No need for kids to fear - Fobie Friends is here

“My mom pecks my cheek

and she closes the door…

then out come the gremlins

who hunt from the floor!

Under my bed, they whisper and moan.

The darkness might eat me! I’m still as a stone.

Many children are afraid of the dark, but now, thanks to ASU graduate Brian Miller and his wife, Leslie, they have a new ally in their fight against fear: A rhyming book titled “Did My Owl Just Growl?”

Miller, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1997 and MBA in 2002, probably never thought he would be writing children’s books for a living, but the opportunity was too good to pass up, Miller said.

He and his wife now are the co-owners of Fobie Friends, along with two partners, a children’s brand that plans to publish books on various childhood fears, such as fear of heights, fear of water and fear of separation. School counselors in San Diego and San Antonio have also contacted Fobie Friends to suggest a book on first-day-of-school fears.

Fobie Friends also will have related merchandise, such as plush toys, available. The toys will not be named, Miller said, because “they may fill different roles for different children. Their names should depend on their role, and thus, be left to each child to decide.”

“Did My Owl Just Growl?” spawned a bright blue owl, and the second book, about fear of heights and titled “Climb the Monkey Bars? That's Bananas!” has a bright purple gorilla. Book three, Miller said, deals with the fear of water and features a green seahorse. Book four helps with separation and new experiences and features a red kangaroo.

All the artwork is by Alessia Girasole and the books are geared toward children three to eight years old.

“Fobie Friends believes that a child’s imagination can be a powerful tool for problem-solving and building self-efficacy,” Miller said. “Creating fun, engaging stories is our way of giving children a helpful nudge towards his or her own success. Our stories are written in metered rhyme and keep readers bouncing along with each adventure.”

The idea for a children’s book about fear, using an owl to symbolize fear of the dark, actually came from a family friend name Mike Pitstick, who first thought of the concept 10 years ago while he was on vacation. He told Miller about it, and Miller liked the idea.

“I looked at Leslie and said, ‘I think I’m going to write the book,’” he recalled.

Leslie, a concert pianist who has studied psychology and worked as a child and family counselor, signed on to help. “Writing, thankfully, is her passion,” Miller said.

They decided to write the book in tandem. “I wrote 20 verses and took them to Leslie. She plugged in words that would work better, then I filled in the blanks. We did that about three times.”

Pitstick and another family friend, Curt Meredith, who are the other co-owners of Fobie Friends, share the non-writing duties and help with supplier and creative decisions.

Miller said their own children, Emerson, 4, and Adam, 8, have not been particularly afraid of the dark, but they do have other “bogeymen,” particularly at night.

“Our children have random fears, depending on the night and what stories they heard during the day. Our daughter, Emerson, has a fairly consistent issue with shadows in her bedroom. Adam feared ‘bad guys.’ I think he used that to address his discomfort with the dark and bedroom shadows. Our experiences with our children fed the story lines and rhymes.”

Now that the first few books are done or in the works, the next step, said Miller, is to offer Spanish translations. “I’m fluent in Spanish, but I knew I couldn’t translate them,” Miller said. “We approached a woman we’ve known through our son’s soccer team, and she took a pass at our first book. It’s a little longer, and we’ll offer it as an e-book.”

The Millers have read the book at libraries in Scottsdale and Payson, and will be featured at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, at 10 a.m., Oct. 27. Children are invited to attend in costume.

Miller, in fact, might even be in costume, too. He started his career with a Fortune 500 company, but soon realized that going to work in a suit every day wasn’t right for him. He quit and started a construction company, which he phased out when Fobie Friends came along.

He misses neither. “I have never had as much fun as I am right now. The autonomy of self-employment was something I yearned for while working in business. The ability to work on something that could have long-lasting, positive effects is something that was missing in my construction company.

“Now, my favorite days are spent talking to groups of second- and third-graders about the power of our language and the importance of being able to communicate both effectively and emotionally. Fortune 500 and construction never had a chance!”

“Let’s go!” Papa says, “to the new jungle gym.”

We hop on our bikes and I ride there with him.

I feel my heart race

as I run through the sand,

but a terrible sight

interrupts what I planned.

The monkey bars stare down

from up in the sky

as I run through the sand,

and my stomach flips over,

I feel I might cry!