Grandmother Inspired a Children’s Book: Carol Butler & her “Mama Joe’s Kitchen”

Grandmother Inspired a Children’s Book: Carol Butler & her “Mama Joe’s Kitchen”

It’s 2010 and Navy Veteran Carol Butler is walking out of VA Medical Center when a voice from behind her caught her. A young woman named Joan had remembered Butler when she spoke about the armed services at her school Memorial Park…back in 1968. The 13-year-old was so impressed with Butler she decided, at that moment, to join the military. “And that really shook me,” Butler said, about her random bout of unintended influence. That would lead to her first book.

That following Saturday…during a meeting with Genois Wilson, Fort Wayne’s first black female firefighter, at Link’s Wonderland (Butler’s husband, Tom, was working on her website), Carol asked Wilson about her journey. It was difficult for Butler to make it through Navy bootcamp; it must have been arduous for Wilson…and it was. Butler thought: “If I was able to influence someone unbeknownst to me all those years ago, what could we do if we deliberately tried to inspire children?”

Butler hadn’t written a book before; she took a folklore class to warm up. It took a long time but the children’s book “Genois Wilson, Firefighter: She Dared to Be First” was published in 2013 and found immediate book shelves. The Fort Wayne Community Schools put the book in all of their libraries and the county library system did the same in all of their Fort Wayne branches.

Butler did book readings in Virginia, at a school where her grandchildren attended. Most of her Fort Wayne stops were at schools: Arlington, Forest Park, Levan Scott, Bunche Montessori, and Canterbury School Book Fair. The really personal book signing took place at Butler’s old school for about 100 Pre-K students in the school system…a school that was once segregated. “When I was those kids’ age,” Butler recalled telling her cousin, “I never would have been allowed to walk on the lawn at school. But here I am giving a reading.”

Sometimes Wilson came with during those signings; there was a big one in NYC, at the city’s largest children’s book store, the Bank Street Book Store. And at these successful readings, Butler would get asked about the next one.

On Saturday, July 13, 2019, Butler will be hosting her book reading and signing event for her second book, “Mama Joe’s Kitchen” from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the ACPL Main Library, 900 Library Plaza, in Meeting Room C.

This production is as independent as they come. Butler and her husband decided to take on the printing duties themselves, forgoing a bigger publishing company like in the case of her first book. The book is rated for a fifth grader to read, but, according to Butler, anyone from Pre-K up to adults can read. The couple wanted the books, priced at $9.99 each, so affordable that a purchaser may buy two, one for themselves and the other to donate. The Butlers will be personally donating 33 books to the FWCS media centers over the summer; they also donated “Genois Wilson” to school systems in Indiana and in Detroit, Michigan.

“Mama Joe” is told through nine-year-old Lauren Claire Austin, or LC (named after Butler’s grandchildren), who tells the stories her grandmother, “Jean-Jean,” has told her about the special times she spent with LC’s great-great grandmother, Mrs. Josie Colbert Aker, the titular Mama Joe, who is based on Butler’s real grandmother…Carol is her oldest grandchild.

Included in the 44-page book are four recipes, the highlight being Mama Joe’s 1 2 3 Pound Cake that was passed down through her family for years. (And, yes, there’ll be Mama Joe’s Pound Cake and ice tea at the July 13 event, while supplies last!) Butler lived with Mama Joe at one point; she would tag along to school with her grandmom, who was a teacher.

“It didn’t take long to write the book,” Butler said. It took a long time to finish because Butler couldn’t find an illustrator. She tried a couple, but their schedule didn’t work out. So, she thought like her engineer husband and Googled it, and found, a website that serves as a go-between for artists and clients.

The book is illustrated by artist Karin Sköld of Nyköping, Sweden, a woman she’s never met nor spoken on the phone with. Sköld won the job, out of about 70 candidates from around the world, after illustrating a too-perfect likeness of Mama Joe as a test. The project started in December 2017 and was completed December 2018. “She and I have [since] become sisters.”

I run Scrambled Egg(s) Design and Productions, based out of Northeast Indiana. In addition to producing in-house company projects, I also create advertising materials for companies and organizations, with an emphasis on interactivity.