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No time to grow up

For Paul Borgese, the line between dealing with children and adults is often a thin one.

The author, singer-songwriter and marketing consultant (and he’s funny, too) spends his days working with executives from global corporations and his nights working on elementary school-pleasing songs like Monster Soup and I Drive Mom Up the Wall.

While his occupations appear to be from two completely different worlds, Borgese says they are almost one in the same.

"A lot of the executives I deal with are, in a sense, big babies," the 35-year-old says with a laugh. "It turns out most of the concepts I address in kids’ songs can be applied to the people I handle in the business world."

Borgese has achieved national acclaim as a children’s author and — with the recent release of his album, Even the Monkeys Fall Out of the Trees — a recording artist. And while he is perfectly at home reciting his whimsical poems and stories for audiences of elementary-schoolers, it’s safe to say the 13th and Tasker native never expected to have such a storied second career.

Although he says he missed out on such time-honored kid classics as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, Borgese displayed a knack for writing and rhyming while attending Annunciation BVM School at 12th and Wharton streets.

The self-proclaimed "huge comic book and Captain America fan" enjoyed letting his imagination run wild on paper and often impressed his peers with his clever characters and catchy poems.

His family migrated to Cherry Hill, N.J., when Borgese was 8, a move that initially left the youngster in a state of culture shock. "I was just used to our neighborhood and all of the familiar faces. I remember when we first moved here, I looked around and thought, ‘Man, these people are different.’"

Borgese eventually adapted to his new surroundings and continued developing his writing prowess at Cherry Hill East High. He moved on to the University of Pennsylvania and began a long journey that would eventually net him five academic degrees, a trip to England and a successful dual career.

It was Borgese’s fondness for trying out different things that led him to volunteer at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia while he was a freshman at Penn. He spent his nights reading and joking around with many of the hospital’s young patients and found that they rekindled his enjoyment of poetry and puns.

Before he knew it, Borgese was writing children’s poems at every available moment, often using inanimate objects in class to serve as his inspiration.

"I would just be sitting there, staring off into space, and one of my friends would bet me that I couldn’t come up with a poem before the end of class," Borgese says. "I once even wrote a poem about a string that was hanging from my professor’s sweater."

After a while, Borgese believed he had enough poems for a book and began searching for a publisher. A small company in Princeton made him an offer and in 1988, Borgese’s first book hit the shelves. When Fish Go Peopling was a critical success. It includes The Grumbles, a poem about noises in children’s stomachs:

I’m sure that you hear them late at night,

When you didn’t eat dinner (not even a bite!)

Then they bounce in your belly and stomp with their feet!

They are starving in there with nothing to eat!

"Look, I’ve always loved wordplay," Borgese explains. "Puns, all of that kind of stuff is great. And the thing is, kids love it, too. It makes them think and they get a real kick out of it."

While his writing career was just taking off, Borgese was far from finished with his education. After graduating from Penn with degrees in English and economics, he was awarded the prestigious British Marshall Scholarship, which allowed him to attend a college of his choice in England for free.

Borgese settled on Prince Charles’ alma mater, Cambridge University, and left in 1992 with a degree in literature from Trinity College (a school of Cambridge). Shortly thereafter, Borgese began working as a bank examiner for the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank and soon found himself toying around with the idea of expanding on his earlier success as a children’s author.

"I had really always wanted to write music and have a band, but I had a violin forced on me from an early age," Borgese says. "It gave me a good grounding in musical theory, but how was I going to sing with that thing under my chin?"

In 1994, he let go of the violin in favor of a guitar and formed the Strawberry Traffic Band with a friend who brought several musicians along with him. They quickly began working on turning Borgese’s poems into songs with the goal of eventually recording an album.

"Honestly, I think we’re a lot like the Blues Brothers," Borgese deadpans.

The subsequent release of two other books, A Sunday Stroll and Hunting for the Whipperwoo, earned Borgese praise from educators and parents throughout the country as he completed work on Even the Monkeys Fall Out of the Trees, his band’s 13-song debut album.

The album won a Parents’ Choice Award and prompted Borgese to take his show on the road to schools in New Jersey and New York. He had no trouble connecting with his audiences, mainly comprised of Lilliputian-sized kids who actively sang along and shouted out requests.

"It’s actually really cool to play for the kids. I even had a bunch of them chase me through the hallway at a school in New Jersey. It reminded me of something out of A Hard Day’s Night — you know that scene where all the girls are chasing after the Beatles? It was like that, except I think they were after my lunch money."

While Borgese enjoyed strumming for the youngsters, he did find time to earn master’s degrees from the Fels Center of Government at Penn and the Stern School of Business at New York University.

The degrees helped Borgese write his first non-children’s book, M&A; From Planning to Integration: Executing Acquisitions and Increasing Shareholder Value. While the title is unlikely to inspire his younger readers, it has won rave reviews from some of the firms with whom the sales and marketing consultant regularly works, among them Merrill Lynch, PNC Bank, Proctor & Gamble and Microsoft.

While his day job keeps him more than busy, Borgese is already contemplating where he might want to take his children’s entertainment career.

"I’ve been thinking about doing a Halloween album because, plain and simple, I like monsters," he cracks. "I’ve even thought about maybe doing cartoons or comic books. [The genre] can really lead you in a lot of different directions."

For now, his main goal is to keep kids entertained and reading. Among the charities in which Borgese is active is the Need to Read foundation, which he started in 1994. He also donates part of the proceeds from his book and album sales to various literary foundations.

His newest cause is the National Children’s Book Project, which gives high-quality books to low-income families.

"It’s a really noble cause. We have to teach kids the importance of focusing on reading," he says.

And, as Borgese well understands, the importance of being a kid.

For more information, visit www.paulborgese.com.

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