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Mound author publishes a children’s book set on Lake Minnetonka

December 15, 2018

Having spent much of her life on its shores and water, Mikaela Casey knew Lake Minnetonka had nice bays, good restaurants and beautiful sunsets. One thing it didnt have was its own childrens book.

That thought occurred to Casey one evening while in a boat on the lake, doing homework for a childrens literature class she was taking at the University of Minnesota. You know, I should probably write that, she recalls thinking.

A couple of years ago, armed with an English degree, Casey started writing.

The result is Lenny the Loon: An Adventure on Lake Minnetonka, a hardcover picture book that Casey, now 28, self-published and launched in November. The locations in the book are colorfully (and accurately) depicted by Yana Popova, a London-based illustrator who Casey found on Facebook and paid $3,000.

To say a book about a loon has been flying off the shelves would be, well, a groan-worthy bit of wordplay. But within weeks, Casey sold the 750 copies needed to earn back the $15,000 she invested in the book, after it was rejected by a number of publishers.

With help from book-signing events at retail spots around the lake and energetic marketing on social media, Lenny now has sold about 1,200 copies, far exceeding the authors expectations.

I really hoped I would break even, Casey said.

The book has proved popular as a gift for kids and a memento for lake enthusiasts. Many people have bought four or more copies at a time, she said.

At Excelsior Bay Books, where Casey recently held a signing event, co-owner Ellie Temple estimated that Lenny has probably sold more than 100 copies, making it the shops bestselling childrens book this fall. (The best ever? No, Temple said. Harry Potter set the bar pretty high.)

Casey grew up in Mound, a couple of blocks from the lake. At 13, she started working at Al Almas Supper Club, a 62-year-old local institution famous for its dinner cruises. She started serving food and drinks on the cruise boats and got to know her way around Minnetonkas sprawling waters, eventually earning a captains license and driving the boats as well.

To learn how to write childrens books, Casey read a couple guides and concocted a plot featuring a loon, Minnesotas state bird and her own favorite.

Writing in verse, she found that keeping the language and ideas simple enough for small children was harder than it seemed. Substituting a shorter word for a long one meant finding a different word to rhyme. Lenny went through 12 drafts.

The book tells the story of Lenny, a loon who lives on Lake Minnetonka and encounters a walleye named Wally who wants to move to Mexico. Lenny agrees to guide Wally to Grays Bay, where fish can enter Minnehaha Creek and swim to the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

OK, so walleyes dont live in saltwater, but this isnt an ichthyology textbook. Fish dont talk, either.

Lenny and Wally traverse the lake, past Mound and Excelsior and Wayzata, taking in its water skiers, cruise boats and restaurants. The book name-checks Cooks Bay, Seton Channel, Spirit Island and other lake features, giving readers a lesson on the lakes geography. It includes a map of the whole lake marked with the characters route.

At one point, the two aquatic friends pause to admire a sunset and the text turns philosophical: Its hard to see the beauty of a place/ When you go through life as if its a race.

As they approach the creek, Wally starts to look downcast. [W]hen Lenny looked at Wally/ He saw a frown/ Whats wrong, my friend?/ Youre about to leave town!

Spoiler alert: Theres a happy ending.

Lake Minnetonka is a place of magic, the book concludes. Missing out on the fun would be ever so tragic!

That sentiment reflects Caseys own feelings. Though now living in Minneapolis, she has a full-time job as a personal assistant to a family living on the lake. She still considers the lake her home.

Its carefree, a place when you can leave your troubles on the shore and enjoy yourself, Casey said. I think the best word for it is tranquil.

Katy Read 612-673-4583

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