Canción Verde” by Doris Troutman Plenn, was a fable about a coquí who wants to migrate to the United States.

“What the tale really does is tell — through the coquí — the migrant experiences of Puerto Ricans in the 1950s,” explains Rodríguez, who came to the Unites States in 1998. Today, his favorite children’s stories include Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” along with other classics such as Margaret Wise Brown’s “Good Night, Moon” and Michael Rosen’s “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” The latter, he says, is a “staple” at his house, where the family enjoys singing the story in a rhythmic way.

The Yale staff member says that one of the things he has learned while working for the New Haven Lexinome Project is the importance of early childhood learning. The project — led by Dr. Jeffrey R. Gruen, associate professor in the Yale Child Health Research Center and in the Departments of Pediatrics, Genetics, and Investigative Medicine — is a genetics study designed to assess reading and cognitive abilities of first-grade students over a course of four to five years. The goals of the study are to create a screening test for dyslexia, examine the genetic and environmental conditions to reading and learning disability, and investigate the possibility of early interventions for youngsters with dyslexia, among other objectives.

“Working on the project, I’ve seen how important it is for kids to have books in their hands and to read them,” says Rodríguez. “My motivation with ‘Chasing the Moon’ is to put my 5 cents in the pot.”

However, the Yale staff member says his children’s book writing has only just begun. He has another book nearly done, titled “Surviving the Storm,” about how Coquí “saves the day” in the rainforest during a storm. He has ideas for several more stories in mind.

“I envision a whole series,” says Rodríguez, adding that his biggest challenge is finding the time to write. The Yale staff member is also a church pastor in his home city of New Haven.

“My kids are excited about my books, but now Jesiah is at the age where the stories really command his attention,” says Rodríguez. “There are more stories to tell, so who knows where this will lead?”

The English and Spanish-language versions of the book, and the workbook, can be found on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sites.

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Susan Gonzalez: susan.gonzalez@yale.edu,