When she was in the 6th grade, Debbie Barbuto — now known as Mommy Moo Moo — won 1st prize at her elementary school for creating a poster that encouraged people to attend a Book Fair. Her award? Thirty dollars worth of books. She felt like she hit the jackpot. Now as an artist, mother, and still constant lover of books, she realizes that the experience foreshadowed her future.
Debbie was born in Maryland, and her family moved to Virginia before her first birthday. She has lived in the Old Dominion ever since. Growing up in the suburbs of Richmond, Debbie often visited her grandparents who lived on a farm in Mecklenburg County in southern Virginia. Her grandparents called Debbie a “city slicker,” but even so, she loved visiting the beef cattle and tobacco farm. Debbie especially grew to adore the cows.
She loved how the cows looked: their big, round bellies and skinny legs, their rectangular faces and long, beautiful eyelashes. They seemed so content as they chewed their cud. Debbie admired the way the cows stayed together as a herd — their sense of community. She was impressed that you could tell the time of day by the herd’s location on the farm: at 11 a.m., the cows would be in the northwest corner of the woods, by 3 p.m., they would be grazing by the pond. When it was feeding time, Debbie’s grandfather called the cows to the barn using long, loud, guttural sounds. And the cows mooed back. Then, the entire herd would run toward her grandfather, mooing excitedly as they entered the barnyard to eat fresh corn and hay. Debbie marveled at the cows before her. In return, the cows stared back and chewed their cud.
After Debbie became a mother, her second daughter Rachel — around age 2 at the time — gave Debbie the nickname “Mommy Moo Moo” due to her continued affinity with cows. And, eventually, Rachel and her sisters gave “Mommy Moo Moo” the inspiration to write.
Debbie began reading books to her children as soon as they were born. With her oldest daughter, Ashlee, who was born prematurely and spent her first month in the hospital, that meant books shared while cuddling in a rocking chair in the neonatal intensive care unit. Ashlee, tiny and vulnerable and attached to a myriad of wires and tubes, would melt into her mother’s warm embrace. The family love of stories has only grown with the addition of two more daughters.
Debbie is an entrepreneur and artist by nature and a gerontologist by training. From her work with the elderly, she knows the significance provided by the human touch and the importance of engaging all of the senses. From her time as a mom, she has discovered reading aloud creates a magical bond. Stories, she believes, are powerful, unifying connections for all ages.
Watching her children’s eyes light up when they read favorite books and treasuring their laughter and giggles when they read new ones together, Debbie was inspired. While she has loved reading to her children at their different ages and stages, Mommy Moo Moo especially enjoyed the board books of the baby and toddler years. Board books offer short, simple stories — perfect for short attention spans — in an almost indestructible format, which is important in the hands of curious toddlers and teething babies. Debbie loved watching her daughters smile, squeal, and kick their feet with delight when she read them their favorite board books. As the children grew and developed, she felt thrilled watching light bulbs turn on in their minds when they made a connection from a story to real life experiences. And because board books can create powerful building blocks for language development skills, snuggling together to read in a big, comfy chair was a carefree yet magical way to spend a few sweet moments.
One day, as Debbie sat rocking, breastfeeding, and reading board books to her youngest daughter, Rosalina, a voice inside her said, “You can write stories like this.” A few months later, she did. Thus, “Mommy Moo Moo” the author was born.
In addition to writing, Debbie also acts as the art director, conceptualizing the books, and selecting and collaborating with the illustrators to bring forth her vision. Debbie derives inspiration for stories from all around her, particularly on morning walks around her neighborhood — either with her children, her dog, or by herself. She’s also inspired by regular visits to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, her family’s sanctuary away from home, where they experience the serenity of the beach, the Atlantic Ocean, the marsh, the palm trees, and the friendliness of the people in the area. Debbie has always been one to take in the splendor and wonder of life. Through her books, she celebrates it.
At Pawley’s Island, Debbie also discovered Litchfield Books, an independent bookstore that devoted a special space to children and children’s books. An aquarium in the wall served as a window to a corner room, where parents could watch as their children explored their special niche. Book shelves were set at a kid-friendly height, and the brightly decorated walls displayed sea murals of colorful fish, graceful sea turtles, and smiling dolphins. There, Debbie felt at home finding wonderful stories to share with her children and exemplary board books with a worthiness she aspired to in her own writing: Jamberry, by Bruce Degan, The Owl and the Pussycat, by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett, and When the Elephant Walks, by Keiko Kasza. The welcoming space and inspirational stories at Litchfield Books* helped Debbie and her children connect with literature in very personal ways, and now she hopes her books will help other parents, grandparents, relatives, caregivers, and their children do the same.
Debbie lives with her husband who is her partner and soulmate, their three daughters whom they homeschool, and their Cairn Terrier in Richmond, Virginia and Pawleys Island, South Carolina. She lives by her mantra – “We live what we create. We create what we live.” Selah!
*Litchfield Books moved their store to a new location in 2012; therefore, sadly, for Mommy Moo Moo, the aquarium experience no longer exists except in her heart and memories.
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