I have a low retaining wall in my backyard, lined with rose bushes. On the other side of the wall is my neighbor’s ivy. When the sun’s out, so are the lizards, basking in the warmth and doing their little pushups on the wall.
I also am the husband of a kindergarten teacher, which puts me in her classroom quite often, and “Papa” to 5- and 4-year-old granddaughters. That means I read a lot of children’s books.
So I was intrigued when, while standing in line at my bank on Western Avenue, I noticed on a table nearby a promotion for a book titled The Lizard in the Roses. Beautifully illustrated, with bright, vibrant colors and cute little animal and insect characters that inhabit the book’s backyard, the story written in rhyme, I immediately thought this was something my granddaughters would enjoy.
None of which made it column material until I read that the author, Jeana Radovcich, is a native San Pedran, and the book is dedicated to her parents, Joe and Marilyn Scarcello, whom I happen to know. Joe worked for many years at the family-owned Rapid Shoe Repair on 6th Street.
The book came about almost by accident. Jeana, who attended White Point, Dana and graduated from San Pedro High in 1984, isn’t a teacher and doesn’t have children. What she has is a desire to paint, which was nurtured by her art teacher in high school, Margaret Works, but never went much further as she began a career in bookkeeping.
She did paint an oil portrait of Barbra Streisand, which she took down to Sunyata Gallery in San Pedro, where she met Tom Phillips. That friendship led to her modeling for some of the late artist’s well-known paintings of local landmarks. That’s Jeana in the orange dress in front of Phillips’ painting of Shanghai Red (“It doesn’t look a lot like me, but it’s me”), and she’s the figure with the umbrella in front of the Point Fermin Lighthouse.
She still wanted to paint, however, and finally, her husband, an IT professional, said, “We can handle it (financially). Go ahead and quit and do it.”
“I was sort of blocked, I couldn’t squeeze it out, and got depressed,” Jeana recalls of her search for inspiration. “I read books to unblock myself, and one day was out in the backyard, being in nature, with the now. That’s what I was doing when I saw the lizard.
“I loved to look at them. There was one on a rose bush, who used to run away, and one on the wall I could walk right up to. I saw the lizards there one day and told my husband there was a lizard under the roses. He handed me a pencil and pad of paper and told me to write it down.”
And that’s how the lizard book became “based on true events.”
The hardbound book is so professionally done that it comes as a shock that it was self-published, digitally illustrated. But that’s just one of the benefits of being married to a computer expert with his own company. George, whose father captained a fishing boat in San Pedro, attended Mary Star and was a member of the last class of Fermin Lasuen before graduating from Loyola Marymount. According to Jeana, he said, “Here, let me give you this digital tablet, and you can work with that. I was really intimidated by it… didn’t touch it for a year. He encouraged me to scribble, play with it. I got pretty good and learned all the little tricks.
“I had made some little sketches of the story I had written down and started with those. Next thing I knew, I had a little book,” she said.
They never even looked for a publisher. “My husband thought it was worthy of bringing it into reality as a book,” she recalls. “He was so impressed with the drawings, he wanted to do it himself. He knows all the computer tricks, the layout program. He did it all himself.
“It’s kind of like a little miracle for me. I was blocked, had no aspirations, and it just sort of came out. This may sound grandiose, but I think it’s something God wanted me to do.”
The book is available at Williams’ Book Store, Captain’s Treasure Chest, the Assistance League and The Corner Store in San Pedro, The Book Frog in the Promenade in Rolling Hills Estates, and Apostrophe Books in Long Beach. The cost is $16.99.
Jeana will be having a book signing at 3 p.m. April 27 at Williams’. If you have little kids of your own or, like me, little grandkids, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Lizard. And when you’re done reading it to them, tell them the inspiring story of a little San Pedro girl who grew up and became a children’s book author. spt