Make 2017 the year you create a shared family story

Tooth fairies and sisters Bella Donna and Stella Donna came to visit my children on a regular basis. They left detailed notes in flowery writing — often in green or pink pen. They did the usual tooth fairy things — remind kids to brush their teeth and floss — but they also knew things about my children such as their favorite pajamas or TV show. They had their own personalities based on the children they visited.

It was a great ruse until my daughter lost a tooth at summer camp and the counselor just handed my child the note and the treasure as soon as the tooth fell out. On the car ride home, the gig was up — not only for then 8-year-old Ava, but also her 11-year-old brother Ben, (really, Ben?) both of whom truly believed in Bella and Stella.

I’ve kept Bella and Stella’s notes in a box in my closet. It’s a toss up of who had more fun — me writing the notes or them receiving them. Occasionally we still talk about Bella and Stella — especially Stella, who by the time she came on the scene for Ava, sometimes forgot what her name was. (Sorry, kid, this mom was really tired by then.)

Creating a magical world for your children, whether it be the tooth fairy, the elf on the shelf, the friendly monster under the bed, creates lasting memories, treasured stories that only your family shares. It’s some of that great glue that binds you together.

If you don’t have some family magic that is only yours, make 2017 the year you do it. Write your children letters and save them, or if you deliver the stories in spoken form, make sure to write them down somewhere. As the saying goes: the days are long, but the years are short. The things you think you’ll remember forever — like Stella’s name — get forgotten.

"The Adventures of Pootsey the Wonderbug"
“The Adventures of Pootsey the Wonderbug”

Austinite Mauri Jane King, 29, took the stories her father left for her each morning and turned them into a children’s book, “The Adventures of Pootsey the Wonderbug.” Her father, lobbyist Wayne T. Franke, started leaving Pootsey notes when King was 9 turning 10. Most mornings when her father was in town, he’d leave a note from Pootsey by the cereal bowl. It was a way for him to connect with his daughter.

“He found little ways that were actually really big to make sure that I knew that I mattered,” King says.

Each note had a story of Pootsey’s adventure living with a girl named Mauri Jane and a cat named Tippy (King’s real cat when she was that age).

Mauri Jane King, her daughter Elizabeth and her father Wayne T. Franke are all connected by Pootsey.
Mauri Jane King, her daughter Elizabeth and her father Wayne T. Franke are all connected by Pootsey.

King and Franke don’t even remember why he started the Pootsey notes or why he stopped writing them about five months later. “My dad is one of those people who makes a decision and does it,” she says. “It’s pretty normal.”

King kept the stories in a box in her room. At some point during school, she create an illustrated album of the Pootsey stories. The Pootsey letters and the illustrated album then sat on a shelf for years, but they never went away.

Her father kept encouraging her to turn them into a book, but she was busy with college and then graduate school.

Mauri Jane King kept her father's Pootsey letters.
Mauri Jane King kept her father’s Pootsey letters.

Then two years ago, when King’s daughter Elizabeth was 2 months old, King looked at the Pootsey stories in a new light and started working on turning them into a published book.

Many of Pootsey’s adventures from 20 years ago made it into the book. King turned them into a cohesive story and added more humor. She teamed up with illustrator Katrina Misley, who created an illustrated world that looks exactly like King’s house did when she was 10. Originally, King was going to keep the main character’s name Mauri Jane, but thought that might be weird with the author and the main character having the same name. Instead, she used her daughter’s name, Elizabeth, but the Elizabeth in the book looks like King did as a 10-year-old, not like the real Elizabeth.

At some point she turned the letters into an album for school.
At some point, she turned the letters into an album for school.

The book is now available on the websites for Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Westbow Press as well as on King hopes to grow the Pootsey brand into more adventures, more books. Franke even envisions a stuffed toy of Pootsey.

“Every parent should be so lucky,” Franke says of his daughter turning his stories into a book. “I learn as much from her now as she ever learned from me.”

Franke has continued the tradition of writing to the next generation. A few months before Elizabeth was born, he encouraged King to get an email for her. A couple of times a week he writes to Elizabeth. King plans to print out grandpa’s emails and put them in an album for when Elizabeth is older.

King also has been keeping a journal for Elizabeth since she was pregnant and plans to continue writing to Elizabeth and her sister, who is due in February.

“This came from something that was really little,” King says about the book. “It took five minutes a day and turned into a family tradition.”

Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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