HERNDON, Va. – When Etaine Raphael decided to publish her first children’s book, she not only involved her two daughters in the process, but joined their art class in order to create something to which they could relate.
“What I’m trying to do here is bring a really simple story to life in the eyes of a child,” said Raphael about “A Blueberry Day,” based on her family’s summer vacations in Southwest Harbor. “It’s a lyrical verse. I started it as a bedtime story.”
Officially released on March 3, the book is currently found in a limited number of places, but bookstores in New England are adding it to their inventory. Raphael said availability may be tough for the immediate future since shipping is being reduced to essential items around the country due to precautions surrounding COVID-19.
Coincidentally, the book’s focus is on simplifying life, connecting with nature and each other. It is inspired by time spent at Raphael’s father-in-law’s place in Southwest Harbor, called Blueberry Field Cabin, that was passed down after his death in 2014.
“These days remind me endlessly, it’s the simple things that matter: hugs, nature, cups of tea, art and pancake batter,” is an excerpt from the book.
Since many schools have shuttered their doors and families are staying home as a safety precaution, Raphael’s capture is pertinent at this time.
“Try to see the silver lining in this quality time together,” she said in an interview with the Islander last week.
Raphael has homeschooled her daughters, aged eight and 10-years-old for the last two years. It was their art instructor who sort of brought the book from concept to page.
“It’s been sort of this lifelong dream,” said Raphael about writing a book. She started this one years ago, but it sat dormant until it let her know it was time. “Those words that I had put away five years ago kept just coming into my mind. It wasn’t about Maine at that point.”
So, Raphael took what she had started and began working on making it a book with the help of her daughters.
“It’s very hard to have a story that rhymes well,” said Raphael, who is a physical therapist by trade. But, she, Charlotte and Madeline counted out and clapped the syllables to get it right. “It was a fun little family effort.”
After the words began falling into place, Raphael mentioned the book to the girls’ art teacher, Vidya Vasudevan, who is a children’s book illustrator. After Raphael asked if Vasudevan would be interested in illustrating, she suggested that Raphael might be better at bringing the story to life and she would be a coach in the process.
“I probably spent three months on the first drawing,” said Raphael about making art based on photographs from the family’s time in Maine. “I’ve never been an artist but I just love art.”
When it came to creating the book’s characters, Charlotte told her mom that kids like drawings where characters have big heads and eyes. Vasudevan helped Raphael with using watercolors, angle of the drawings and how to pose the characters. It was Charlotte and Madeline who had the final say on whether the pictures adequately told the story.
“They are very critical and honest,” said Raphael. “I think they kept me very honest and kept me trying to do better.”
In addition to an excerpt about the author at the end of the book, Raphael included a page of Really Random Fun Facts regarding things from Maine. One example is, blueberries were called star fruit by the Native Americans because of the star at the top of the berry.
One reason for creating a book about one of their favorite places was because Raphael and her girls always look forward to their time in Maine where the motto is, the way life should be.
Upon becoming a mother, Raphael thought about what she most wanted to pass on to her children and an appreciation of nature, keeping things simple and the value of family were the most important things.
“I was trying to capture that feeling in a very simple way,” she added about her book.