By Terry Rogers
Ingrid Wolfenden and Cathy Walls say that it was a local school nurse who connected the two of them. Wolfenden was at a book signing at Lulu M. Ross Elementary School when the school nurse Jackie Wolf asked her if she had other books available.
“I said yes, I do, but I need a great illustrator,” Ms. Wolfenden said. “I wanted this book done completely by hand.”
Ms. Walls has raised four children in the Milford School District and was a substitute teacher for many years. Mrs. Wolf knew that Ms. Walls was an artist and put the two women in touch with each other.
The result of their collaboration is “My Name is Penelope,” a book written and illustrated for children from infancy to eight, that brings childhood adventures alive. The book enables children to explore, create and imagine in the little joys in life that can grow into fond memories. Penelope, the lead character, and her dog Loki share their excitement for life as well as the curiosities life holds.
“She engages your imagination and brings you back to innocent childhood memories you long to live again,” Wolfenden said. “It has large print for reading easily and the illustrations Cathy created are dreamy, colorful and exciting.”
Wolfendon began writing poetry when she was in high school while living on a farm in New Milford, PA. She was of Norwegian descent and met family from that country many times. She became intrigued and moved to Norway for several years where she continued to write. While living in Norway, a band turned some of her poems into songs. She returned to visit her parents who were then living in Southern California where she met a harness horse driver named Ross Wolfenden from New Zealand. Ms. Wolfendon wrote her first book in 2014. She currently lives in Felton with her husband and son, Riley.
Walls has been painting most of her adult life, taking a few art classes in college, but mostly self-taught. She grew up in New England and attended Washington College for her first two years. She met her husband who was from Harrington and the couple moved to Milford in 1976. She earned a degree in Sociology from SUNY Stony Brook and worked as a parole/probation officer for 10 years. In 2004, she was one of five local artists who founded the Mispillion Art League.
“My family, particularly my grandfather, encouraged my interest in the visual arts,” Walls said. “I have always painted on the side, taking commissions for artwork beginning at the age of 17. My family’s plan was for me to go to France, where my mother’s family is from, and study art under my Aung Raymonde Le Clerc. I decided I would starve as an artist and got a degree in Sociology, worked in the counseling field until 18, retiring from Probation and Parole after the birth of our third child. I opened my studio to paint full time, but I resisted making this a full-time job for 15 years because I was afraid it would ruin the freedom, joy and creativity. Immediately upon opening my studio in 1988, I realized how lucky I was and what a privilege it has been to be able to pursue art full time.” Illustrating a children’s book has always been on her bucket list due to her deep love of books and her favorite illustrators.
Although she has done illustrations for advertisements, brochures and non-fiction books, this was her first children’s book. She decided to do the project because Wolfenden respected her creative process and understood that 24 illustrations was a huge commitment. What Walls loved about this story is that it shows what boys and girls like to do when having adventures outside with no television, smartphone or computer screen. The main character is a girl but she is fairly gender neutral so even boys would like the book.
“Babies will giggle when her little dog chases squirrels, and toddlers will want to search for moose and wood strolls themselves,” Walls said. “Early readers will enjoy the challenge of reading the short sentences on each page.”
In addition to “My Name is Penelope,” Wolfenden has also written “Somewhere Out There,” a book based on her son and his dog Dawby playing at the beach. She said that Penelope has a personal meaning for her as well. “My grandmother is on the very first page of the book at age 3, which Cathy illustrated perfectly, really caught the feel of the moment,” Wolfenden said. “So her memoirs, pictures, stories from my mother, Ingrid Doderlein Ring Proctor, and my own memories of growing up in New Milford created a back drop for the book.”
Both books are available on Amazon.com.
Sign up for you free digital subscription of The Weekly Review, delivered directly to your email every Tuesday morning. A quick cover-to-cover read to catch up on the news of the week and experience great stories about our local communities. Sign up for your free email subscription below.