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Long Island twin ex-teachers write kids' book series

Identical twin children's book authors, Sheila, left, and

Identical twin children's book authors, Sheila, left, and Letty Sustrin, with their dog Belle. The Deer Park duo has a fourth children's picture book coming out in November, 2012. Credit: Handout

Over the past 10 years, identical twins Letty and Sheila Sustrin have accumulated quite a collection of ballet shoes. And they don't even dance.

The Deer Park sisters, 74, have written a series of children's books called "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire" about a teacher named Mrs. Belle, who always wears her trademark ballet slippers.

And so the siblings make sure to wear ballet shoes themselves to presentations -- silver ones, gold ones, black ones, pink ones. The former kindergarten and first-grade teachers, who taught side-by-side in the Brentwood School District for 38 years and have always lived together, also dress alike. "The children get such a kick out of us dressing the same," Letty says.

But they do offer a clue to their identities: Each makes sure to wear a necklace or a pin with her first initial.

On Sunday, the twins are scheduled to present the fourth book in their series, "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Becomes a Movie Star," at 12:30 p.m. at the YMCA Boulton Center in Bay Shore. The book, geared to ages 4 to 10, tells how Mrs. Belle's town nominates her as "favorite teacher" and a crew is sent from Hollywood to document her life.

The Sustrins will read the picture book aloud. Their illustrator, Thomas H. Bone III, will demonstrate how he draws Mrs. Belle. Everyone will get a Mrs. Belle's Fan Club badge -- the Sustrins have ordered 1,500 -- as well as red-and-white movie-theater-style boxes of popcorn, snacks and drinks. "It's like the last scene of the story," Sheila Sustrin says, when the town gathers to watch Mrs. Belle's premiere. A raffle will determine who in the audience gets to keep Bone's illustration from the afternoon, and one person will receive a free book.

The previous books also will be for sale: "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire," "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp" and "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Discovers a New Planet."

The Sustrins' first book came out in 2002, after the duo took early retirement from the Brentwood School District. They searched for new hobbies and decided to write children's books. Because their young students had trouble understanding the concept of retirement, they decided to write about that.

In the first book, Mrs. Belle, missing her school, sneaks back inside in various disguises, including a window washer and a food service worker. But everyone knows it's her because of her ever-present ballet shoes. Finally, the school allows Mrs. Belle to return every Friday to read to the children in the library.

In "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp," Mrs. Belle takes over for the head counselor, who breaks her leg. She causes havoc at camp because she will only wear her ballet shoes, and she hurts her toe hiking and slips and loses all the food. The campers create safe shoes for her that they decorate with ballet slippers so Mrs. Belle learns a safety lesson.

When Mrs. Belle "Discovers a Planet" in the third book, it's a pink shining ball in the sky. She and school principal Mr. Rivera go into space and name the planet Bellerina, a play on Mrs. Belle's name and her affinity for ballet.

The Sustrins are so involved with their second career as children's book writers that they even named their Scottish terrier Belle after their protagonist. The duo also is working on a fifth book, to be called -- oh, no! -- "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers."


WHAT Children's book reading and signing of "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Becomes a Movie Star" (Blue Marlin, $17.95)

WHEN|WHERE 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Boulton Center of the Performing Arts, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore

INFO Free; 631-969-1101

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