Plymouth author’s book series features strong female role model for children
When Shelly Boyum-Breen was growing up, she wasn’t like most of the other girls her age.
“I was a tomboy,” said Boyum-Breen, a Brainerd native and current Plymouth resident. “I was super active and loved to play sports.”
“I really didn’t get into it much,” she said. “I think that really had a lot to do with the fact that there weren’t any books that really resonated with me where I felt like I could associate with the characters.”
Years later as an adult, Boyum-Breen was visiting an elementary school as part of her work to create Foundation IX, a nonprofit that offered grants to young girls who could not afford to participate in sports (it has since merged with the Ann Bancroft Foundation). While there, she came across a Scholastic book order form.
“There weren’t ever any books about a girl playing sports when I was a kid, but I thought there would have to be a ton of them now,” Boyum-Breen said. “So I started paging through the order form, and all I found was horseback riding and cheerleading. And I said, ‘C’mon, somebody has to do this.’ So I decided to give it a shot.”
She began with outlines of what she would have wanted in a book when she was a child, and three years ago, she started to put her ideas to paper.
After raising $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign for editing, illustrating and marketing, Boyum-Breen published the first three books of her “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen” series last fall.
“The response has been really strong,” Boyum-Breen said.
Targeted to children ages 4 to 9, the books star Shelly Bean, a tough, dirty-kneed young girl who loves to play sports. In each book, Shelly learns to play a new sport with the help of her family and friends.
“The premise is that she gets inspired by watching a game on TV — like she’s watching the Olympic women’s hockey championship and they win the gold medal,” Boyum-Breen said. “She wants to win a gold medal too, but she realizes that she needs to learn how to skate first. So her brother and friend help her learn how to skate, and she gets super excited — skating is awesome and it feels good to hold her big brother’s hockey stick in her hand. Now she can truly imagine what it will be like to be an Olympic gold medalist one day.”
Each book contains a final scene where Shelly plops down on her bed, reflects on the day and rewards herself by making a charm for her crown.
“Then she stands tall in front of her mirror, puts on her crown and is proud of herself,” Boyum-Breen said.
While ultimately successful, the young girl finds that her triumphs don’t always come easy. There are plenty of struggles along the way.
“The message is, if you fall down, you get back up and try again because it’s something you really want,” Boyum-Breen said.
For the past few months, the author has been spreading that message by promoting the books in schools and at professional sporting events. And the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve had great responses from parents and kids, which is the absolute best part,” Boyum-Breen said. “I get thank-you notes from little girls saying Shelly Bean is an inspiration to them, and they draw pictures of themselves being an Olympic champion. It’s absolutely awesome.”
The responses aren’t limited to girls, either.
“The message is transferable,” Boyum-Breen said. “It’s about playing, having fun and to keep trying if you really want something. Shelly Bean is a lead female character, but that doesn’t make it a book for girls. She’s been really well received by both genders.”
Titles currently released are “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen Skates at the Hockey Rink,” “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen Plays Basketball” and “Shelly Bean the Sports Queen Plays a Game of Catch.” They are illustrated by Marieka Heinlen.
Boyum-Breen said she has an additional 19 books written for the series that could be published in the future, but she is currently focused on promoting the current titles. She said she will evaluate any demand for more books this spring.
“The fact that Shelly Bean the Sports Queen has come to life was ultimately what I wanted,” she said. “Everything moving forward is gravy.”
Copies of the books are available at Pacifier Urban Boutique stores, Excelsior Bay Books and shellybeanthesportsqueen.com.
Boyum-Breen will also be doing a book signing 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at Pacifier’s Edina location.
Contact Derek Bartos at [email protected]