BY WENDI REARDON PRICE
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Donna Neumann, an Independence Township resident, has always written short stories but there was one story she always wanted to tell.
Now she is telling it in “I Don’t Celebrate Anything,” a children’s book she wrote about Annie the Porcupine and her family who don’t celebrate holidays.
“As a child, I always said I would grow up to be a teacher and make sure no kid ever felt left out,” she said, adding it was one of the reasons she became a teacher. She has a master’s degree in elementary education and a minor in early childhood and has been teaching preschool and elementary students for over 20 years.
“My experiences as a child made me realize every child should be included,” Neumann added. “My book is meant to be about the kid who is left out. I wanted it to be more educational. I wanted to make sure it came out it’s okay if Annie doesn’t celebrate holidays. She does something else and maybe it will open up the kids’ minds. My experiences as a teacher, helped me realize all children need to understand why inclusion is important.”
The story has been with her since she was a child but about five years ago during a professional development a discussion was books should be mirrors so children could see themselves in the books.
“It really struck me,” Neumann said.
She went through her entire classroom library and found books about the characters celebrating all different kinds of holidays. Something was missing.
“What about the one kid like me who didn’t have holidays,” she said, adding she kept telling herself she was going to write the story.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she found herself at home twirling her thumbs. Her husband, Chris, said it was the perfect time to write the book.
“My husband kept saying write your book. Once I got motivated it just flowed,” she said.
Donna wrote it out and sent it to a few of her teacher friends asking if it was something they would be interested in before she went further. They said yes and she took the next step.
She named the main character after her daughter Annie, but she wanted the characters to be animals. But what animal?
“My cousin and I kept going back and forth about ideas for animals,” Donna shared. “She said, ‘rabbits are cute.’ I said, ‘yes, but every book is about a rabbit. There are tons of books about rabbits. I want something different.’ She said, ‘hedgehogs.’ I said, ‘I have tons of books about hedgehogs.’ Her husband was sitting there and said what about a porcupine jokingly.”
Donna said that was it.
“It’s perfect,” she said. “It fits the character’s personality. Then, my son who has the marketing said yes Annie the Porcupine it rolls off the tongue.”
“I Don’t Celebrate Anything,” with illustrations by Alexandra Rusu, was released in November 2020. Within two weeks after the release, Donna had teachers reaching out to her asking if would talk to their students. She has even participated in several virtual meets.
“I had adults contacting me,” she added. “A good friend said, ‘your book made me cry. I came from a very poor family. Yes, we celebrated Christmas, but we never had Christmas trees and had homemade gifts. I felt like I was a weird kid.’
“It hit her in a completely different way,” Donna shared. “We have expanded how the book was meant to be to it effects people in other ways.”
“I Don’t Celebrate Anything” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
As for Annie the Porcupine, more adventures are on the horizon for her.
For more information, please visit www.annietheporcupine.com.