FAIRMONT - "What do you need to ..." meant the start of a story and a game in Amanda Zoch's house.
"It's something I remember playing when I was little," said the 25-year old Jackson native, recalling the stories her father, Paul Zoch, would make up when she and her brother Joe were children.
Years later, in 2008, Paul published his first book, "What Do You Need to Go Camping?" Since then he has published three others, most recently, "What Do You Need to Trim a Christmas Tree?" The series' main characters are two ambitious young squirrels, Blaze and Maddy, who get a little confused as they try to figure out what they need in order to accomplish different projects, with mom and dad stepping in to give some guidance toward the end of each story.
Amanda Zoch, with her dog Layah
Speaking as a father, Paul believes it's important to let children be independent and solve problems on their own; as easy as it is for parents to step in and take over, doing so doesn't allow children to learn the lessons they need to learn in order to succeed in life.
"I love to read about successful people," he said. "The majority had a failure or two along the way, and some of them had quite a few."
As a young man, Paul overcame a huge obstacle in his own life. Due to dyslexia and his embarrassment about his disability, he did not truly learn to read until after high school. Since then, he has started a successful business - Jackson-Fairmont Dental Labs, which he recently sold - and penned three of the four books in his "What Do You Need?" series.
This fourth book is when things really came full circle for Paul. His daughter, Amanda, had helped with the previous stories, but for the most recent book, she took the reins.
Amanda is working on her doctorate in English literature at Indiana University and teaching an undergraduate course. In addition to her already packed schedule, she primarily wrote the story for "What Do You Need to Trim a Christmas Tree?" and collaborated with the illustrator, Blaise Jacobsen. Jacobsen, another Jackson native, is a friend of the Zoch family and a recent graduate of Minnesota State University, with his master's degree in art.
"It was really a team approach," Paul said, and the experience provided a learning opportunity for everyone involved.
"It was a lot of fun to be able to work on something together with my daughter, since she's busy and I'm busy," he said.
"... We would butt heads once in a while," he said, laughing. "We're both strong-willed, but wow, she has some amazing ideas."
Included in all the books are details of their creators' personal lives, including a Jackson Wildcat jersey that the boy squirrel, Blaze, often wears.
"They all feature a piano, which is where the first camping story came from, when the kids wanted to bring a piano on a camping trip," Paul said.
Next up for Blaze and Maddy, the two squirrels will learn what they need in order to play ball.
"We'll do one, maybe two more for sure, as long as we're having fun," Paul said.
Paul will be available to sign copies of his books from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Good News Bookstore in Fairmont, and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. that day at On the Wall. Proceeds from sales of "What Do You Need to Trim a Christmas Tree" will go to the local Salvation Army and Martin County Humane Society.
The books are regularly available for purchase at these Fairmont establishments, plus Sterling Drug, or at Barnes & Noble in Mankato.