Suffolk trio collaborates on book

Published 9:54 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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The game Alexis Devers made up when she was just 5 years old became the source of her idea for a children’s book.

She and her grandmother played the game, which Alexis, now 11, called “Cute Animals.” This December, nearly six years after that initial idea, “The Adventures of Ruff and Meowco” was published.

Alexis, a fifth-grade student at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy with an imagination her grandmother describes as over-the-top, created a feline character called Meowco, while her grandmother, Janice Holland, called her canine character Ruff. The two spent nearly a half-hour playing the game, and by the end of it, Holland thought they had enough to write a book.

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“It’s kind of like a free play,” Holland said. “She’d say something, then I’d say something after. And we just kept adding on and adding on.”

When the game was over, both began writing down everything they could remember about the story. Once finished, Holland sent it to a trusted editor friend of hers who had helped her with a previous book of poetry to gauge whether they had the makings of a good book.

“I wanted to send the story to somebody I thought would give me a straight answer,” Holland said.

After getting an answer in the affirmative, they continued to polish the story and sought out an illustrator. After the first one didn’t work out, Holland hooked up with John Yeates Middle School art teacher Cynthia O’Hara, someone she had worked with previously.

Holland, who served as an assistant superintendent in Suffolk from 1997 until 2005, initially didn’t realize O’Hara was an art teacher, and after a conversation, Holland asked O’Hara to illustrate the book.

“I was honored that she asked me to do this,” O’Hara said. “It was a blessing and an honor. … I went into it with excitement, and at the same time, a kind of trepidation, wondering, ‘Am I going to meet her needs? Am I going to be able to accomplish this?’ And so, I just said, ‘Let me just do it,’ and I did the best I could.”

Alexis sat down with O’Hara to go over what she envisioned and wanted in the illustrations.

It took another year for O’Hara to create them, which she did in watercolor pencil, before Holland was able to submit the book to Christian Faith Publishing.

The publisher initially turned down the book, but a few months later, Holland received a call from a different person at Christian Faith Publishing telling her that it wanted to publish the book after all.

Alexis had asked periodically about the book and whether it would get published, so Holland was only too happy to show it to her granddaughter.

“They would send us what they had, and we’d have to proof it, but when I got the email from the gentleman saying they were going to (publish) it,” Holland said, “I had her sit down at the computer and I said, ‘Hey Alexis, I’ve got something I want you to read.’ And it was just so exciting to watch her face when she realized that they really were going to publish our book.”

They had an issue in uploading O’Hara’s illustrations to the publisher, so Holland took photos of them to send in, and the publisher created digital drawings of them to use for the book.

“I’m pleased with how they came out,” O’Hara said.

They received a promotional copy of the book on Black Friday, Nov. 29, and it was officially published Dec. 19. The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and The book is also in the NSA library, and some of Alexis’ classmates have checked it out and given her positive feedback about it.

Alexis’ first reaction to seeing the book?

“OMG,” she said, as both she and her grandmother laughed. “I always thought that book writing was only for adults. I never thought that a child could actually do that. And now, here we are.”

The story of the book revolves around the dog, Ruff, and the cat, Meowco, who are both lonely until they meet. They get involved in a series of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, tears and answers to prayers before Ruff learns to watch his tone and pays attention to what he is praying for.

The end of each chapter in the book has a lesson for readers to focus on.

Alexis has already started on a second book, a prequel to her first. She said this time, she wants to write the book by herself, though Holland will edit it and help her find a publisher.

Alexis said the biggest issue with writing has been patience.

“Honestly, learning that patience lesson, that was not a fun lesson,” Alexis said, as her grandmother laughed. “It was torture, absolute torture.”

But Alexis and Holland were always in sync with the story.

“Her imagination has always been a little over the top,” Holland said. “But I think what struck me the most is that we were both able just to pick up from where the other one was and just go with it.”