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Hamptons Life

May 23, 2011 4:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

"Bernie" Makes A Splash

May 24, 2011 9:50 AM

One summer day, Lois Bernzott Boccio was sitting at Cupsogue Beach in East Moriches when she saw the wind pick up a beach ball. She watched as it bounced from blanket to blanket and her imagination began to churn. She wondered about the different lives of the people who assembled on the beach that day, and about the various problems they faced.

Ms. Boccio, a resident of Manorville who worked in marketing, kept following that beach ball until it led her all the way to her first book, an illustrated children’s tale titled “Bernie the Beach Ball Bounces Back,” which was released in February with the help of self-publishing firm Legwork Team Publishing.

“This is literally, it’s like having a baby,” the mother of two teenage girls said during a recent interview. “It starts out conceptually and then you take it through the whole process and then the first time the publisher says ‘Here’s your book’ and gives you the book, it’s like the best thing.”

The book follows Bernie’s journey from the toy store shelf into the hands of a boy named Mel, and then to their first trip to the beach together. The wind carries Bernie away from Mel and into the hands of a girl named Brittany, sparking moral quandaries for both children. Each of them sees how much the other one wants Bernie, and Mel ends up giving him to Brittany—although the boy gets rewarded for his selfless act in the end.

“I just wanted it to be kind of a story about doing the right thing,” Ms. Boccio said. “Like I said, pay it forward.”

The book’s main characters are named after Ms. Boccio’s daughters. Melanie, 18, a student Suffolk County Community College and Brittany, 15, who attends Eastport South Manor Junior Senior High School. Ms. Boccio said that, in addition to Cupsogue Beach, the family likes to spend summer days at Meschutt Beach in Hampton Bays and Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk.

“Bernie the Beach Ball” is currently available through Amazon.com, and Ms. Boccio said she is working to get it into local bookstores. The volume actually comes with an inflatable beach ball tucked inside—a feature Ms. Boccio said she insisted on despite concerns about packaging and shipping.

“I just thought for the kids to read the book and kind of get attached to Bernie, they could get their own little Bernie at the end of the book,” she said.

If “Bernie” looks like a children’s book character from a generation ago, it’s by design. Legwork Team Publishing connected Ms. Boccio with illustrator Christopher Donovan, whom she credited with pulling off her vision of a modern children’s narrative told through “old-fashioned” drawings.

“I didn’t want that futuristic look to it,” she said. “I wanted that old old-fashioned, like ‘Dick and Jane’ kind of illustration.”

Selflessness and good deeds are the driving themes of the story, but it touches on other ideas. Mel’s father, who takes him to the beach, is divorced from his mother and does not live with the family. Mel, Ms. Boccio said, is a “simple kid” whose family can’t fulfill his every whim. And he’s okay with that.

“To be with his father is just more than he really wants,” Ms. Boccio said. “I wanted to keep it like that so kids could realize it is life’s little things that make you happy.”

In addition to marketing, Ms. Boccio said she has had careers in private investigation and off-Broadway theater, but is now focusing solely on her writing. While she is working on a screenplay at the moment, she said she is also open to penning “Bernie” sequels in the future.

“I’m thinking of possibly a series to this,” she said. “Bernie, I don’t know, goes sleigh riding or something, but something along those same lines.”

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