Sayville resident releases children’s book about first ladies

‘Ladies, First: Common Threads’

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First ladies are an important group that tend to be forgotten by history. On June 2, National First Ladies Day, a new book for readers aged 9 and up will try to remedy that fact. “Ladies, First: Common Threads” is Sayville resident Debra Scala Giokas’s second book and her first that touches on the first ladies.

The book dives into stories about 18 first ladies and focuses on ones who at one point in their lives knitted, crocheted, embroidered, quilted, cross-stitched or sewed. The book contains photos of the ladies’ work and tells stories that humanize these extraordinary women.

Scala Giokas, who is an avid crocheter, said she first got the idea to write this book after learning that Ida McKinley crocheted 4,000 slippers in her lifetime. She was originally going to write a picture book on McKinley, but decided to highlight more first ladies and their work. Scala Giokas noted that as a society we tend to know quite a bit about the first few first ladies as well as the more recent ones, but not a lot about the ones in the middle.

A lot of research went into the book, with Scala Giokas reaching out to libraries and museums around the country to gather information. She learned lots of interesting stories about the first ladies, such as the fact that Dolley Madison’s favorite flavor of ice cream was oyster. She also shared that Martha Washington was a master needleworker.

“She was very practical, but also very artistic,” Scala Giokas said. “A lot of the things she made were to be used.”

Scala Giokas also spoke about Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a knitter. Through her research, Scala Giokas learned that whenever Eleanor Roosevelt was sitting, she was knitting. She always kept a book in her knitting work as well as in her knitting supplies.

“They were almost becoming my friends in a way because when you start writing about them, you try to get into their head and their heart a little bit,” Scala Giokas said of the different first ladies she wrote about. “It was like unraveling a skein of yarn, if you will.”

The book also contains virtual sites for children to explore to learn more about the ladies, as well as historic sites they can visit in person.

Scala Giokas is a professional member of the Crochet Guild of America and makes crochet dolls, which she sells on Etsy.

“Knitting did not stick with me, but I am an avid crocheter,” Scala Giokas said. “I learned when I was about 9 and I put it down as we all get involved in high school and things like that, but about 12 years ago I picked up the hook again.”

“Ladies” is Scala Giokas second book. Last year, she released the picture book “Claire: The Little Girl Who Climbed to the Top and Changed the Way Women Dress.” The illustrator she worked with for that book, Mary Ryan Reeves, illustrated the cover for “Ladies.”

“Ladies, First: Common Threads” is available on Amazon. Coming up, Scala Giokas will be speaking at the Oyster Bay Historical Society on June 25 at 1 p.m. Information on the event can be found at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ladies-first-common-threads-tickets-347302520187. 

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