In the children’s book that he published with his daughter earlier this year, Kevin Cronan has woven some of what he’s learned through his own experiences with loved ones into a heartwarming story meant to help families navigate Alzheimer’s disease.
“Aunt Rita: An Alzheimer’s Story for Young Children” follows a fourth-grader as he adjusts to the diagnosis of his great aunt, his favorite person.
“It’s still his Aunt Rita,” Cronan said of the titular character during a recent phone interview. “There’s no secret sauce to fix Aunt Rita; there’s medicine to help, but everybody’s different.”
A resident of Hopkinton, Cronan lived in Coventry for some 30 years, and both of his kids, now in their 30s, graduated from Coventry High School.
After retiring in 2018 from his IT job at the University of Rhode Island, Cronan was left with a lot more time on his hands than he was used to. A self-proclaimed talkative person, he decided to turn his attention to the written word.
“I talk a lot,” he said, recalling a time when a colleague felt she needed to ask that he email her “just the basic information.”
“I guess my emails can be very wordy,” he added with a laugh. “I like to tell stories.”
“Aunt Rita” is actually one in a series that Cronan wrote several years ago about a boy named Harry — while “Aunt Rita” focuses on Alzheimer’s, the other two shine light on the issues of bullying and being different.
The book is illustrated by Cronan’s daughter Casey Cronan, a 2006 graduate of Coventry High School who went on to earn a degree in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
“I just thought my daughter really did a great job,” Cronan said of the book’s illustrations, which he called “right to the point.”
When he started writing the book, Cronan had noticed that there weren’t many children’s books about Alzheimer’s. His book features various facts about the disease, he said, but it’s “not a book that explains Alzheimer’s.”
“It’s a positive, uplifting story — that’s what everybody tells me,” Cronan said, adding that it was helpful to have his daughter’s input regarding what kinds of facts would be appropriate to include in a children’s book.
The story itself is made up, but Cronan found inspiration for the book from various aspects of his own life.
The character of Aunt Rita is fictitious, Cronan said, but she’s based loosely on late family members. Physically, Rita resembles Cronan’s mother in law, he said, and his family’s pets served as models for the cats that appear in the book.
Even the “Keaney Blue” cover is reminiscent of the jersey that Cronan, a 1977 URI graduate, once wore on the rugby field.
Cronan was motivated to seek a publisher for “Aunt Rita” following the success of another book he’d published in 2018 about his university rugby team.
“I just wanted to tell our story,” he said of writing “Rugby Tries and Knock Ons: Tales of a college rugby player in New England and the game that gave birth to American football.”
“So I went back to my Alzheimer’s book and started pushing that hard and heavy,” he continued.
Since being published by Pegasus Publishers on Jan. 27, the response to “Aunt Rita,” and to his daughter’s illustrations in particular, has been positive, Cronan said.
In one Amazon review, the poster wrote that “‘Aunt Rita’ reminds us that all the special times and memories will last forever.” In another, the reviewer called it a “touching story for anyone helping young ones understand a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.”
Cronan’s nephew’s daughter enjoyed the book so much, he said, that she brought it to school to show her classmates. Her teacher even asked to hold on to it to share with others.
“Kids — they’re smarter than we think,” Cronan said, reflecting on his reasons for writing the book. “That’s my big thing.”
“Aunt Rita: An Alzheimer’s Story for Young Children” is available in various bookstores around Rhode Island, and online at Amazon.com and Pegasuspublishers.com.