MARYVILLE, Mo. — Maryville writer Amy Houts, the author of more than 70 children’s books and other works, was in her element Saturday morning at the Harvest Blessings gift shop at 213 W. Fifth St. in Maryville.

Houts was at the store to sign copies of and give a reading from her newest book, God’s Protection Covers Me, a 30-page, faith-based illustrated reader aimed at families with young children.

The book, published by Beaming Books of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is firmly within the wheelhouse of Houts’ other works, which include children’s books, cookbooks and board games emphasizing early learning concepts and themes revolving around family, love, friendship, faith and holiday celebrations.

Houts has also published numerous short stories, articles and poems in such publications as Ladybug Magazine, Highlights Hello and Pockets Magazine.

In addition to God’s Protection Covers Me, other popular children’s titles by Houts include Think Like a Scientist, Goldfish are Boring, Dancing with Daddy and Max the Dog Goes to School.

Houts’ writing has netted her a long list of awards and honors, including the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Dr. Toy Best Vacation Children’s Product Award, the Missouri Writers’ Guild Walter William Major Work Award and the Creative Child Magazine Seal of Excellence.

Before carving her niche as a writer, Houts, a native New Yorker, spent time as a librarian, preschool teacher and small-town journalist.

Asked why most of her work is tailored for young readers and pre-readers, Houts, the mother of two grown daughters, said she felt she “understood that group more.”

“I feel like I can relate to them,” she said. “They’re just learning and growing so quickly. They want to explore the world and learn more about that world and their place in it.

“They’re learning and growing so fast that they have a lot to figure out, I think.”

Not all of Houts’ books are faith-based, but many of them are, and the devout Methodist said introducing religious themes to very young people carries its own unique challenges.

“It’s different,” she said. “I try to introduce something familiar and then move to the unfamiliar, something that’s harder to explain.”

Her latest book is a prime example and seeks to illustrate the notion of a kindly, protective God by comparing his desire to shield children from harm with the earthly shelters used by various animals.

“Like a barn protects a cow,” reads the opening passage, “or a Quonset for a sow, like a hive surrounds a bee, God’s protection covers me.”

While advanced concepts related to belief and theology are well beyond most young children, Houts said the use of familiar places and things can introduce youngsters to ideas about spirituality and faith that they are often eager to embrace.

“I think children are really in tune with that,” Houts said. “I think they see the wonder of nature and may connect with that even better than adults. They’re in tune with the mystery.”

In addition to signing copies of her new book and giving several readings during the morning session, Houts also gave away free coloring pages and an activity packet. In addition, the event included personalized anime portraits created by local artist Bernadette Badami.

While the children played or listened, parents browsed through the shop, which opened a year and a half ago under the ownership and management of Kristy Grimm. Besides books and cards, the store offers home decor items, men’s gifts, baby items, jewelry and toys.

God’s Protection Covers Me, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, is available through beamingbooks.com, Amazon, Target and other major booksellers.

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Staff writer Anthony Brown can be reached at tbrown@maryvilledailyforum.com or by calling the newspaper at 660.562.2424.

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