Niagara Gazette

March 4, 2013

NIAGARA WRITERS: Children inspired history-based adventure story


Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

Johnnie Diez lived on Lake Road in a big house near the Hosmer Cemetery with his four brothers and five sisters. His father and mother came from Germany to the Town of Porter many years ago.

Friedrich, Johnnie’s father, owned five farms. He was an important man in the community. Friedrich told his sons that one day each of them could have a farm.

Johnnie could not wait to grow up and become a farmer. But today, all he wanted to do was play with his pet pig Guinevere.

How did Johnnie Diez’s story begin? Did you ever imagine traveling back in time to meet someone? While cranking through microfilm, Census and church records, I considered that my husband’s Diez ancestors would be perplexed with my fascination and extensive search for insights into the past. Yes, Diez is the correct German spelling; and when “two vowels go out walking” it is the second vowel in Deutsch that “does the talking.” The letter “z” is pronounced “tz.” 

My writing time travel in the heart of World War II was about to detour decades earlier with the Diez family. In April 2012, my sixth book, a 578-page authorized biography of the navigator of the Enola Gay, was released. The two-year effort of many 80-hour workweeks, travel for interviews, extensive background reading and research at the National Archives in D.C. concluded with “My True Course.” Dutch Van Kirk’s bio documents his recollections of military service, actual correspondence to and from home and details of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.

I was tired and had two other publications in progress working with Amy Freiermuth: a souvenir history of the Town of Porter to commemorate its bicentennial and a collection of veterans’ memories. Both works felt like they were taking forever to finish. Through the process, the Porter’s Founders’ Day weekend committee added more work to the pile. Spring household cleaning and a cleared dining room table was not about to be a reality any time soon.

My husband and I took a weekend break to visit our Texas grandsons. After enjoying the cattle drive in downtown historic Fort Worth, we read children’s stories in the evening. Children’s books had changed since I read to our children my favorite story written in the 1930s about poor and barefoot Hetty and Hank on Blue Ridge Mountain who grew turnips to make money for shoes. Many of the children’s books today make noises or have things to touch and open. I wondered about a way to teach children about our town’s history without too many “whistles and bells.”

Amy Freiermuth, the owner of BeauDesigns, and I had worked together on several other publications and map projects. Both of us were hoping to cross off our “to do” list when I asked her, “What do you think about working with me on a children’s story?” Amy mentioned that the name of a friend who was interested in doing illustrations for a children’s book. Kristen Raimondi and Amy had become friends following their children’s relationship while in Montessori. Kristen is an illustrator and Art educator in the Niagara Wheatfield School District.

The three of us met, worked out a plan and timeline. Other work and the usual potholes impacted the best plans of all three of us. I was disappointed that Guinevere’s descendant was not going to make it to the first book signing due to weather and spring farrowing.

The story is based on young Johnnie Diez, my husband’s grandfather, growing up in the late 1800s in the Town of Porter. Johnnie discovers his pet pig, Guinevere, missing from the feedlot and goes on a search around the town. Most of the illustrations are based on vintage images. Amy, the publisher and designer, created a map for the back cover so that children could follow Johnnie’s trek. Reading to her daughter inspired Amy’s ideas for her tenth book. Kristen’s delightful illustrations transferred to a lesson plan teaching her students how to illustrate a pig.

Each page of text includes historical notes for the adult readers.

After more than 30 re-writes and considering feedback from others, when the book finally arrived, we were relieved. Now, maybe I can start last year’s spring-cleaning!

An excerpt from “Johnnie’s Adventures: The Search for Guinevere”:

“Wait, wait for me,” Johnnie yelled to Isaac Lloyd. The stagecoach was about to leave for the hamlet. Mr. Lloyd grabbed the reins as Johnnie ran towards the coach.

The Lloyd family had lived in the town since its beginning. Isaac’s grandfather John Lloyd fought in two wars and was part of the honor guard that buried George Washington.

“What’s the hurry Johnnie?” Mr. Lloyd hollered back.

“I can’t find Guinevere,” Johnnie said as he climbed on board.

The coach swayed side to side on the rough dirt road as they headed out of the village. After a few minutes, the coach stopped to let passengers off at Tower’s store.

“Johnnie’s Adventures” is available on line at www.createspace.com/4043213, www.amazon.com, or locally from amy@beaudesigns.biz. The author, artist and publisher will be signing their book at at the pre-sale of MaMa Sales, from 5 to 7 p.m. April 14, at First Presbyterian Church, 505 Cayuga St., Lewiston. For more information visit www.suzannesimondietz.com.