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STERLING, Ill. (AP) — Firefly Forest is in danger!

Suzy Shortbread, Penelope Pringles, Francis Frogs and others invite you along as they wage an epic battle between dark and white magic in a struggle to control the lands of Morada.

Teacher and self-published author Joplin James Crossland-Sell, 44, of Sterling, is releasing the first book in his young readers fantasy trilogy, “Tales from Mushroom Manor: The Sorceress Returns.”

The tale has been weaving itself through Crossland-Sell’s life for decades, born of a childhood tragedy.

“When I was just 8 years old, my father, James Robert Sell, was killed in a two-man airplane crash that happened here in Rock Falls,” he said.

“A part of me coped with his dying by creating these fantasy worlds in my mind of other dimensions where he was really at, going on these quests before he would be able to come back to Earth and be my dad again.”

The 1992 Sterling High School graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in public communication/human relations from Western Illinois University in 1998, then his master’s in special education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2005.

His teaching career kicked off in inner city Kansas City, and took him to Alamogordo Public School in New Mexico where he taught for 7 years. It was there the idea for Mushroom Manor sprouted.

“In teaching, I use a lot of alliteration. The very first thing I wrote was ‘I see a pretty pink pony prancing on a polka dotted ball.’ Then all of these ideas came to me,” Crossland-Sell said.

Every so often he shared his book with his students – without telling them it was his – to see how his target audience responded.

“I didn’t want them loving the book just because their teacher was the author.”

He managed to finish 11 chapters before his busy life – teaching, raising two teen boys as a single dad with no nearby family support – took priority over writing the book.

“I realized that I missed my family. I decided to make the move back to Sterling – I wanted my boys to go through the same schools that I went through.”

Back in the Sauk Valley, Crossland-Sells taught special education at Sterling High from 2012 to 2013, at Jefferson Elementary School in Sterling the year after, in the autism classroom at Oregon Elementary School from 2016 to 2017, and at Morrison Junior High for half the 2017 school year before accepting his current teaching position at the Jack Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon.

He hadn’t touched Mushroom Manor for 5 years when he attended a “Pathways to Successful Living” seminar in Chicago. It spurred him to set a goal to finish just one chapter, which snowballed into the book’s completion in about 2 months.

With one book done the the other two on the way, Crossland-Sells, who writes under the name Joplin James, remembers his father through literature.

“The creative writer in me was born by how I was able to process the loss of my father. He was such a powerful, loving force in my life, truly instilled my love for the arts and how to be a very involved father to my boys.

“I became a writer because of my father, he is the reason my pen name is Joplin James, in honor of him.”


Source: Sauk Valley Media,


Information from: Dixon Telegraph,