The lives of rascally raccoons and hard-working squirrels in Vancouver’s Stanley Park always stood out for children’s author Duane Lawrence, who visited his hometown Princeton to read to curious elementary students.
“Years ago when I was walking through Stanley Park I thought ‘Someone should write a story about them,’” Lawrence said.
And that’s where it all began.
In Lawrence’s stories the animals talk to each other and have appropriate personalities.
“I associate different characteristics with them. Squirrels are hard working and serious, while raccoons will eat anything and are lazy,” he said.
In his book Sammy Squirrel and Rodney Raccoon: To the Rescue, aimed at young readers aged seven to 12, the two main characters try to find their mysteriously kidnapped friend Judy Crow in big-city Vancouver.
Sammy and Rodney find help from new friends Mortimer Mole and Fernando Fox. After many unexpected turns, the friends rescue Judy Crow and end up back at home in Stanley Park.
The small animals visit many well-know places in Vancouver, including busy coffee shops and a landmark hotel.
Lawrence, who speaks English, French and Japanese, was born in Princeton but now lives in Vancouver where he teaches high school French. He taught English in Japan for nine years before this.
“I was a high school teacher, not a write per se, but I thought I’d give it a try and realized it was so much fun once I got writing,” he said.
He aimed to have his books similar to Wind in the Willows, but Canadian instead of British.
His first book Sammy Squirrel and Rodney Raccoon: A Stanley Park Tale includes the song Oh, Stanley Park – a version of Oh, Canada – that Lawrence sang with John Allison Elementary students on 22.
In this book Sammy Squirrel and Rodney Raccoon leave the safety of Stanley Park because of too many close encounters with people and their pets.
They head out into the ocean, eventually ending up in Japan – far away from the safety of their home.
They are helped by different animal friends along the way, including Winifred Whale, Penelope Pigeon and Judy Crow.
The pictures in the book were important for Lawrence to give the right feeling to his readers.
“As soon as I saw the pictures, I knew these were the ones,” Lawrence said.
“They were exactly the way I saw them in my mind.”
His first book’s cover shows a raccoon slouched in an armchair drinking tea poured by an attentive squirrel.
Lawrence passes around his photos to children as he reads to them and gets them to sing Oh, Stanley Park in chorus.
“I don’t just read to them. It’s interactive to keep it really fun.”
Lawrence’s two books are available for purchase at the Similkameen Spotlight office.