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Jan 31, 2023

‘Growing Up’ Book Series Focused on Experiential Learning with Family

By Shanna O’Mara

After a career in the classroom, Marlana DeMarco Hogan decided to teach herself a new skill: writing children’s books. Drawing inspiration from her Italian roots, her love for the Jersey Shore and her family, she recently published the fifth and final story in her “Growing Up” series. 

Hogan is a Millstone Township resident who is the first American-born child of an Italian immigrant family. Her books – “Growing Up in the Dragonfly Zone,” “Growing Up in the Pasta Zone,” “Growing Up in the Splash Zone,” “Growing Up in the Medieval Time Zone” and “Growing Up in the Torrone Zone” – bring to life childhood memories. These stories are “shared by my family members over four generations and two continents,” she said. Some books are set in her hometown while others travel back in time to the countryside of Italy. Another even takes readers to the beach at Sandy Hook.

“‘Growing Up in the Dragonfly Zone’ is where it all began,” she said. “I wrote that about 10 years before I even considered publishing it. It is truly a love poem to my son, and it is inspired by the beauty of our own magical backyard. We have the most idyllic backyard, woods of our own, with a path to a pond. With the changing seasons, he enjoyed our yard – a little boy and his dog. I drew from that as I put down those words. I didn’t even know what I was writing or what it would develop into.” 

After penning four more stories and sketching characters to accompany them, Hogan brought her work to Newman Springs Publishing in Red Bank.

“I worked with them hand in hand,” she said. “For each page, they brought my stick figures to life. I provided pictures, my sketches and obviously my words, and they developed these illustrations. We worked back and forth until I felt they captured what I was looking for.”

For her local stories, Hogan used personal experience to help capture the settings on the page. For those abroad, she tapped into her family history and network. She also connected with a resident of Trevico, Italy who sent present-day images of the town in which her parents were born and met. 

“I always wrote with family in mind,” she said, noting that each of her books is dedicated to a loved one who shaped her life. “The stories were theirs from the moment they began.”

Each story features a similar rhythm, a heartwarming theme of family and a note at the end about the benefits of experiential learning.

“I think the most profound learning occurs when everyone is doing it as a team, as a unit,” she said. “Whether the goal is to enjoy a day at the beach or make pasta sauce as a family, there’s so much hands-on learning every step of the way. I wanted one of my themes to be ‘play, explore, love and grow.’ That’s what came out of ‘Dragonfly Zone’ for me, and that connected in the other books.”

The “Growing Up” series can be purchased on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and at Comfort Zone in Ocean Grove. Each of Hogan’s books can also be found online at by searching her name. 

Three things to know about Marlana DeMarco Hogan:

1. She has been writing since she was a teenager, though she admits most were love poems “ripped into a million pieces and thrown to the wind.”

2. When her family visits from Italy, they enjoy exploring the beach and wooded areas of New Jersey.

3. Although Hogan has finished her “Growing Up” series, she has more stories about the seasons and animals which she may publish.