Louie Lawent didn’t have trouble making new friends as a child in his hometown of Berlin, Wis. But he did notice the kids who couldn’t make friends as easily.
He recalls a birthday party his parents threw for him when he was 7 or 8. As he was getting ready to go to bed, a woman walked up to him and thanked him for inviting her son to the party.
“She was very heartfelt when she told me that, and it really stayed with me how important it was to be friends with people who don’t have friends,” said Lawent, 60, a Newport Beach resident whose children’s book, “Haley’s Friendship Challenge” (Topaz Publishing), has just been released.
In the 45-page paperback, Haley has just moved to a new town with her single mom who has been laid off from her job. The 8-year-old misses her old friends and doesn’t want to reach out to make new ones.
But she learns some lessons about the importance of being open to new friendships after watching a neighborhood dachshund’s reaction after several of its puppy pals move away.
Lawent, who doesn’t have kids of his own but is the oldest of five children, said the story is dedicated to children who have a hard time adjusting to change.
“Hopefully it shows the struggles other people are going through and that others should make an extra effort to be friends, and at the same time that a person who does move to a new town needs to be more outgoing and receptive to making new friends,” he said.
“Haley” is Lawent’s third children’s book. His first was “Gerty the Pig,” published in 1997, which is part of the National Accelerated Readers program in schools across the United States. He also wrote an ebook, “Momma Don’t You Worry.”
The idea for Gerty — an outrageous pig who wants to get everything the easy way and often leaves chaos in her wake — came to him in fourth grade. It incorporates his favorite style of writing: humor.
Lawent self-published “The Louie/God Interviews” and auditioned for the “Gong Show” as Richard Nixon reading a Watergate-themed version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” (He wasn’t selected.)
Gerty’s a little edgy, he admits. The pig responds to criticism with the words, “I’ll give you an egg.”
But the lesson is serious: Do things the right way, not the easy way.
Lawent has had to work hard for his successes. He came West with the dream of becoming a successful songwriter and knocked on the doors of a number of Sunset Boulevard music studios to shop his lyrics and look for collaborators. He finally took a job with an independent production company, distributing promotional materials to TV stations. He also worked as an extra on sitcoms and movies.
After leaving his job of 20 years he stayed in North Hollywood for several years working on his songs, then headed to Oregon for a bit before returning to Wisconsin. He moved to Newport Beach three years ago to reconnect with friends and enjoy the sunshine.
He has collaborated on the lyrics for a number of songs, including “Strangely Beautiful,” featured on the TV show “Famous in Love,” “Angels of the New Millennium,” which was licensed to the TV show “Full Circle,” and 10 songs on “Refrigerator Art,” Steve Goodie’s children’s CD.
These days, Lawent has been busy promoting “Haley’s Friendship Challenge.” The book ($8.99 Kindle, $14 paperback) is available online on Amazon.
A.J. Maxie, a retired teacher and founder of Texas-based Topaz Publishing, said the book touches on a number of topics that teachers are looking for when they read to students.
“They could use it for birthdays, to teach about bullying, to teach about moving and even poverty,” Maxie said. “And everyone can relate to the single mom who works to make ends meet and still wants to make her daughter feel special.”
Lawent said he’s hoping to get his Gerty the Pig stories made into a series. He’s written five more books about the troublesome but good-hearted pig and is hoping to find a publisher.