Noodling around: Northampton’s Eric Bennett adds second children’s book to penguin series

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    This is an "Noodles" plushie that children's book author Eric Bennett made for his series of books about the penguin, the latest of which is "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton stocks shelves for his online penguin-related business. Bennet is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. Bennet also has an online penguin-related business. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. Bennet also has an online penguin-related business. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. Bennet also has an online penguin-related business. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. Bennet also has an online penguin-related business. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennet of Northampton is the author of a children's book, "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise", illustrated by Milanka Reardon about penguins. Bennet also has an online penguin-related business. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

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    Eric Bennett of Northampton is the author of a children's book "Noodle's and Albie's Birthday Surprise," illustrated by Milanka Reardon. Bennett also has an online penguin-related business. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 12/21/2016 3:31:16 PM

By LUIS FIELDMAN

Eric Bennett’s friends called him “Noodles” when he was a kid, because he had long, curly hair. Now Bennett, a Northampton children’s book author, says he’s found a new use for that nickname — as the name for a character in two children’s books he’s penned.

Bennett is the owner of The Penguin Gift Show at Penguin Place, an online business that deals in all things penguin. And after selling penguin pajamas, penguin mugs and penguin toys for nearly three decades, he says, he decided to write a book about penguins, too. With a worldwide mailing list of 16,000 and a Facebook page with 14,000 fans, he says, he figured he had a captive audience.

So in 2014, Bennett wrote his first book, “Noodles & Albie,” about an Emperor penguin, Noodles, and his best friend, Albie, a small red fish. The two meet on an iceberg in Antarctica.

The second book, “Noodles’ and Albie’s Birthday Surprise,” followed earlier this month and is available at area bookstores, including The White Square in Easthampton, The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley and Amherst Books.

All penguin, all the time

Bennett has long been a penguin aficionado; his online store is an offshoot of Next Stop … South Pole, a penguin-themed pushcart he opened at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan after graduating in 1985 from Queens College in New York City, where he studied history and English.

Within a year, Bennett had moved his business into a 285-foot kiosk, where it continued to grow. It became an online business in 2008, when he moved to Northampton, where he lives with his daughters, Rose, 9, and Sophie, 13.

Although he’d never written a book before, Bennett says, he’s always been a storyteller. For years, he had entertained his daughters with original tales, especially while on road trips and at bedtime. And their favorite story? The one about a penguin and fish.

Eventually, he thought about putting it all down in writing, and decided to move ahead with the first book after reading an early version to Rose’s kindergarten class at the Bridge Street School, where he got positive feedback from the teachers. He was also encouraged, he says, by some fellow children’s book authors.

Rather than shop the book around, he decided to self-publish, so he could exercise full control. Working with illustrator Liz Bannish on the first book, he says, he decided how everything would look, from the front cover to the last Antarctic scene.

“I did it myself,” he said. “It was quite gratifying.”

A gift that keeps giving

For the second book, Bennett teamed up with illustrator Milanka Reardon, and self-published again.

In this story, as Noodles celebrates his 7th birthday on Dec. 24 in the family igloo, Albie, his fishy friend, is busy shopping under the sea, looking for the perfect gift — a compass. (It seems Noodles has a propensity for getting lost under the sea, as he did in the first book.)

“Happy birthday, Noodles!” Albie says, as she presents her friend with the gift. “It’s a compass. The arrow always points north, so you’ll always know where you’re going.”

“That’s cool!” Noodles says. “But how does it work?”

“Beats me,” Albie says. “It just does.”

Later, that compass comes in handy when the friends discover Kris Kringle and his reindeer, lost at the South Pole.

Bennett, who had more than 350 pre-orders for the second book, says the whole experience has been immensely gratifying — “super fun. ... To have something that you wrote in the library is great. The kids like it and they ask for your autograph and you are a little bit of a rock star to the second grade,” he said.

But what makes him really happy? “... that my kids are going to read this to their kids.”

For more information, visit www.penguingiftshop.com.




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