Author Michael Paduano hosts diverse celebration in children's book and TV pilot

Desert writer's new children's book merges fitness, zoo

Imagine a world where diversity is celebrated every day, kids are actively encouraged to develop their creativity, and physical fitness is always fun. A fantasy? Not when you enter the universe that comes to life in the pages of “Mikey-Mike’s ZooYoga Party,” a new children’s book by Michael Paduano.

The book’s plot revolves around the author’s alter-ego, Mikey-Mike, who lives in an African jungle. As the story unfolds, various animals arrive at his house for a party bearing all sorts of colorful gifts. For example, Zulu Zebra arrives with fresh flowers he found along his journey and a clever rhyme explains what a zebra is and talks about his personality. The next page is Mikey-Mike’s gift back to the animals — a yoga pose named after them.

“I didn’t think anything about a guy zebra giving another guy flowers,” says Paduano. “Maybe if it was people, [but] you’re a kid. It’s OK to pick flowers whether you’re a boy or a girl. Kids should be able to do what they want to do as far as being creative.

“In the beginning of the book, I wanted it to be very clear, outside of introducing children to fitness, [that the book] encourages fair play, good citizenship and embraces all cultures and ethnicities,” Paduano adds. “I had an amazing childhood. My parents always allowed me to be creative — they never said you can’t do this. I have a lot of diverse friends and the animals in the book are very diverse with their color, size, [some] crawl, [others] run. I think there’s a lot of variety out there with children, too. With so much diversity, it’s important that there’s a lot more multicultural education in the classroom, whether it’s music, or language, or visual arts. The book is kind of celebrating all of that.”

Paduano, who’s 46 and lives in Rancho Mirage, grew up in Kirkland, Wash. He began teaching group exercise in high school and worked as a fitness director coordinating classes at five gyms while attending Seattle Central College. “In high school I did track, cross country, and swim team so I was kind of a cardio junkie,” he says. As an adult, he became a two-time Mr. Fitness National Physique Committee Emerald Cup Champion, competed at the national top ten level for the National Aerobic Championships in men's individual where he was a U.S. bronze world qualifier, and won a Triple-A Fitness & Bodybuilding Gold Medal. Among a few of his many other interests, he's pursued modeling, acting, writing and directing. He also has a sales background, starting with his work as an account executive for Sprint PCS in Seattle. So in 2000, friends encouraged him to move to Palm Springs, where he had a second home, and transition his sales skills into real estate, which he’s still active in today.

“I spend a lot of time [doing volunteer work] at The Living Desert so I wanted to do a book that kids locally could read about the animals and then actually see them,” says Paduano. “All of them are there at The Living Desert except the crocodile.” And all of the animals in “Mikey-Mike's ZooYoga Party” have African geographic names such as Togo Turtle and Cameroon Cheetah. “Africa is such an amazing continent,” Paduano says. “You’ve got mountains, desert, and oceans.”

For the book’s visuals, Paduano says he wanted an old-style, Yogi Bear-type cartoon illustration, not a narrative illustration where the story is told through the pictures. “I wanted emphasis on the words, so my drawing is for a younger audience and my reading level is a little higher age level. I think the combination is appropriate because people have older and younger brothers and sisters.” He anticipates the book will appeal to children from 4 or 5 years old up to age 10 or 11.

Paduano also just finished filming and executive-producing a pilot for a “Mikey-Mike’s ZooYoga Party” television show that parallels the storyline of the book. “I introduce myself to kids and talk about an animal,” he says. “So I’ll talk about the cheetah, then there’ll be video of the cheetah running and stretching, and then we’ll go into the cheetah pose. [But] this time I’m able to show the animals in the wild, running and sleeping and having fun.”

For Paduano, both projects are the culmination of engaging in what he thinks kids like — and that’s having fun. “Every day should be a party,” he says. “I think when you’re around a lot of kids and you’re around people of diversity and culture, to me, it’s always exciting.”

About the Book

“Mikey-Mike's ZooYoga Party” is available for print on demand, or digital download, at www.MichaelPaduanoAuthor.com, $18.99.

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