CRYSTAL LAKE – Monsters under the bed is a long-time myth that has resulted in many sleepless childhood nights. Joel Moeller’s first children’s book, “Mac the Snack Monster,” is about a monster under a young boy’s bed. However, the boy, Ernie, isn’t dealing with a monster that goes bump in the night. He goes munch in the night.
Moeller is a fifth-grade teacher at Indian Prairie Elementary in Crystal Lake as well as an assistant football coach at Crystal Lake South High School. The 29-year-old said that, as a teacher, you are surrounded by literature as literacy is the bedrock of what they do. He reads children’s books to his class as a way to divert from the humdrumness of the day-to-day.
“I always like to read children’s books and I gravitate towards the sillier, funny ones just because I think with that age group, they’re more into the silly, funny side,” Moeller said. “Being read to, they feel like they’re in kindergarten again. But there’s a reason behind it. I might have a writing prompt from it or I might reinforce some kind of literacy skill. Instead of digging into a chapter book, it’s sort of one of those switcher-ups and they’re more engaged.”
Moeller bought several books for class and, upon reading them, thought they resonated with his own sense of humor. Then, Moeller had a thought.
“Why don’t I write a children’s book?” Moeller said. “I had different ideas in my head and would tell them to my wife, Lana. She was my sounding board. She told me to just do it.”
Moeller said he thought of the common theme of the scary monster under the bed scenario but put a different twist on it.
“I thought, ‘What if instead of the monster under the bed trying to scare the boy, the monster keeps stealing all of the boy’s snacks?’ ” Moeller said.
From this idea and Moeller’s personal enthusiasm for food, “Mac the Snack Monster” was born, quickly. Moeller began writing the 32-page book in January of 2018 and was finished by March. He also drew all of the initial pictures for the book and then had them digitized by graphic designer Alice Malloy, who he said “put the bow on the present,” bringing his story to life.
“Mac the Snack Monster” was released by Amazon Oct. 19. The story revolves around a boy named Ernie who has a monster, Mac, living under his bed.
When Mac steals Ernie’s snacks initially, Ernie tries to brush it off since Mac is new to the family and may not know any better. As the story progresses and the thefts continue on such occasions as Christmas, Halloween and movie night, Ernie isn’t so forgiving. The two have a falling out and a reconciliation. The moral of the story?
“Friends share and we don’t steal other people’s food,” Moeller said.
When the book was officially released, Star 105.5 morning show personalities Joe Cicero and Tina Bree went to Indian Prairie and read the book out loud to his very excited fifth-grade class.
“They hear me read to them all of the time. I knew it would be much more exciting to have someone else come and read it out loud. It was pretty cool,” Moeller said.
Christine Melton is the mother of 10-year-old Pearl Melton, a student in Moeller’s class. Melton purchased the book to read with her daughter and was quick to sing its praises.
“It is so delightful!” Melton said. “It takes it to a new level of understanding of how other people are feeling and to be empathetic. It’s very cute and very sweet.”
Melton said she also was very impressed with Moeller, not only as an author, but as a teacher.
“He’s able to focus in and be superior at being a teacher,” Melton said. “It’s so impressive to see how he’s embodied everything that an educator does but is also able to bring this fatherly element to his teaching. He expects the children to do their own personal best and he creates a space that is encouraging and supportive for them to be successful. He is able to look at each child as an individual and work with them individually and no child gets left behind.”
It’s that evident love for teaching Moeller said would never allow him to leave it for writing full-time. He has ideas for future books, but those will always take a back seat to his first love.
“I’m a teacher first,” Moeller said. “I don’t consider myself an author. This is something I wanted to do as a creative outlet. If I can help a kid or inspire a kid to be a writer because if Mr. Moeller can do it, I can do it, that’s most important. I love teaching. I love working with kids every day. Even if I become a best-selling author, I’d still want to teach every day.”
“Mac the Snack Monster” is available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.