The COVID-19 pandemic and a new puppy combined to inspire Northern Michigan University alumna Candi Werenka ('90 BS) to achieve a longtime goal: writing a children's book. The Stephenson native has published Coliola, Courageous COVID Canine: Courage is contagious....in a good way!
The book is about Coliola, a puppy who takes kids through various scenarios they have faced since the COVID-19 virus arrived. These include schools being closed, social distancing, not being able to visit the vet with their pet and working from home. It reminds kids to have a good attitude while wearing masks, washing hands and more.
“I think young readers will benefit from reading Coliola, Courageous COVID Canine because first, as the title suggests, kids can choose to be courageous in light of the unknown,” Werenka said. “Our world is still a beautiful place, and children can find hope for themselves and give hope to others by participating in fun activities with their families, being kind to their neighbors and helping at home. All these things are important and take a little bit of courage in light of a pandemic world, but courage is contagious in a good way.
“I had envisioned myself writing a children's book since I graduated from NMU. Life brings various occupational opportunities, children and more that often force us to move previous priorities to the back burner to simmer for a while. I am grateful that I finally made the decision and carved out the time and effort to do what I wanted to do all along.”
The 47-page book asks interactive questions, like what readers can do to be kind and courageous. The book's reading age is 4-8 years old or grades preschool-third.
Werenka's plan is to create a Tails of Coliola series. She is working on the second book, which will be available later this year. In it, Coliola will teach kids how to stay physically, mentally and spiritually fit.
“When I started writing Coliola, Courageous COVID Canine, I knew that I needed to continue using my puppy to help kids relate to their world. The Tails of Coliola series was conceived from this premise. My next book will be a continuation of what Coliola started.”
Coliola, Courageous COVID Canine is illustrated by Bethany Harris, whom Werenka met at a Christmas market in 2019.
“I bought several pieces of her gorgeous artwork depicting animals, a Christmas sheep felting kit, a few wood-burned ornaments and a children's book she illustrated for another author. Who knew I would be writing a children's book myself a year later and that she would be illustrating for me? I never searched for another illustrator; I just knew it had to be Bethany. I am grateful for her energetic and captivating illustrations.”
Werenka majored in English and minored in journalism at NMU. She said that she met many influential people and lifelong friends.
“I chose NMU because it was close to my hometown, and because of the beauty of its surroundings. I never anticipated it would hold so much more for me. I met my husband there: former NMU hockey player Brad Werenka, whose career took us around the world and shaped much of who I am today. We also enjoy three boys together, two of which have graduated from NMU.
“Did I mention all the wonderful NMU professors, or should I call them mentors? The late Ray Ventre almost single-handedly nurtured my love of writing and all things English with wit and enthusiasm. Tom Casselman was lively and passionate in his delivery.”
Beyond the qualified and caring faculty, Werenka said she remains grateful for the wonderful learning environment at NMU and its lingering positive impacts on her life and career.
Her book is available on Amazon here.