A Children’s Book Inspired by an Unlikely Friendship

Marie Unanue's The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park sends a positive message to young readers.

It started with an unlikely friendship. Between cats. When Marie Unanue noticed that her neighbor’s chic and exotic cat, Payaso, enjoyed hanging out with Phatty, her own overweight, scrappy rescue cat, she sensed something special.

“Here was this beautiful cat coming by daily to visit my adopted, 28-pound cat,” says Unanue. “I watched them interact, and I saw it as an example that being different is okay, and you can be a friend no matter what.”

The observation inspired the Toms River native to write The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park, not only chronicling their adventures, but addressing the topic of bullying. “As a child I was bullied. I can remember what it felt like to not fit in at times,” she says.

Unanue’s book sends a positive message to children. “I wanted to give examples of forgiveness, empathy and compassion, while giving the kids a fun story,” she says. Self-published last year—with illustrations by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez—the book has sold more than 10,000 copies. Unanue has visited elementary schools in New Jersey and around the country, spreading her message of kindness to young children. She challenges them to perform an act of kindness every day—anything from helping a friend with homework to pitching in with household chores.

“The book has become my launching pad to something much bigger,” says Unanue, whose kindness challenge is explained on her website, letsallbekind.com.

Unanue is working on a sequel in the Mantoloking home she shares with husband Andy and their three dogs and two cats. She donates all proceeds from book sales to charity.

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