Published 12:00 am Friday, March 19, 2010

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Entering the magical world of local children’s author AJ Rodriguez can bring even the staunchest of adults back to a time when innocence and wonder were commonplace. The LaPlace-based storyteller has a knack for drawing in the young and old alike with her tales of a magical teddy bear named Theodore Da Baer.

Rodriguez’ own adventures began in a small steel mill town outside of Pittsburgh.

“I was just a normal kid,” she said.

Although at the time she had no inkling of what the future held, in those early years she laid the groundwork for her future profession through avid reading.

“I just love books,” said Rodriguez, who believes books are the key to getting America’s education system back on track.

In 1965 she married her husband, David. Now part of a military family, Rodriguez saw many different parts of the world throughout her early married life.

It was during a stint in Germany her most reassured creation was born.

Facing limited English-language entertainment for her young sons, Rodriguez began to craft stories of the magical teddy bear that was once a human wizard. Her stories provided not only entertainment for her sons but also incorporated the German setting to help educate the children about their surroundings.

As her sons grew older and their interests changed, however, the stories fell by the wayside.

Theodore’s story picks up when the Rodriguez family was paid a visit at their Florida home by some of their grandchildren. The youngsters, whose imaginations had been sparked by their father, clamored to hear the stories Rodriguez had told so many years ago.

“I just totally forgot about him,” said Rodriguez.

But she did her best to recall the basic storylines and crafted somewhat altered versions of the originals, moving the action closer to home. The one factor that remained constant in the stories, beside the main character, was the strong moral basis.

“Many of my stories have morals to them,” she said.

So, Rodriguez continued creating new adventures for her grandchildren and their friends, but the stories were always crafted on the spot and never recorded. That is until someone urged her to get her tales published.

At that point Rodriguez began taping her stories as she told them so she could write them down later.

Although the publication process was challenging, Rodriguez said following publication of Theodore’s first book, children wanted more tales of the magical bear. That led to two sequels.

Then, about four years ago, the storyteller began visiting schools to share her tales and her wisdom.

“We encourage the kids to read. We encourage the kids to write,” she said.

Her school visits are provided free of charge, something she is able to do through money made at festival appearances. During her visits, the children are encouraged to not only listen to the stories but also become actors in them.

Recently, Rodriguez has branched out beyond the Theodore brand. Her latest books are called “Cycle of Life” and “A Cajun Crawfish Tale.”

The former aims to teach children to deal with the loss of loved ones while the latter, set in the swamps outside of LaPlace teaches the value of liking who you are and what you have.

Since moving to LaPlace, Rodriguez’ characters have all found a home nearby. “I’m going to put LaPlace on the map,” she said.

Although the setting may have changed, at heart the stories have remained untouched, and amid all the moralizing Rodriguez herself learned a valuable lesson. “Many great stories are lost because people do not take the time to sit down and write them,” she noted.

For more info, visit theodoredabaer.com.�