Elise Elliott grew up in a family that loved animals and had lots of them -- horses, chickens, guinea hens, an old hound dog, cats, a parrot, a pet snake, a white mouse, a bunny, you name it.
When she was a little girl, her mother made up limericks for her about animals and wrote them down in a notebook. Somewhere along the line, the notebook and with it the limericks -- was lost.
"They're lost," Elise said. "Lost from memory. Lost from record."
Elise Elliott loves animals, especially Ernie, who was rescued after being dumped out of a car window. Elise and her husband Bob, also an author, live at Boca Grande North, overlooking Gasparilla Pass.
Elise never had any children of her own, but when she married Bob Elliott in 1982, she became a stepmom of three.
"When we were expecting our first grandchild," she said, "I was so excited about this grandchild. I had the vision to do a book for Baby."
Elise remembered the limericks her mother had made up for her when she was a little girl, and even though she'd never written anything before she decided to write an ABC book of animal limericks.
"When I told my mother I was working on a limerick book, she remembered the limerick about the kangaroo - which is in the book. She remembered it right off the bat.
"All the rest of them are not in anyone's memory," Elise said, "so I created the rest of them."
Not a silly book
To help get her rhymes just right, Elise sought the advice of a writer in Connecticut who teaches a course in writing children's books. Elise and Bob spend their summers in Connecticut.
"Before it was printed in book form, I asked her to look at the limericks for me and comment on them. She was very good about being sure the 'beat' was exact. It wasn't a one shot deal. A lot of them had to be rewritten. I'm very grateful to her."
While created for children, the book is "not just a silly book," Elise said. "It is educational because the animals are so unusual [like the Umbrette for "U," an African wading bird]. It's got some sophisticated language too. Parents and grandparents will get a good chuckle out of it, and it will expand their vocabulary.
"When I had the text done, I asked my stepdaughter, Baby Jackson's mother (Tricia Elliott Marcrum), if she'd be interested in illustrating it. She said she'd love to do it. We were both really excited, but of course she had a new baby. Before we knew it, 22 months later she had another baby. About two years later, she had baby number three. Then two years later, she had baby number four.
"It took a while to write, but it took a long time for her to have time to do all the illustrations," Elise said.
One Christmas a few years ago, Trish surprised Elise. "She'd done these gorgeous watercolors, depicting what was going on in the limericks. When I saw her artwork, I was so overwhelmed. She was so clever she did the artwork true to life.
"She also did something I think is very interesting," Elise said. "She decided on her own to paint each letter of the alphabet as a flower. She did these by researching botanicals, so they're true to life of how they really look. They're wonderful."
Just last fall, the project was finally finished and sent off to an online printer. The book "Adorable Animals, Big Belly Laughs, Creative Critters - An ABC Book of Funny Animal Limericks" was just off the presses in December.
"All of the grandchildren got a kick out of it," Elise said, including Jackson who is now 14. Her husband Bob, himself the author of a book on public speaking, is excited, and his mother, who's 91, loved it. Elise's mother passed away before the book was finished, but Elise feels sure she'd approve.
In third printing
A friend of hers, Sandi Thomson, saw the book, was excited about it and held a book signing for Elise at her home on Shore Lane. "All of a sudden, out of 90 books, I had five left."
One of the people at the book signing gave a copy to Linda Penafiel, a reading teacher at Myakka River Elementary and program coordinator of YMCA Reads at the Englewood YMCA. Linda called Elise and said she wanted a book for every child in her class. "I was dancing around the living room with the phone in my hand," Elise said. "I was just beside myself with joy.
"It was never a project for profit," she said. "It was just a project for the family. It was a labor of love."
About 140 copies of her book have been sold, and it is already in its third printing. Elise is currently looking for a local publisher, so the book can be printed for less. "It's a little too pricey for schools right now," Elise said, "and I can't afford to give it at a loss." She's also hopeful that bookstores may pick it up.
A fundraiser was held so every child in Linda's class could have a copy of the book, and Elise was invited to give a PowerPoint presentation on Wednesday evening this week for Family Night at Myakka River Elementary.
"It's such a delight that people actually like it. When I saw it in book form, I thought if 20 people bought it, it would be great. I'm so overwhelmed."
Elise is considering writing a second book, but, with four children to raise, isn't sure if her daughter-in-law is up to illustrating another one. "I asked her if she wants a project doing the next book, and I haven't had an answer from her. I don't know if there's another book in either one of us."
To order copies of "Adorable Animals, Big Belly Laughs, Creative Critters - An ABC Book of Funny Animal Limericks," contact Elise at 964-7492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.