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Explaining mom's career Seven books show mothers balancing their busy lives

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

JANE SAYLER IS A wife and the mother of three sons.

Jane Sayler is a veterinarian and the owner of a Frederick animal hospital.

Jane Sayler is also the main character in "Jane Sayler: Veterinarian," one in a recent seven-part series of children's books about mothers with careers outside their homes.

Seven women star in "Working Moms: A Portrait of Their Lives," written and photographed by two working mothers from suburban Philadelphia and published by Twenty-First Century Books of Frederick. Designed mainly as "career books" for youngsters in grades 2 to 4, the stories show the women at home and at work, talking about their families and their professions -- and about time, stress and choices.

The books also let children know that although mom's away she hasn't forgotten them.

"Children read these books and know 'when my mom's at work she still thinks about me,' " says Dr. Sayler. "I think it's important that children realize that."

Dr. Sayler and Karen Strange, a theater producer from Walkersville in Frederick County, are the Maryland mothers featured. The others, from Delaware and Pennsylvania, are: Zoe McCully, a park ranger; Anne Abrams, an engineering drafter; Ubel Velez, a lawyer; Sharon Oehler, a pediatrician; and Carol Thomas-Weaver, a music teacher.

"I have always felt real strongly about the changing roles of women," says the author, Jennifer Bryant of Downingtown, Pa. "The existing books were sex stereotyped."

So, when Ms. Bryant, a high school teacher, became a mother, she decided not to go back to teaching, but to try writing instead. She teamed up with her photographer friend, Pamela Brown, a single mother who also works as a caterer, to try to sell one book about "women who work."

The publisher, however, asked if they could expand the idea into several books, Ms. Bryant says. The series was "kind of hammered out as we went along," she adds, and the subjects chosen through informal recommendations from other women.

Ms. Bryant and Ms. Brown wanted their subjects to represent a variety of professions, families and child-care arrangements. They wanted to show the many opportunities and responsibilities women have -- and what a balancing act their lives can be.

Park Ranger McCully drew the attention of the author and photographer while working at Marsh Creek State Park near Ms. McCully's home in Eagle, Pa. "Ithought it was a wonderful idea," Ms. McCully said of the book about her. "Anything I can do to help up-and-coming people, I'm happy to."

Ms. McCully has been a seasonal ranger, working full time from March through November, for five years. She has an 8-year-old daughter and a 21-month-old son. Her husband is an engineer for Philadelphia Electric Co. While she works, her husband and parents care for the youngsters.

Dr. Sayler says she thinks she was selected because there is a kind of mystique surrounding veterinarians and because she cares for the animals of Jeffrey Shulman, the publisher of Twenty-First Century Books. She was a little uneasy, at first, about being in the series.

"I didn't think I wanted an outsider coming into my life and making a judgment," says Dr. Sayler, whose sons are 10, 7 and 5. A veterinarian for 13 years, she owns the West Frederick Veterinary Hospital and lives five minutes away in Middletown.

She is, however, pleased with the book about her.

"I think it portrays veterinary medicine in a very positive light," she says. The book's photos show Dr. Sayler cleaning one dog's teeth and operating on another's broken leg, as well as doing a checkup on a kitten.

"It's certainly better than the boring career books we had."

She and her husband, Ric, often joke about "our perfect life" depicted in the book, she says.

If the families appear calmer and more orderly than many, it is not because the author or the publisher is a Pollyanna, says Mr. Shulman. These books are no rosier than other career books that cast jobs in a positive light, he points out.

"I think that these books present a positive picture of a life of a working mom for young readers.

"We've tried to show the stress of being a working mom . . . to show a challenge that is being met by many women and their families. Millions are living in these kinds of families and making it work."

Dr. Sayler's book, for instance, begins with her sleepily enjoying the early-morning quiet and wishing for a few more peaceful minutes.

And in her book, Karen Strange, the single mother of a son, age 6, and a daughter, age 4, talks about time pressures:

"Alex and Lucy are patient with my schedule, but like all children, they let me know when enough is enough. At that point, the theater has to shut down. They are the most important thing to me. And I know how important I am to them. I'm their family."

Ms. Strange owns Imagination Station, a children's theater company in Frederick. She produces -- and often appears in -- four productions a year, three of which she takes on the road. The company travels to about 300 schools and recreation centers, giving about 600 performances for children in kindergarten through sixth grades each year.

"I don't have a 9-to-5 job. I don't have weekends or evenings off," says the actress, who started the theater company when her daughter was 6 months old. Even with a chaotic schedule, she says she has more time with her children than a regular job would allow. "I take them with me as much as possible."

When the children can't go to work with her, Ms. Strange says, "I always have somebody come here," rather than taking her children away from home. "I have a list of sitters that boggles the mind . . . and a real good group of friends and neighbors."

All of the women in the series graduated from college or technical school, says Ms. Bryant.

"We made a conscious decision . . . to focus on the professional who is also a mother" because of the intended audience -- schools and libraries looking for career books.

Nearly 50,000 copies of the books have been sold since they were introduced in March, making them "very successful," says Mr. Shulman. "It meets a need for children to see pictures of family life that they know." It also shows young girls the range of careers open to them, he adds.

Ms. McCully says she is occasionally "a split-second" celebrity, when someone stops her in the grocery store to say: "My kid had that book out of the library and I recognize you." The books are also popular with her daughter's friends.

The author's own 3-year-old daughter is one of her biggest fans.

"She asks every night to have me read one of them," says Ms. Bryant, who gladly complies.

"I never had this kind of book when I was growing up," she says. "Pam and I feel like we've done something that's really made a difference."

The seven books, "Working Moms: A Portrait of Their Lives" are not available in bookstores. They can be ordered directly from the publisher at 38 S. Market St., Frederick 21701, (301) 698-0210. Or call the publisher's customer service department, (800) 488-5233. Each book costs $15.95.

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