Child bibliophiles have cats who wear hats, mice who ride motorcycles, and spiders who spin words into their webs. Now, thanks to Sandwich author Dean Coe, they have Chesterton, a clever weasel who, in his first book, makes it his mission to ensure that future generations of children in Sandwich maintain their right to jump into Mill Creek from the bridge on the Sandwich boardwalk.
In order to accomplish his mission, Chesterton enlists the aid of some local teenagers and a mysterious early-morning kayaker who looks suspiciously like Mr. Coe himself.
Middle school readers will enjoy the factual information included in “Chesterton Keep his Town Jumping,” while colorful watercolor paintings of Chesterton will engage younger readers.
Mr. Coe, a native of Worcester who moved to Sandwich in 1983, began writing several years ago after signing up for a writing group through the Cape Cod Community College’s Academy of Lifelong Learning program. Having narrowed his focus to children’s books, Mr. Coe went on to join the Cape Cod Writers Center’s Children’s Writing Group in Falmouth. “It’s been a real process,” said Mr. Coe, who added, “I’ve enjoyed listening to the comments of others and learning as I go.”
Partially retired, Mr. Coe leads daily kayaking tours in season on Mill Creek for the group Ecotourz. As part of the tour Mr. Coe imparts information on the ecology and history of the area. “Slipping into my kayak is becoming one with the natural world,” Mr. Coe said.
The idea of using a weasel as a main character came to him after an actual encounter with the feisty creature while walking with his granddaughter in Shawme Forest. In writing about the encounter Mr. Coe recalled that the animal had a “life is good” air about him. Upon further reflection Mr. Coe decided that the animal could be the conduit through which he could pass on his understanding of the world of nature to kids. “I never thought of myself as a writer, yet, this creature pushed my creative buttons,” explained Mr. Coe.
The name Chesterton “just came to me,” said Mr. Coe, who added that he thinks it’s a name that parents reading the book to their kids might be able “to have fun with.”
Mr. Coe added that he liked the idea of reimagining the weasel, an animal that, with the exception of Native American folklore, is generally regarded as a “second class citizen,” with attributes that are “not something one sought to emulate.”
“Chesterton breaks the mold,” Mr. Coe said. “The story and the series allow us to see the other side of the historically mistrusted weasel.”
In addition to including several Sandwich landmarks the book is also set, in homage, during the town’s 375th anniversary.
One of the messages Mr. Coe hopes kids will take away from the story is that of bravery. Just as it takes bravery to jump off a bridge into chilly creek waters, it also takes bravery to “stand up to a rising tide of opposition.”
The book also introduces a sense of community and honors traditions, Mr. Coe said.
When it came time to illustrate the story, Mr. Coe thought he might ask local school children to provide illustrations but that project was quickly redirected by an art teacher who suggested he enlist the aid of high school art students for the job. Having already done work for the Sandwich First Night Committee, Robyn Whaples was quickly suggested, and soon after Sasha Rudyakov joined the project. The two students worked together as a team to bring Chesterton to life visually. Ms. Whaples will be attending the Savannah College of Art and Design this fall and Ms. Rudyakov will be enrolling at Northeastern University. Both are onboard for the second installment in the Chesterton series, which will hopefully be out this winter—a book in which Chesterton tries to help a stranded whale. In creating the illustrations, Mr. Coe said that he was impressed with the way Ms. Whaples and Ms. Rudyakov divided up the work in such a way that they were both able to “work their skill sets to the max.”
While other Chesterton adventures are in the works, readers can be introduced to this likable weasel at several author events this month, the first being a book signing at Titcomb’s Bookshop on Route 6A in Sandwich on August 5 beginning at 2 PM.
“Chesterton Keep his Town Jumping” is available at independent bookstores on the Upper Cape including Titcomb’s Bookshop, Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth, and Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee.