When Andrea Blake-Garrett speaks, family stories tumble out.
Her grandparents who met as gardeners on a sugar cane plantation in Jamaica. Her father's hard life on the island during World War II when you had to dip candles out of coconut oil. Blake-Garrett's own childhood tales when she made dolls out of dry mango seeds.
These days, Blake-Garrett, a 40-year-old South Ward resident, is spinning her own tales for a wider audience after she published her first children's book — all based on stories about her four-year-old twins.
"The Adventures of Izzy & JuJu: Twin Detective Investigators (T.D.I.) - The Case of the Missing Flowers," was published January of this year by AuthorHouse and is the first of 10 children's science-based books, said Blake-Garrett, a trained science teacher and professor and a current Jersey City school administrator. The two characters, a boy named Izzy (short for Israel) and a girl named JuJu (short for Julia), are directly modeled after her twins with the same names.
The two kids live in a large, rambling house in Newark drawn very much like the one Blake-Garrett lives in with her husband Walter and their children in Clinton Hill. In the book, the twins have adventures speaking to the flora and fauna outside their home and investigate the blooms of their mother's hyacinth plants.
Blake-Garrett said the book was inspired by her twins' questions about the flowers one time.
"I write everyday about the little antics they do," she said.
She sent these cute real-life tales and periodic updates on her twins to her many friends, who encouraged her to write a book about them, she said. Emboldened, she wrote the manuscript from 2009 to 2010, drawing upon her knowledge of science and childhood education.
She sent it to many publishers who rejected them. But undaunted, Blake-Garrett had her book self-published at AuthorHouse and to date has had 1,800 books sold since January to local schools, organizations and families.
The response has been positive with people clamoring for the book after hearing about it through word of mouth, Blake-Garrett said.
The book is particularly wordy for a young children's book, Blake-Garrett said, because it's meant to not only entertain but also educate kids and promote literacy.
"I am a teacher at heart," she said. "I don't want kids to be afraid of words."
Education has been a central tenet in her family, she said. Blake-Garrett's parents always encouraged her and her four other siblings to go to school and better themselves.
Blake-Garrett was a scholarship student at the all-girls Catholic prep school Saint Vincent Academy in Newark. She has multiple degrees, including a doctorate from Seton Hall University on educational administration.
Currently, Blake-Garrett is the supervisor of nonpublic schools in Jersey City, which includes some affiliated with religious institutions. She also serves as supervisor for the city's Office of Home Instruction, which provides education to children who are not able to attend school. She consults on science education and teaches at New Jersey City University.
"My wife is the smartest person I have ever met in my life," said her husband Walter Garrett, who worked to help put her through school.
Meanwhile, Blake-Garrett expects her twins to go to college. Money from the book sales will go into a fund for that purpose.
"They are going to college," she said, determined.
For more information on the book or to purchase it, go to http://theadventuresofizzyandjuju.com.