Bestselling author Anne D. LeClaire has just published her first book for children, “Kaylee Finds a Friend” (Golden Paws Publishing, 2018), illustrated with photographs by fellow Chatham resident Kim Roderiques.
The genesis of this charming book that celebrates friendship was an unusual one. LeClaire, Roderiques and Paul Litwin, who owns Charlie, the golden retriever who served as the book’s canine model, sat down in the West Chatham Dunkin Donuts one morning last week to discuss how the book came about.
First, LeClaire saw a “most enchanting” photograph of a girl posing with a white Great Bernese that Roderiques, who is the author of “Dogs on Cape Cod” (Hummingbird Books, 2015) had posted on Facebook. LeClaire encouraged Roderiques to write a book around the photograph.
Roderiques, meanwhile, was working on a photo essay for a magazine spread. She was using as her models four-year-old Kaylee Isner of Orleans and five-year-old Charlie.
“To me, nothing’s greater than a dog and a child,” Roderiques says.
Roderiques, Litwin, Kaylee, Kaylee’s parents Scott and Chastaty Isner, and Charlie all met in Kate Gould Park while the Sharks in the Park exhibit was on display. There, as Roderiques photographed Charlie and Kaylee, the chemistry between the pair became apparent to all. Charlie had already launched a career as a model. For three years he has worked with the Chatham Chamber of Commerce to help market the town and even appeared on the front cover of the summer guidebook. Charlie is, in fact, a natural in front of the camera.
“You pull out a phone or a camera and he poses,” Litwin says. One photograph shows Charlie smiling.
And as for Kaylee, her mother manages the Chatham Dog Club and often boards dogs at home, so Kaylee is comfortable around dogs. Kaylee is a student at the Children’s Center in Harwich and “the most grounded child I’ve ever met,” Roderiques says.
Litwin and Roderiques decided that they would build a children’s book using Charlie and Kaylee as their models. Accordingly, they set out to photograph the pair in all of the iconic spots of Chatham—lighthouse, the bandstand and so on. In the photographs, Kaylee wore clothes that were provided by Sandy Wycoff of Chatham Kids Co. on Main Street.
The book “was going to be timeless memories of Chatham,” Litwin says. “Showcasing places people had grown up.”
But their challenge was this: Neither one had experience in writing a children’s book. So Roderiques approached LeClaire, whose latest novel is “The Halo Effect” (Lake Union Publishing, 2017). LeClaire, who already knew that Roderiques was “a brilliant photographer,” agreed to write the book’s text.
“I always wanted to write a children’s book,” LeClaire says. “You need such a skill set to write for children. People think it’s easy, but it’s not.”
LeClaire began thinking about books she would have liked to read as a child when books represented a “lifeline” and “escape” and gave her “permission to have imagination.”
“Books just gave me an entrée to a larger world,” she says.
Roderiques brought her photographs to LeClaire. At that point, she had taken over 1,000 shots of the girl and the dog. When LeClaire looked at the collection, although she was stuck by the beauty of the photographs, a story didn’t jump into her mind.
Then, “I woke in the night—thought, ‘this is so obvious.’ I said, ‘it’s about friendship,’” LeClaire recalls. “Friendship interests me at any age. What do we look for?”
And so LeClaire had her theme. The book begins on Monday morning, when Kaylee “woke up and looked out her window at the blue and cloudless sky.
“‘Today,’ she said, ‘is a perfect day to find a friend.’”
When LeClaire had written the text, the trio took another look at the photos. Roderiques wondered if this or that favorite photo could go into the book. LeClaire would veto it. In the end, in fact, additional shots had to be taken to illustrate the story. What the group was looking for in the photos were illustrations of the strong bond between Charlie and Kaylee. Many of the photos, while beautiful, were more like modeling shots. In the photos that made it into the book Roderiques sees qualities of “vulnerability and innocence” in the dog and the girl.
The story is a universal one that readers of any age will enjoy. Joining Kaylee in her quest for a friend is Charlie, the golden retriever who lives next door. The two embark on a series of adventures at the beach and the ice cream parlor. In the end, Kaylee discovers her friend has been with her all the time. Perhaps the moral of the book is that you don’t appreciate what you already have. The book ends with the words “Our wish is for everyone to find a very special friend.”
Gallery Antonia will host the book’s release party on Saturday, June 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. Books will be provided by Yellow Umbrella Books and light refreshments will be served. The gallery is at 1291 Main St., second level, Chatham, and is handicapped accessible. For more information call the gallery at 508-469-4020.