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An Australian-based picture book by Squamish educator aims for parents' laps and children's hearts

Wendy Monica Winter's 'Where's My Joey?' follows a mother's quest to find her child.

Wendy Monica Winter's newly-released children's picture book is reminiscent of books of a different time when young children's only way to hear a story was in a parent's lap, flipping pages. And like such classics as the early Winnie-the-Pooh books by A. A. Miln, it includes maps for kids to orient themselves in the story. 

Where's My Joey? is Winter's first book, but it has already drawn accolades. It won a 2020 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, which celebrates quality independently-published and small press books.

It is also a finalist for a Wishing Shelf Book Award for self-published books. With this award, British schoolchildren determine the winners that will be announced on April 1.

"I am just happy to be a finalist, because it means all the kids get to read my book," said Winter, who had just finished teaching at Don Ross Middle School, where she is currently a teacher on call, when The Chief caught up with her. 

The simple yet touching tale follows a mother kangaroo who cannot find her Joey. She goes looking for him and meets Australian friends along the way. 

Does she find her Joey? That is for readers to discover. 

The inspiration for the story came in 2007 when Winter was teaching in Perth. 

She sent an early draft of the story to her nieces with a furry kangaroo photo album and they loved it. 

"I always thought it was a pretty cool story that had a lot of potential, cause it is simple, but it is beautiful and it is profound, but I never was going to pursue it," she said. 

What changed her mind is her Squamish sister-in-law, Aurora Winter, who founded a company that helps people publish books, convinced her self-publishing was the way to go. 

"She made me realize how easy it is," Winter said.

The book's expressive and joyful illustrations more than enhance the story. 

Winter said she found Romanian illustrator Roxana Antochi online and the two collaborated well. 

"There's all these details that far exceeded what I expected from her," Winter said, noting that Antochi worked to ensure the plants in the illustrations were native to Australia and that the constellations were realistic to the area. 

The book is also available as an ebook, for those who prefer that, but Winter said she is partial to the idea of parents and kids reading the paper copy. 

"I think there is much greater value in seeing it on paper and turning the pages than just seeing it on a screen," she said, but added reading is reading, however, it happens. 

"I am really touched by how the message is loved in different ways by children and adults. Each person has their own takeaway of what that message is," she said. 

In addition to the maps at front and back, there's a puzzle, and Winter is working with Antochi to create a colouring book. 

"I am passionate about people learning and I think that if kids engage while they read it, they will get a lot more out of it," she said. "So even if a parent is reading with a child, the kids can be more interactive with the book. 

The companion colouring book will be out on Feb. 22. 

Where's my Joey? has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic and will eventually be translated into German. 

Find out more about the book here.

Where's my Joey? is available on Amazon.