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New book draws on childhood memories

Shane Gibson

A Manitoba-born artist with strong roots in the Stonewall area has published a children's book, and the author will be returning home to launch her latest project this weekend.

Wendy Picken, whose grandparents, Elsie and Joe Storey, operated the grain elevator in Gordon from 1965 to 1979, used the visits she made to her grandparent's home as a child as the basis for her new book "Gramma's Pearl Soup and Grampa's Mango Smile".

"Every weekend, every summer holiday or Easter holiday we were always out at grandma's," laughs Picken, recalling how busy her grandma's kitchen always was in those days. "People would go to the elevator and they'd always stop in... the mailboxes were there, so they'd be getting their mail, and grandma would always have a pot of coffee, and baking waiting for them... it was like Grand Central Station in there. It was nice, they had a lot of really good friends from that area."

The hardcover book features illustrations by the author, and takes place while Picken stays at her grandparents home as a little girl. While staying at her grandparent's home, where "things are always a little different," Picken listens to stories, sings songs with her grandfather, and enjoys her grandmother's cooking. She also learns about her family roots, the changes in the seasons, and the changes in life, including the fear of losing a loved one.

"For me, as a child, I was really afraid of losing my grandparents, like I say in the book," explains Picken. "I got my comfort from watching nature, and being out in nature.

"Death is not easy for anybody to talk about, and I just wanted to create a window that says... it's OK to be afraid of something that's hard for all of us to understand... and we all have to go through it, so make the best of your life, celebrate what's important and see the journey."

Although the book is written and illustrated with children in mind, Picken says it can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

"It really is for everyone," she says of the book. "I've had lots of women buy it for their own mothers who are in the process of dying, and they've found comfort in it too.

"It's light hearted, but the message of 'no matter what happens I'll always love you' is pretty universal - it's what we all want."

Picken, who has lived in Sidney B.C. since 1983, says the story is one she's been carrying around for a long time. She says she decided to put the tale onto paper in 2004 after being diagnosed with Uveitis, a condition that left her with greatly reduced vision in both eyes.

"I've always been a visual artist, and when my eyes got so bad that I couldn't see to draw, the story started to come," she explained. "It was a story that I just didn't want to keep in the drawer - I thought there was something there to share that was important."

Once the story had taken shape, Picken began to storyboard her tale in hopes that she could find an illustrator to do the pictures for her book. But the feedback she got from artists and friends encouraged Picken to do the artwork herself.

"I did these rough little sketches and sent them off, and everybody phoned back and said you can do this, you don't need us," says Picken, adding her eyesight trouble was more of a help than a hindrance, because it kept her from being too critical of her artwork.

"I'm glad at the time, that circumstances forced me to not be so critical of things, because many artists have such a strong critic inside of us that sometimes it stops us from really doing what we need to do," she said.

Picken's eyesight has gradually gotten better, and although it hasn't returned completely, she's already written four more books about her time with her grandparents, and started work on the art for the upcoming books.

"Each one of the other books is dealing with the seasons, so this is the introduction to the seasons and the characters, and the other four books carry on from there a little more deeply into the characters," she explained.

A portion of the sales of each copy of Picken's self-published book will be given to the Stephen Lewis Foundation's Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, which helps African grandmothers who have been forced to raise their grandchildren after their own children have died from AIDS.

"It was a way for me to try to help someone in need," explained the authour.

The book launch will be held at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Polo Park on National Grandparents Day, Sept. 13 from 2-3 p.m.

Coffee and tea will be served at the event, and of course, slices of freshly baked Mango Smile Pie will also be on hand during the book launch.

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