When local author Sherry Boas decided to branch off into children’s books, she didn’t have to go too far for inspiration.
Boas, the mother of four children, is known for her adult fiction “Lily” trilogy that chronicles the adventures of a woman with Down syndrome and “Wing Tip,” a novel about a priest.
Enter “Billowtail,” a charming book aimed at a middle school and junior high audience and told through the adventures of five squirrels.
The book has been endorsed by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who described it as “a delightful story that quickly captures the reader’s interest, sparks the imagination, and, without being preachy, leads one to a deeper sense of the mystery of creation.”[quote_box_left]
Publisher: Caritas Press
Author: Sherry Boas
Release date: April 2014
Length: 220 pages, Paperback
Order: CatholicWord.com, 1-800-932-3826, caritaspress.org
The story takes place in 1214 and begins when a baby squirrel falls from the nest and lands in the passing saddlebag of a 13-year-old boy. Still blind, deaf, hairless and unable to eat solid food, there is little hope for Puttermunch’s survival.
“It’s a novel geared toward kids in fifth through eighth grade, but really anybody can read this book and get something out of it,” Boas said. Bishop Olmsted agreed, writing that he recommended it for both kids and adults.
Boas has woven theological truths throughout the novel, such as how to carry your cross and how to make mistakes and get back up again as the characters follow along the “Way of St. James” in Spain.
“It’s about learning to work together, learning to sacrifice yourself for the other person — or in this case, the other squirrels,” Boas joked. “If these were people and not squirrels, it would be an adult book.”
Telling the tale through the eyes of animals makes “Billowtail” a more compelling read for children, and the book is also geared for family read-aloud time.
Children can enjoy the story on a superficial level, Boas said, “but once they start deeper thinking about it, it’s even more appealing.”
As a blend of fantasy and historical fiction, the novel offers plenty of symbolism and deeper messages to ponder as well as opening a window to learning about the reason for the “Way of St. James.”
“Billowtail” makes its debut some 1,200 years following the discovery of the final resting place of the Apostle James, whose remains were discovered in Spain in 814. Since the 9th century, millions have walked the Way of St. James, a pilgrimage spanning hundreds of miles over a multitude of routes in Europe.
This year is also the 800th anniversary of the journey of St. Francis of Assisi on the Way of St. James. The beloved saint who had a heart for animals shows up several times throughout “Billowtail” to lend a hand to the squirrels, as does St. Dominic.
Boas’ website, Billowtail.com, offers free curriculum materials for teachers with lessons in religion, art, language arts, science, history and geography, making the book ideal for literature studies in Catholic schools.