Children's Book Honors a Life Lived, Raises Money for Lives to Come
Author Kelly Jenkins Lin set out to create a book full of joy and hope. In spite of tragedy, "Mr. Astley's Blueberries" still rings true to that goal.
Kelly Jenkins Lin set out to write a children’s book about a Wayland blueberry business four years ago. The book at last made it to print this fall, but so much has changed in those four short years.
“Mr. Astley’s Blueberries,” written by Jenkins and illustrated by Washington D.C.-based artist Samantha Lane Fiddy, tells the story of Malcolm Astley’s blueberry business that burst from the dozens of blueberry bushes behind his Wayland home.
Perhaps more importantly, it tells the story of how Astley and his daughter, Lauren Dunne Astley, worked together in the business and the story highlights, as Malcolm Astley puts it, “The glory of … parents and kids taking on good challenges together.”
Lin met Malcolm Astley years ago on the sidelines of Wayland soccer fields as their daughters played ball together.
“The first time I met him, he was such a kind person,” Lin said. “He just wasn’t your typical sideline parent.”
Then, in 2008, Lin found herself laid off from her job in marketing communications and on the hunt for a new career path. Knowing that she loved to write and harboring a dream of authoring children’s books, Lin registered for a creative writing class.
A fateful trip to the Summer Farmers’ Market to “buy some of Mr. Astley’s blueberries,” planted the seed for Lin’s creative writing project and first book.
She started interviewing Astley about his process, what each season looked like in a garden of blueberries, what he saw and experienced, and how he and his daughter worked together.
Astley said the his daughter grew up "in the middle" of blueberry bushes and, over the years, those bushes fed both her appetite for berries in her younger days and her eagerness to earn money for a car in her teens.
"I loved watching Lauren reaching up as a child to grasp the fruit, and then watching her grow up so the reach was easier as her appetite grew," Astley said.
For her part, Lin spent the next few years working on her book -- writing and editing and then reaching out to Fiddy, an old friend, to dream up her colorful watercolor illustrations.
Then came the summer of 2011. It was a summer many in Wayland will remember for the rest of their lives as the summer that tragedy struck. Lauren Dunne Astley, the girl who grew blueberry bushes and harvested berries and sold the fruit to fund her first car, was murdered.
Lin said she stopped mid-project, self-conscious suddenly about showing the book to Astley and Mary Dunne, Lauren’s mother, in the face of such sadness.
Lin’s husband, however, encouraged her to forge ahead with the project, but change gears slightly. He suggested using the book as a fundraiser for the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund.
So she shared the book with Lauren’s parents and to her delight, Lin said, Dunne and Astley were “very touched” by the book and encouraged her to finish it.
At that point, Fiddy began her illustrations in earnest and, though she lived in D.C., many miles from the tragedy in Wayland, it nonetheless impacted her work.
“It was a little bittersweet working on it after I found out what happened,” Fiddy said. “It turned into a really emotional project. I think I was so scared that I would not do the story justice. I just wanted to make it a tribute.”
And what emerged from four years of interviews and toil and deeply felt emotions is a children’s picture book with vibrant color and a thoughtful story told through each page.
“In 2008 when I started the book, my highest aspiration was it would recreate the feeling for people that they get when they eat a really great blueberry,” Lin said. “That feeling of something good, something hopeful – which I think led into a lot of my decision to use it for the foundation. I wanted to give people hope.”
The juxtaposition of emotions is something Astley senses keenly in the book.
“It’s dazzling and delightful and full of sweetness along with, of course, some sadness,” Astley said. “The beauty of it was the whole theme of what people keep saying to each other in death: It’s the way the people lived. The book really celebrated that.”
“Mr. Astley’s Blueberries” is available at Russell’s Garden Center and the Wayland Depot. It will soon be available at Lemon Tree Goods in Natick and continues to be available online through Amazon and CreateSpace. Royalties from the book support the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund.