Bolton woman turns pandemic letters into a series of children's books
BOLTON - Elizabeth Tewksbary didn’t set out to be a children’s author, just an involved grandparent.
But her letters to 2-year-old granddaughter Cohen during the coronavirus pandemic took on a life of their own and now make up Tewksbary’s children’s book series.
In April, Tewksbary started writing letters to Cohen and her other grandchildren because she could no longer travel to see family due to COVID-19, especially with the need to isolate after her husband’s surgeries and with her adult son’s cancer. Tewksbary, her husband and her youngest daughter (a college sophomore) quarantined at home.
When Cohen’s mom called Tewksbary in tears from the beauty of the letters, and with her husband’s encouragement, she went public with her writing.
The five part series is called “Letters From My Heart.” Book one is about Cohen discovering her shadow; book two is about the power of eyes and body language when you wear a mask; book three is about sharing your smile; book four is about the family time of painting a birdhouse; and book five is about the preparation for a visit and toy balls.
The first two books are now available: “Just Like Me” and “My Mask and Me.” Both books are geared towards ages 2 to 6.
All of the books were written based on “special memories,” Tewksbary said. She explained that each of these memories were like pictures she had taken with her heart, which she described in letters to Cohen and then put into book form.
The books are all fundraisers. She said it was never her intent to share these letters or profit from them, so all proceeds (after publishing costs) go to charities that are dear to her and her family.
Thirty percent of proceeds from the five books goes to the Mass. Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) in honor of her nephew’s daughter, Jenna, who MDSC has helped with “support, guidance, knowledge and care” over her five years of life.
Twenty percent of each book goes to another charity. Revenue from the first book went to Camp Sunshine, a nature retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, where Tewksbary and family have previously donated time and quilts. So far, $579.09 has been donated along with 120 copies of the book.
Proceeds from the second book are going to Champs Cafe, which teaches students with disabilities daily life skills. Proceeds from the third will go to Cradles to Crayons, which provide material goods to low-income babies and children.
The series is self-published.
“I did a lot of research online and connected with local publishing and illustrating agencies via email. Several resources told me that traditional publishers have many staff members reading hundreds of children’s books daily. It’s hard to break through,” she said. Traditional publishers “market your books, and supply schools, libraries and bookstores,” but all the resources she found in her research “helped me move forward. Those that I emailed or spoke to motivated and encouraged me. I also am not sure how the fundraising efforts would work if I had published the traditional way.”
Although Tewskbary did not set out to become a writer, she had always wanted to write a memoir about her life so her descendants would “know my story from me in my words.” Her husband suggested she turn her letters to Cohen into one a book.
“The pandemic gave me time to do this,” she said.
It also allowed her to find an illustrator. She came across Kim Soderberg’s portfolio online and “loved the whimsical body language and clarity of her illustrations.” They connected over the non-profit nature of the books and the content. After some back and forth about ideas and fees, Soderberg was hired.
“ I was excited that (Soderberg) would help my words come to life,” Tewsbary said. “I have not been disappointed in anything Kim has sketched or illustrated. I send her two or three ideas for each sentence in the story and she chooses which she prefers, sometimes surprising me with her own idea, and sends the sketches for the book for approval. Her illustrations are just as I imagine.”
The art of handwritten letters, and of handwriting itself, have always been important to Tewksbary.
“I have my mother’s journals; I love them because they are in her hand writing. When I ask for recipes from family and friends, I am handing them an index card," she said. “Each time I pull out that recipe, I think of them.” She added that her Ohioan mother-in-law doesn’t text, but does look forward to correspondence in the mail.
Tewksbary said Cohen is now 3 and “I’m sure has no idea that she is living through American history, but I know she loves the stickers that I plaster all over the envelope” and enjoys immensely the letters she receives weekly.
With six children and six grandchildren, Tewskbary said she feels supported and blessed by all of them. Most have moved away from Bolton, but her adult children went through the Nashoba school district. A native of Hudson, Tewksbary has lived in Bolton for 17 years, since her youngest was 3, and feels part of the “community and support of family and neighbors I enjoy. I love Bolton and the surrounding towns.”
The other three books in the series should be available by sometime in June. They are all printed by Dunn & Co. in Clinton.
Each book is $9.95, and available online to purchase (or donate) at letters-from-my-heart.com. They are also sold in Bolton at Colonial Candies, Bolton Orchards and The Quilted Crow. Tewksbary will deliver books within a 10-mile radius of Bolton.
“Driving is a nice way to leave the house safely for a change of scenery,” she said.
Other than driving and writing, Tewksbary enjoys spending time in Ogunquit, Maine, and making quilts.
“It is something I can do that is quiet, in the middle of the night if I’m awake, without disturbing anyone. I think every quilt tells a story,“ she said.