Many an author has gone to St. George Island to write a book, relaxing by the water as they pen their thoughts.
In the case of kindergartner Olivia Bates, that experience came at a fairly young age.
Now a second grader at TJ Connor Elementary School in Scottsville, New York, the young lady a few years back started visiting with her parents, Lisa and Gregory Bates, to a house rented for the winter by Lisa’s parents, Jeanne and Marty Colucci.
Retired from his job at a General Motors parts plant in Rochester, New York, Marty and his wife love welcoming the family during their three-month sojourn on the island.
Now, here’s the story of the book.
Beginning when Olivia was 4, she and her parents would fly down to Tallahassee, and one time mom bought her daughter a stuffed animal, a cat, at the airport before they drove down to the island.
Olivia named the cat Dewey, as in the Dewey decimal system, and as in the name of a live cat that had been discovered back home in a box at the book return, and as in the name of a dog, a husky-lab mix that lives up the road near her school.
“He’s jealous, jealous after he sees other dogs,” said Olivia. “He’s jealous because nobody throws him bones.”
There’s also a dog named Blackie back home but he really has little to do with this story, to which we now return.
Gregory also bought his daughter a stuffed turtle at the gift shop at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve in Eastpoint, mainly because on their family’s visit, they hadn’t seen any turtles and had just missed the scheduled release of a rehabilitated turtle on the island.
“We saw the video though,” said Olivia.
Perhaps it was a rainy day, perhaps it was on a hot day, driven indoors by the heat, but one day Olivia sat down at the Colucci’s kitchen table, and gathered some unlined paper, “the only paper I could find.”
And she started a story, and she started drawing, and what came out of her work was her first book, a story called “Dewey and the Little Turtle,” the tale of a little calico cat and a sea turtle.
“I made it up,” she said. “I like turtles and cats. I put the cat in because I really liked my cat Frankie. I called it Little Turtle because it was little.”
Olivia is allergic to cats, she starts sneezing and gets stuffed up, but that really has little to do with this story so let’s move on.
So Olivia, then a kindergartner (before she was in Miss Brennan’s first grade class) discussed the story with her mom, whose profession is audio visuals and communications, and the little girl put the whole thing together, and with the help of a Shutterfly book Marty bought, and some twisty ties, had her first book, the story of the adventures of Dewey and the turtle.
“I did the pictures, then all the words,” said the 7-year-old, who used pens to illustrate it “because there was color in the background of the paper. Crayon didn’t really work, it was very light and I couldn’t read it.”
The Coluccis are getting set to return for the winter to the island, and no doubt the Bates family will visit, with art supplies in hand. “She’s constantly drawing,” said Marty.
Meanwhile, Olivia will continue to sharpen her love of reading as well. “I had to read Pokemon to Michael,” she said. “I try to read chapter books.”
And she’ll be working on her third book, after finishing up her second book, called “Spring Adventure” because that’s the season when the two characters first met. It’s also the season when they meet a new friend, a rabbit.
“I’m done with ‘Spring.’” She said. “I’m going to do ‘Winter.’”
Olivia also plans to produce the books with the same paper she had been using, because Blackie likes it.
“My doggie eats it so I try to use it,” she said. “When I was cutting the paper, she ate the scraps.”