HIGHLAND PARK/DEERFIELD – A duck stuffed animal in Susan Wolff’s classroom at Sherwood Elementary School in Highland Park became the inspiration for an award-winning children’s book, Quackers Wants to Fly, and a literacy campaign.
“Toward the end of my teaching career, a student asked me to write a story about Quackers the duck, so when I retired about 13 years ago, that’s when I started writing,” said Wolff, who taught fourth grade, with stints in third and fifth grades, at Sherwood for 21 years.
Wolff took writing courses, had mentors, and after several changes she felt fortunate when Quackers Wants to Fly was published 10 years ago by High Heel Press. Wolff said she had already hired an editor, but the publisher suggested also using his editor.
“I learned how to tweak a story and that children’s books should be less than 500 words,” she said. Quackers Wants to Fly is recommended for children 3 to 7 years of age.
When Wolff’s contract ran out, she and illustrator Justine Currie decided they could make their own marketing choices if they became independent publishers.
“That’s when I realized that it’s not so much about selling the book, it’s about reaching children who don’t have the means to own their own book and to spread literacy,” said Wolff. “So I started a campaign wherein if someone buys a book, then I donate a book and I bundle the numbers.”
To reach out to the community, Nicole Abruzzo, director of volunteer resources for NorthShore University HealthSystem, and Wolff decided to display copies of Quackers Wants to Fly in the hospital gift shops.
Wolff is thrilled that Quackers is being sold at NorthShore Highland Park and Evanston Hospitals.
The second edition of Quackers Wants to Fly not only received the Royal Dragonfly Award that Wolff explained is connected to the Mom’s Choice Awards, but it gave her the freedom to promote her literacy campaign.
Wolff donated books to Tanglewood Elementary School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. When the school reopened last year, Wolff received letters and pictures of Quackers.
Wolff also worked with an organization called Appalachian Outreach to provide a copy of Quackers to children in need in poverty- or disaster-stricken areas in West Virginia.
In addition, Wolff donated books to two schools in Kenya.
Recently, she appeared on a TV program for Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, where she gave out 20 books.
Though Wolf and her husband have been living in Deerfield for 41 years, she looks forward to visiting her hometown of Sterling, Illinois, which will coincide with Quackers books being on display in their hospital gift shop. She will have the added bonus of being featured in the local paper.
“Sterling was a very special place to grow up, and Quackers and the Friends at the Pond have this bond that I got from my upbringing there,” she said.
Wolff has enjoyed working with Currie. “I feel like the talented illustrator’s second mom, as I’ve watched him grow,” she said.
Wolff explained that when she finished writing Quackers she was afraid that the book would never be published. Then she found a piece of paper with the name of a printing company that reached out to new authors in Winnipeg, Canada. She called the company and after she went through the other illustrators on the list, she spoke to Currie and they immediately clicked.
Currie is also working on Wolff’s next two books: Ollie and the Missing Who’s, and Gertrude the Goose from the Friends at the Pond series.
“Each character has a different story, but all of the friends come together to either support, help or figure out the problem,” said Wolff. “All of the stories have lessons like never give up on your dreams, the importance of being supportive and so on.”
Wolff started writing about Ollie the owl before her five-year-old grandson Oliver was born. Though she enjoys writing, it doesn’t look like her career is about to slow down anytime soon.
“I have seven grandchildren from ages 5 to 13 who want to have characters named after them, so I’m going to have to keep writing stories,” said Wolff.
For more information on Quackers Wants to Fly visit: Friends at the Pond.