A Ketchikan author and her daughter recently published a book about a young girl anxiously waiting to grow up as she explores the beaches of Southeast Alaska. But the book has another message – no matter what your challenges, you can achieve your dreams. 24KayakBook
The chapter book tells the story of a young girl who wants to join her father in his kayaking adventures. She repeatedly is told “When you’re older,” and each time she watches her father paddle away, has her own mini-adventures, discovering colorful shells and purple sea stars on Southeast beaches.
The story, “Can I Kayak Daddy?” though fictionalized, is based on Bonny Autrey, a young girl with Down syndrome who wants to do the same things the rest of her family can do. Bonny’s mother Joyce is the author. Autrey says she began working on the book more than 20 years ago and her family life is the inspiration for the story. The Autreys lived on a homestead dairy property about 4 miles south of Ketchikan, and her husband, John, would kayak to work each day.
“So that’s the first line of the book, ” Autrey said. It’s about John kayaking to work, and Bonny and her mommy would be on the beach and go beachcombing and find sea stars and different kinds of shells. And she’d also practice paddle. She’d sit on the beach and go..” “…dip to the right, dip to the left “ adds Bonny.
When Bonny was eight years old, she was finally told she was “old enough” and had “learned enough” to go kayaking. For her first trips, Bonny would sit in the same hatch as her father. Eventually Bonny grew too big, and one day she received a surprise – A kayak with three hatches that the family could paddle in together. Bonny was then able to ride and paddle in her own hatch. Bonnie, now 31, continues to kayak today.
Autrey says one of the reasons she wrote the book, was to make others aware of the abilities of people with Down syndrome.
“A big part of it is teaching people that people with Down syndrome can learn many things and do a lot of travelling and learning and all kinds of aspects of life, no matter what.”
Bonny Autrey has not let Down syndrome hold her back. Growing up, she was active in Girl Scouts and choir, and was on the high school swim team among other activities. She and her mother recently presented their book in Anchorage after participating in the Buddy Walk.
“We went to Anchorage for this ‘Buddy Walk,’ and the Buddy Walk was about Down syndrome kids and I was one of them. It was a fundraiser.” Bonny says she’s also been involved in Special Olympics and was even the prom queen at Ketchikan High School in 2001.
Bonny continues to swim and stay active and says she currently has two jobs. She works at the Opportunity House, a housing development for persons with disabilities in Ketchikan, and delivers newspapers. Bonny says she soon will have a third job, shelving books at the library.
In discussing her book, Joyce Autrey says she first tried to get it published back in the 1990’s, and recently decided to publish it herself.
“It’s been a long time coming. I started out when I had written it long-hand, then on computer, and then sent it to several publishers. I had a UAS professor and other folks in the community with Ketchikan Writers’ Guild critique it. I sent it to several publishers and received good reviews, it just wasn’t the timing. So I thought I’m not going to write 20 more years, so I decided to self-publish. I met up with a friend from the past. She was doing productions, and it was a go.”
The book is available in both soft cover and hard back editions. Watercolor illustrations were done by Jessica Wicken.
In addition to the story, the book also features photos of the family and sheet music for “Bonny’s Song.” The song tells of Bonny beachcombing, learning from her family, and paddling in a kayak all day. Autrey says she and Bonny made up the song together. Autrey recorded the song with fellow musician and music teacher Lallette Kistler playing piano.
A link to “Bonny’s Song” can found on their website canikayakdaddy.com. Proceeds from the song and a portion of book sales benefit the Community Connections’ Developmental Disabilities Program.
In addition to the website, the book “Can I Kayak Daddy?” is available at Parnassus Books, Downtown Books and Scanlon Gallery in Ketchikan.