KENNEBUNK, Maine – Meet Toby, a puppy who lives in Maine and loves to explore its beauty.
Since Toby is a golden retriever, it goes without saying that he is friendly, but he is also helpful and courageous – qualities that his creators hope to inspire in the children who read of his adventures.
Maureen Lee and her daughter, Jennifer, both of Kennebunk, introduce their bounding, tail-wagging hero in their first collaboration, a new children’s book, titled, “A Puppy in Maine: Toby’s Sea Storm Treasure.”
Released back in November, the story follows Toby as he and his friend, a seagull named Kevin, search for a lost harbor seal pup named Annabelle.
“They go on this adventure together, trying to problem-solve and collaborate and help out where they can,” Jennifer said.
The book is targeted at young children, perhaps those in the fourth and earlier grades, according to Jennifer.
“Hopefully, the text and the pictures are both engaging for that audience,” she said.
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Maureen is a primary care physician in Biddeford, where she and her husband, Woodrow, have had a private practice for nearly 30 years. Jennifer, an RSU 21 elementary school teacher, illustrated the book, working in watercolor and filling its pages with blue ocean ripples, high and craggy rocks, seashells, tall green trees, and the expressiveness of the furry and feathered characters.
“I’ve always dabbled in art,” Jennifer said. “I knew I did not want to pursue it as a career – unless this becomes a huge success – but it’s just a hobby that I’ve always really enjoyed. It’s very therapeutic. Maine holds so much natural beauty that it’s very easy to be inspired. ”
Local graphic designer Geraldine Aikman designed the hardcover book, which Kennebunk Coastal Printing has published.
“She does a marvelous job,” Maureen said of Aikman. “She does a really good job of organizing it all and making it jump off the page.”
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The dog and story behind the book
Toby is based on Summer, Jennifer’s 2-year-old golden retriever. Summer is shy, according to Maureen, so “Toby” is her “pen name.”
According to Maureen, the idea for the book harks – or “barks,” if you prefer – back to the 1980s, when she moved to Maine and visited the Mid Coast and Damariscotta.
“The coastline was exquisite, and intriguing in its landscape,” she said. “I fell in love with Maine in my travels.”
This first story about Toby – a series of seven is planned – takes place in and around the Pemaquid Point region, according to Maureen.
Mother and daughter recently finished Toby’s second adventure, which takes place in the Moosehead Lake region. To prepare for the writing and illustrating, the authors traveled to the area and took pictures and jotted down notes. Summer accompanied them, of course, and enjoyed swimming in the beloved lake, the Lees said.
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Each book will take place in a different region of Maine.
While the book is a first for both Maureen and Jennifer, it is not their first time putting words to a page. Both wrote theses for the master’s degrees they earned in their respective fields.
“But that’s so much different,” Maureen said, chuckling. “It did not have the kind of love that went into this book.”
You’ll get no spoilers about the book here, but it’s safe to quote Jennifer, if you’re a parent who’d like to read your child the story.
Said Jennifer with a smile, “It has a happy ending.”
“A Puppy in Maine: Toby’s Sea Storm Treasure” can be purchased online at www.apuppyinmaine.com, or at Nonesuch Books at 50 Market Street in South Portland. The book also is available at Kennebunk Free Library at 112 Main Street in Kennebunk. The Lees will be selling copies in person at the upcoming University of Southern Maine Craft Show at the Costello Sports Complex in Gorham on Saturday, April 23.