After being displaced by an apartment fire at Parksville’s Oceanside Terrace Apartments in July of 2017, former resident Kelly Bontje found inspiration in the tumultuous time and began writing a children’s book.
Following the fire, Bontje said she was without a permanent residence for about a month and a half before finding a place to live in Nanaimo. It was during this “challenging time” she found solace in routine.
“I take comfort in routine. I was displaced but I was looking for some kind of routine so I would go to the Errington pet lodge everyday to see my cat and then I would go to Smitty’s…and then after work I’d come home and write,” Bontje said, who works at the Tigh-Na-Mara.
Bontje had never really been a writer before beginning her children’s book, but said she was fortunate that she could open her mind and be free to let the ideas flow.
“[The fire] forced me to kind of reevaluate where I was at and where I was going and what the future was going to hold,” she said. “[Writing] was sort of a safe place to land after a day of work.”
Bontje’s book is called The Lions are Leaping! and is based on a little girl’s day at the zoo with her dad. Gwenny, named after Bontje’s mother, brings her camera to the zoo and takes plenty of photos of the various dancing, playing and leaping animals. Once Gwenny got back home she grabbed her camera to check out the day’s photos but found it’s batteries were dead. Without letting it get her too down, Gwenny decides to draw all the photos from memory and give them to her father.
“There’s a bit of a moral, a bit of a plot twist…I just wanted to write something a bit innocent. A simple story of a day’s adventure,” Bontje said. “For me when I was a kid, going to the zoo with my dad was a really big deal.”
Bontje went through Tellwell publishing to get her book published. They let her choose from eight illustrators to do the book’s drawings.
“It was really neat for me to put down in text what I was looking for and for [the illustrator] just to do it. It was exactly how I hoped it could be,” she said.
The Lions are Leaping! is currently available online at Chapters, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is also available in the Tigh-Na-Mara gift shop.
Eventually Bentje hopes to get the book in gift shops at zoos all across North America and she already has plans for a sequel.