MIDDLEBURY — Kendra Weber Gratton was a toddler 45 years ago when she and her four brothers were first tucked into bed with her mom’s story of “Flabby Rabbit,” who enlists the help of “Squinty Squirrel” and other forest friends in protecting “Millie Robin’s” four eggs.
Gratton and her siblings have since told that endearing tale of friendship to their own children.
Now the family will be able to share that story with an even wider audience — the general public.
Joanne Weber, 69, and Gratton, now 47, recently combined their talents to immortalize the “Flabby Rabbit” in book form. The new 18-page, soft-cover children’s book featuring Weber’s text and Gratton’s colorful illustrations is available for orders and will soon be found in book stores.
“I don’t think anyone thought it would ever get into print,” a beaming Weber said one day last week as she held a finished copy of her book — the first of seven children’s stories she plans to pen during the coming months. “But children seemed to love the story, and I wanted to share it.”
The story revolves around a cherubic rabbit who is asked by her friend, the robin, to watch her eggs for a spell. Flabby agrees, but soon has to enlist the help of other friendly creatures when the nefarious “Will Weasel” attempts to make breakfast of the eggs. But Flabby and her friends collectively stave off the danger and confront yet another unforeseen circumstance: The four eggs hatch into baby birds that the friends must nurture until Millie Robin returns to her nest.
“It’s a friendship story,” Gratton, a Bristol resident, said. “It’s a sweet, ‘you’d-do-anything-for-your-friends’ story.’”
Weber, a registered nurse and devoted writer, said she produced the text for “Flabby Rabbit” pretty quickly. It helped that she had written down the plot for her story quite a while ago. So she refined and fleshed out the story and put in some rhymes. And when her publisher asked her about illustrations, she knew just who to contact — daughter Kendra. Gratton acknowledged she has always loved to sketch animals, and did a great job with the “Flabby” characters that have been dancing in her mind all these years. Folks at the publishing house of Xlibris asked Weber if she had hired her own professional artist.
“I have been a doodler of critters my whole life,” Gratton said with a chuckle.
When she is not illustrating, Gratton is teaching music to children the Addison Central Supervisory Union elementary schools. She is a singer, musician, composer and is box office assistant at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater.
Each of the approximately 20 drawings in the book took several hours to complete. She was very pleased with the results, and read the story recently to some of her first- and second-grade students in Cornwall.
They were impressed.
“They loved it; they were full of questions,” Gratton said. “They asked if they could have a copy in the library.”
Weber currently resides in Middlebury. She and her husband, Ken, founded St. Gerard’s Home, the state’s first hospice facility, in Bristol many years ago. Her hospice experiences, coupled with some of her own family’s confrontations with serious illnesses, have helped shape her stories, her passion for writing and her appreciation for life.
The duo has already begun collaborating on their next book, the title character, “Octy the Octopus,” is afraid of the dark. This story, too, has a strong friendship angle, as Octy’s buddies help him conquer his fears.
The book will eventually be available on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble. Some copies are likely to be on consignment at the Vermont Book Shop, Weber added. For now, people who would like a copy (at $16) can e-mail either [email protected], or [email protected].
Both writer and illustrator are pleased with feedback thus far about the book.
“I have been very gratified by the smiles; people seem to relate to that message that friendship is important,” Gratton said. “For me, it’s kids connecting with other kids and realizing that being a good friend is really important. Kids are getting a lot of negative images from TV and movies. This is about goodness and being kind to each other.”
Weber also likes the values that the book imparts, and hopes readers smile a lot when they read it.
“For me, I want people to enjoy it and laugh,” Weber said. “I love it when words can make people laugh. Adults are also enjoying this book and that’s really gratifying.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]