Yaffle’s Journey

Tara Bradbury
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‘Juneuary’ memories inspire children’s book from mother/daughter team

The summer of 2011, when it comes to the weather, was arguably the worst for Newfoundlanders in a long time. The month of June was labeled “Juneuary” by CBC meteorologist Ryan Snodden, and the entire island felt the chill, particularly on the east coast. Average temperatures, according to Snodden, stayed around nine degrees for the entire month, and it rained 26 days out of 30 in the St. John’s area. Fog was recorded in St. John’s on 27 of the 30 days in June.

For mother and daughter Nancy and Laurel Keating, the dark summer clouds had a silver lining: they inspired them to create a children’s book together.

It’s not the first book the duo has worked on together. Their two “Find Scruncheon and Touton” search-and-find picture books have proven popular, and Nancy has also illustrated a number of books for children and adults, including Susan Pynn Taylor’s “A Puppy Story” and “The Colours of my Home,” and Carmelita McGrath’s “The Dog-Next-Year.” The latest book is the first time Nancy has ever written a story as well as illustrated it.

“Yaffle’s Journey,” published by Creative Books, is the story of a little seagull, Yaffle, who is sick of the rain, drizzle and fog.

“Laurel had created this little seagull character, and she wanted to have a story written around him,” Nancy explained. “I said, ‘you know I can’t write, but I’ll try.’

“One day, we were out on the deck and we had this silly idea of a bird just taking the island and pulling it away from here. It was Laurel’s idea that the weather would follow along, and when she said that, we both just burst out laughing. Wouldn’t it be just our luck to be able to move this island and the weather would follow? It wasn’t something we sat down and thought about, it was more just inspired by the weather.”

In the book, which is written in rhyme, Yaffle decides to tie a rope to Newfoundland and pull it down south to sunnier weather. Once he’s there, he realizes the weather is just one of the things that makes home home.

“So Yaffle now knew: all along

His attitude had been all wrong

He’d tow Newfoundland to right where he began,

And put it back where it belonged,” the book goes.

The illustrations in the book, done entirely in coloured pencil, are vivid, evocative and extremely detailed, down to the patches on Yaffle’s backpack to the Tilt House Bakery gingerbread cookies he shares with his friends (both Nancy and Laurel work at the bakery, Nancy as a baker and Laurel as a cookie and cake decorator). Laurel was in charge of the sketches and colouring the tiny details, while Nancy acted more as a colourist, completing the big blocks of colour, like the sky or ocean.

“When you paint something, you can cover a large area in fairly quick time, but when you do something by pencil, you have to build up the colour, layer by layer,” Nancy explained of the tedious work. “We’ve always loved pencil, because it’s just so clean and easy.”

Nancy has been a graphic artist for the past 25 years or so, while Laurel, 23, is self-taught with a natural talent for illustrating, and has won provincial Arts and Letters Awards for her work. Their individual talents complement each other well, Nancy said. They laugh at each other’s ideas, fill in each other’s blanks and never quarrel.

It was Nancy and Laurel’s illustrations that drew in Creative Books publisher Donna Francis.

“I loved the proposed storyline for this book right away, because it was fun and relevant,” she said. “After all, who doesn’t associate rain, drizzle and fog with Newfoundland and Labrador? This is my seventh book with Nancy and my third with Laurel, so I knew the illustrations would be superbly done, but when the finished illustrations were delivered to us, the incredible colour and meticulous detail simply blew us away.”

The Keating ladies aren’t ruling out making Yaffle a recurring character and turning the book into a series, but are waiting to see how “Yaffle’s Journey” works out first. While their main objective with the book is to provide children with a fun, fantastical story with pretty pictures, there’s an underlying theme they hope some of the older children might appreciate.

“I suppose what it comes to is that sometimes the really good things in life are worth putting up with (the) not so good things for,” Nancy said with a chuckle.

“In Yaffle’s case, there were so many good things, his home, his perch on the rock. Any Newfoundlander knows that Newfoundland is a wonderful place to live. Why are we still here — it isn’t for the weather, is it? Sometimes the good things in life are worth sacrificing for things that are even better, and learning to live with that is a journey to maturity.”

“Yaffle’s Journey” is available in bookstores now for $12.95. Nancy and Laurel Keating will be doing a number of signings of the book over the coming weeks. They’ll be at the Kids’ Expo at the Jack Byrne Arena in Torbay on June 15, and will officially launch the book with an appearance at Chapters in St. John’s June 22 from 11 am. to 1 p.m., along with representatives of the Small Animal and Bird Rescue Centre and some furry friends. They will also appear at Costco in St. John’s June 23 from 1-3 p.m. and again on June 28, from 3-5 p.m.



Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: CBC, Creative Books, Tilt House Bakery Chapters Costco

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Torbay

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Recent comments

  • Nancy Keating
    June 07, 2013 - 07:34

    This is absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much for allowing us this attention and space. We are delighted with this coverage, and appreciate your support! Nancy and Laurel