Penny West, author of Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read
children excited about the book 'Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read' being honored as a 2023 MLA finalist

Introducing the new children’s book Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read by Maine author Penny West, illustrated by Maret Hensick

2023 Maine Literary Awards FINALIST sticker

Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read honored as a 2023 Maine Literary Awards children’s book finalist!

Contact Penny West for author signings,
bulk & wholesale purchasing, and any other inquiries.

You can find Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read
at many mid-coast Maine locations...

boy drumming and singing out praise people have shared about 'Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read'

“This book inspired me to create my own alphabet.”


Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read is an important book and a spectacular accomplishment to tell the story so well and in such an original and engaging way. I have read many, many children’s books and haven’t read anything quite like it. This is a book that every teacher and parent should read to their kids.”

Carolyn OlivierCarolyn Olivierretired literacy teacher

“Having taught older children to read, I know that success comes when they realize that they’ve been reading all along, just in different ways, and that gives them confidence to move ahead.”

Margie ShannonMargie Shannon

“With the conversational story-line, approachable artistry, and the imaginative suggestions on the final pages, this book will inspire young readers to write with a renewed appreciation for the value and joy of written expression.”

Patricia YarrowPatricia YarrowM.A. in Japanese Literature from the University of Colorado

Once Upon a Time, Nobody Could Read! It’s TRUE! Reading, for us now, is like breathing! How could we not? But at some earlier point, we couldn’t at all. Penny West’s book challenges us to imagine what life might be without the ability to read at all! Now we can. But we must very much appreciate this subtle, but huge, gift of the invention of the alphabet and other writing systems to bring our thoughts and our society into our literal, common world. It helps us be a whole people. As a world!”

Douglas CoffinDouglas Coffinauthor/Illustrator of One Maine Christmas Eve

Author: Penny West
Illustrator: Maret Hensick
Book Designer: Lori Harley

Size: 9" X 9"
Length: 38 Pages
Price: $10.00

Publisher: Spentpenny Press,
Belfast, Maine
ISBN: 979-8-9867738-0-3

Penny West’s new children’s book delivers an empowering message for new readers.

Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read offers literacy from the unusual and joyful point of view of the invention of reading and writing. It is meant to appeal not only to the curious kindergartener and third-grader involved in learning to read, but also to their parents and grandparents! Inside, all will find cultural diversity, nature, history, creativity, prompts for critical thinking, and inspiration for imagination.

child reading a book

How can Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read empower new readers?

Once is about seeing oneself in the big picture of literacy, with an emphasis on inclusion, as there is no right way to write, read or talk. The suggestions at the end of the book expand this theme to include communication for the differently abled. Reading and writing are stalwart skills for any friendship, and can surpass the boundaries of time and place. The book also so importantly points out that even the pre-reader is paying attention to the world around and assigning meaning to that experience—this is empowering! And when one does learn to read, one can far more self-reliant.

What's so unique about Once?


Once Upon A Time Nobody Could Read takes the aha! thought that no one is born knowing how to read, and whizzes the reader back into prehistory to find the inventors of writing taking up the story of written language. Writing systems and languages are conventions, agreements between the participants so there is no right way to write, and wonderfully, people all over the world have invented many languages, reflecting many different world views with at least as many ways to codify them.

Once explores the usefulness of written language: how it aids in getting a message to another person without making a sound—to the next desk, or across miles or oceans or centuries past or future. The story empowers and encourages its readers to take advantage of written languages, and imagine new ways to communicate.


Who will appreciate Once?
Once will appeal to readers and their listeners who...
· have sense of humor
· are interested in history and language
· enjoy museums
· make things and marvel at what humankind has invented
· might be hesitant readers and/or writers
· like puzzles—historic, present day, and future  
· value interacting with others
· see the power of communication
· see themselves belonging to a bigger world

this is a spacer—ignore

It takes a village!

Author Penny West was born in Washington, D.C., went north for college and ended up raising a family in Maine, where she had spent summers as a child. It was there, in a camp by the sea, that the world of books opened for her, starting with bedtime stories and progressing to the joys of reading by herself. She was inspired to write Once Upon a Time Nobody Could Read after she was helping her children read and had an “Aha!” moment: our universal instinct toward language — spoken, signed, written — is so strong that we’ll do almost anything to use it. We invent words; create different languages; and share stories that connect us to the past, the future and the present. This book is a celebration of our innate desire to communicate.

Illustrator Maret Hensick was raised in Europe, returning to the United States to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She lived in Belgium, Germany, and five different states before settling in Maine. There she found her initial style while hand-painting T-shirts and selling them at craft fairs. Painting on fabric taught her never to be afraid of the blank white surface or of making mistakes. Her designs were inspired by things that made her laugh, and the quirkiness and beauty of life. She licensed her designs to over forty companies world-wide before retiring in 2019. Her current fine art work can be seen on the Greenhut Galleries website.

illustrated depiction of illustrator Maret Hensick
Maine graphic designer Lori Harley with her cat Ralphie

Designer Lori Harley had the good fortune to be swept to Maine’s shores and to become fluent in feline as a child. When not dancing, cycling, and making music, she combines her graphic sensibility, delight in visual puzzling, and love of language in her design practice, which has come to include some very unusual and satisfying books. She collaborates out of her studio in Portland, Maine.

© 2024 Penny West | Spentpenny Press | Belfast, Maine | Email Penny