Sicilian-American author #Michael Cascio was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Now living on Long Island, Michael recently self-published a children’s book titled “When I Was A Child; I Was Always Afraid” which helps children combat their fears. Inspired by the lessons he learned from his father in how to deal with his fears as well as his children’s concerns as they grew up, the book playfully explains how to combat things that frighten you through understanding.

Influences

Growing up in Bushwick during the 1960s and 1970s, Michael, the oldest, came from a family of three boys and hardworking immigrant parents. Growing up, he tended to be afraid of many things such as loud noises and dark places.

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“We lived in an attached six family house, and only two other buildings separated us from the 83rd Police Precinct parking lot. We lived on the first floor of the building and outside, Dekalb Avenue was a very busy street,” Michael stated. “Nights were frightening as the sound of sirens, police, ambulance and firetrucks were a routine. My imagination often kept me up throughout the night; shadows, noises, the blaring sirens all spooked me constantly and gave me nightmares.”

Michael’s father would always reassure his son and taught him that there was nothing to fear by making him understand his fears. “He said when you don’t understand something, you need to investigate it,” Michael said. “One night I was worried about a dripping faucet since I thought if I fell asleep we would be flooded out.

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Dad took me to the sink, and we placed a dish rag under the dripping water, the sound was gone, and a fear faced. The next day I helped him change a washer. I wasn’t afraid of the dripping water ever again.”

Education

Despite growing up in a loving family, Michael’s immigrant parents did not expose their children to many books nor were able to help them with their studies. Hence, even at the age of nine, Michael had very poor reading skills. When he was in the fourth grade, he met a young teacher named Josephine Pilla who changed his life.

“After unsuccessfully preventing me from goofing around in the back row of the room, Ms. Pilla announced that I would be sitting right in front of her desk for the entire year,” Michael recalled. “I blushed but was very happy. I found the pretty blonde lady with the makeup very beautiful. She quickly discovered that I could not read and began to tutor me during the day while the other children worked on assignments.”

Ms. Pilla paid extra attention to Michael and taught him how to read--and subsequently instilled a love of books in him--by using fun children’s stories such as Dr.

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Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” Michael quickly became a skilled reader and an avid lover of school.

“Early that the academic year Ms. Pilla created a contest whereby we were rewarded with stars next to our names every time we submitted a simple book report,” Michael said. “I rushed home and asked my friend Vinny Sorrentino to walk me to the Bushwick Library a mere three blocks away. After taking out two books, we were chased home by neighborhood bullies. I never returned those books. I now had a problem, how could I win the contest if I could no longer go to the library?”

Michael quickly began making up stories and author names which he enjoyed immensely. The stars piled up next to his name on the giant poster board at the front of the class and, right before Christmas, he was awarded a transistor radio, blue with a wrist strap, a few books, and a model!

“I was so very proud,” Michael recalled. “Since that year, I have always dabbled in poetry and have written many little things. I find that when something means a lot to me, the words find the paper easily.”

Writing

From a boy that could barely read at age nine, Michael went on to have a poem inserted in the Ridgewood Junior #High School 93 Yearbook entitled “the Bicentennial year.” The inclusion of the poem in the yearbook coupled with the accolades he received from the teachers made him very proud; he can still recite the poem to this day. He also wrote many verses and rhymes for his children, sometimes to get them to eat, sometimes to help them get over a scary situation. Then, in 2017, he published his first children’s book titled “When I Was A Child; I Was Always Afraid.” The book is an accumulation of little rhymes he made up throughout his children’s upbringing and the fears related in the story are connected to his family’s fears.

“One night after moving to New Hyde Park from Ridgewood Queens, our oldest child ran into our room screaming: ‘Daddy, daddy the tree is getting me!’ so I picked him up and went into his room and discovered that the moonlight was shining just right, and the silhouette of a tree was staring at us from against his wall,” Michael recalled. “I walked him to the window and showed him the moonlight, and we talked about shadows and light. He went back to bed reassured. The next day I told him that when he saw branches, he should wave back since the trees were actually saying hi to him.”

Likewise, Michael’s daughter was terrified of the attic and the various sounds she heard at night, so Michael and she investigated the attic together one day.

“I showed her how we use it to store things and explained away the sounds,” he said. “Thunder and lightning were extremely scary to me as they are to most children. One day I described it to my children as ‘angels and stars playing together in little bumper cars, rhyming-verse’ and the kids laughed every time from then on. I found that using rhyme to put happy thoughts in their heads worked great, much like Dr. Seuss’ beautiful rhymes taught me to read. The melodic lines were easy to remember and pleasant to say and hear.”

Publishing

Michael first wrote the poem--that woulrhyming verse book--down in full in the year 2000. At that time, his oldest son was in the third grade and Michael was invited to come to the school and read the poem to the class. The children and the teacher loved the poem and encouraged Michael to get it illustrated and published. Fifteen years later, it was Michael Jr. that finally got the ball rolling.

“In 2015, my son Michael, then 23, took it upon himself to hire a friend he had attended high school with and he paid him to illustrate the poem,” Michael explained. “The ideas for the illustrations came from my children’s recollections of what they envisioned when I’d read them the poem. A few months after my son hired this young man, Bentley Wong, who had never illustrated a book before; my son presented me with a small bound book which, now illustrated, bought my story to life. I was very moved and promised him to try and pursue getting it published.”

As he attempted to show the book to press, Michael realized how difficult it is to get an agent or publisher interested and decided to use a small firm in Virginia called Mascot Books to self-publish his story. He also went into full self-promotion mode.

“I contacted Newsday who ran a story and I also contacted the Dolphin Book Shop in Port Washington who offered for me to host an event,” he explained. “I did a book reading at the book store and I was overwhelmed with the response. I had almost one hundred people and sold seventy-one books that day!”

Since then, Michael has done several other little events and is now scheduling more--although he is still actively seeking agents and publishers. “If I had a publisher or agent doing the ground work I truly feel the book would do very well,” he said. “The story is loved by the children that have read it or had it read to them. It helps them open up about their fears and creates a dialogue that can lead to conquering them.”

Future

Despite all his successes in life, Michael is still searching for Ms. Pilla who he lost contact with many years ago.

“Ms. Pilla would be about 67 to 69 years old in my estimation,” Michael declared. “I have contacted the school I went to and done google searches to no avail. I cannot find her but hope that eventually will so that I can thank her for caring and making my life matter. I also really want to show her my book!”

Michael shows no signs of quelling his writing any time soon. He has completed a Christmas poem that he is very proud of and which is based on his childhood being raised in a row house with no chimney or fireplace.

“The poem is all heart and I know it would melt the hearts of the readers,” he proclaimed. “I would love to show it to a publisher and try and get help with this one’s release. I also have been asked to write about bullying and shyness and have begun two poems on those topics. I love children and love telling them stories. I wish I had more time for this special hobby.” #Children Book