A Children’s Book
Imagine a young girl who loathes her middle name.
Imagine she never fully gets over that feeling, despite many decades of living a carefree life with her first name.
Then one day that grown girl meets a goat with the same almost-forgotten middle name.
“Poor sweet kid,” she says, and they become very good friends.
The goat is full of mischief and wears her name like a badge of splendid royal-badness.
Imagine the grown girl writing a children’s book about this goat and their shared name and the goat’s escapades as she grows up.
Grown girl has a blast. First making the photos, then writing, then more photos and more writing. Then drawings by a most gifted illustrator.
And then? My Name is Ethel.
The story of a goat who doesn’t like her name.
August 2015. It was love at first sight for the little kid with a heart on her head. (Maybe a little pity too.)
Ethel arrived at Tucker Farm with her sister. The kid with a heart on her head had been escaping through fences and climbing on neighborhood cars. The previous owners were at wits’ end.
My friend Karen has Tucker Farm and is ‘Mama T’ in the story. She’s got a thing for wayward animals. She also has a thing for Hollywood names and like me, she loved the old I Love Lucy show.
Meet Karen and Ethel’s sister, Lucy…
Right from the start, Ethel had a larger-than-life personality. Lucy is demure by comparison.
As Ethel’s daddy Steve says, “For Ethel, fences are mere suggestions.”
At Tucker Farm the goats share a pasture with the donkeys. There are also horses, chickens, dogs, cats, ducks and geese; many of whom have been rescued.
Karen and I talked about a children’s book set at Tucker Farm. But what would the storyline be? Then one day it hit me. Ethel! Our shared name. Her mischievous ways. Why of course! There were already built in subplots. Her fence line escape-ades, her insatiable curiosity, her love of cars, and by then, Ethel had become a real poser. I had accumulated a nice variety of photos.
I did some research and discovered there are very few children’s books that use photography, especially with a look that’s beyond straight documentation. The SheepOver by John and Jennifer Churchman was a great source of inspiration. In the story, real animals in dreamy settings depict a real event on the Churchman’s farm. It’s impossible not to fall for Sweet Pea the sheep, and her colorful friends.
I experimented for days on end using different textured backgrounds and effects, often adding elements, filters and colors until I had my look. A single photo might take all day, as I’d create layer upon layer in Photoshop.
Not only did I add birds and clouds and fun colors to the photo above, in the text to accompany the photo, Lucy says to her sister, “Chin up buttercup.” My pasture happened to be full of buttercups so it only made sense to snatch a few and drop them in.
Ethel meets the fainting goats, Lena (upper left) and Grace (front left)
The fainting goats are inseparable but as luck would have it, I had a fun photo of Ethel sticking her tongue out as Grace (white goat) appears to be listening in earnest to what Ethel has to say. But where is Lena? (black goat). She was just outside the frame. After I added Lena, I dropped out the background and added colors and swirls and textures. As with many of the photos, I slightly increased the size of the goats’ eyes for greater effect. Just a little.
Ethel was puzzled by the fainting goats’ behavior. The spread is entitled, A Good Mystery. After doing rough layouts on the spreads, I realized there was plenty of white space for some drawings. I worked with the talented Joni Ray, to custom-illustrate a theme from each spread.
Joni did great job with Ethel as Sherlock Holmes…one of my favorite drawings in the book.
Okay…got the hang of a consistent look, time to write the story. Writing doesn’t flow as easily for me as putting a spin on photos. My boyfriend would be dispatched to the man cave so I could pace in peace…and stare out the window with nothing outside in focus.
The inseparable Lena and Grace…
Then great googa mooga. I strapped myself in and over 6000 words came tumbling out! Whoa. Final version…approximately 4000 words. Good for several bedtimes in a row, if you’re a mommy doing the reading.
While I wrote and edited photos, things were happening on Tucker Farm. Not only did we create photo shoots to include everyone in the pasture and follow the storyline, the goats and donkeys created their own stories.
As if begging to be in the book, Shelby carried Ethel’s bucket around for me to photograph.
There are three pygmy goats at Tucker Farm and two of them are the biggest bullies in the barn. Head-butters. Butt-butters. Butt. Butt. Butt. Daisy and Rose. Don’t let the flowery names fool you.
One morning Karen discovered Rose was missing a horn and clearly Daisy was the culprit. Losing a horn can be very painful for a goat. Rose was isolated for a month while she healed.
Before Rose was reintroduced to the gang, Karen taped tennis balls on Daisy’s horns. First red duct tape, then purple. Purple balls. Hmmm. I could have some fun with that.
Goats tend to reestablish hierarchy when someone joins the herd, even a familiar face. The tennis balls were a safety precaution should Rose and Daisy get into it again. What a photo opp…although I may have gotten carried away when I decided to paint the entire fence pink.
As it turned out, Ethel won the butting contest.
I thought a sombrero party would be a grand way to end the book. After many adventures, Ethel-the-goat learns to appreciate her name. Her friendships even more. And along the way, she even taught me how to appreciate that silly name.
Time for a fiesta!¡!
I thought I’d bring a bunch of sombreros and line everybody up, behatted, and have an easy shoot. I’d be in majority-control. Leading the troops.
I was delusional.
Sombreros were nibbled and chomped and mutilated and there was much hiccuping and laughing going on.
I decided to go with the Tucker Farm photo booth look.
Do whatever comes naturally…
Plan it out…
Wear it well…
Throw in a couple of cacti…
I won’t give away the ending or any of the other Ethel adventures along the way. See for yourself! Meet the goat with the heart on her head in My Name is Ethel.
You can find My Name is Ethel on Amazon…
Or for a personally signed copy, please visit my Animal Garden Shop site and be sure to tell us Ethels who too make it out to…
For ages 4-104. Hardcover, 48 pages. $19.95