April 23, 2009 in Washington Voices

What a wonderful whirl

Looff Carrousel inspiration for children’s mystery
By The Spokesman-Review
 
PHOTOS BY DAN PELLE photo

Joan Ferrell-Jans has written a book inspired by her memories of the Looff Carrousel titled “Merry-Go-Round Mystery,” below right.
(Full-size photo)

More information

Author Joan Farrell-Jans and illustrator Marilyn Jackson Akerhielm will sign copies of “Merry-Go-Round Mystery” at Auntie’s Bookstore, 402 W. Main Ave., May 2 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

The Looff Carrousel is a centerpiece for happy memories. It’s been the site of first dates, birthday parties, wedding proposals and anniversary celebrations.

For some residents, memories of the merry-go-round predate its current location in Riverfront Park and stretch back to the time when the ride was a featured attraction at Natatorium Park.

Joan Farrell-Jans is one such resident. To her the Nat seemed like a hidden treasure. Her eyes lit up when she recalled her frequent visits when she was a child in the 1940s. “To walk down that road and see all that exploding in front of you,” she said. “It was so exciting.”

And for Farrell-Jans, the highlight of every visit was a spin on the Carrousel. “That feeling has stayed with me,” she said. “I’d never been on a real horse. It was chills and thrills.” Those childhood memories inspired her to write a children’s book, “Merry-Go-Round Mystery.”

However, the book was a long time in the making. Farrell-Jans wrote the story in 1983 as an assignment for a writing class. Several moves and a busy life put her budding author ambitions on hold.

It wasn’t until 2007 that she realized, “Finally, I had the time to do what I wanted to do.” And what she wanted to do was write. So she dug out her original manuscript and began the revision process. The story is written for children ages 9 and up, and tells of the amusement park adventure of two young girls, Megan and Claire. “Megan is my granddaughter’s name, and she had a friend named Claire,” Farrell-Jans said with a smile.

In the book, the girls witness a kidnapping and are able to help the police save the child and apprehend the kidnapper. “No one gets hurt and the bad guy is captured,” the author noted. And of course a carousel holds a central place. Just like Farrell-Jans, the protagonists in her story have definite preferences for which pony to ride. “The outside horse would give me the ride of my life,” she said and laughed at the memory.

Her next step, finding an illustrator, proved easy. “My friend Marilyn Jackson Akerhielm is an artist,” Farrell-Jans said. After reading the story, her friend agreed to do the illustrations.

Farrell-Jans, an accomplished pianist, likened the thrill of writing a story to music. “It’s like playing the piano when you’ve played a piece, and played it well. It’s so fulfilling.”

However, it’s also a lot of work, and the 70-year-old author isn’t sure she’s got another story in her. For now she’s content to have captured a highlight of her youth on paper. She said, “My childhood memories of the Carrousel have lasted a lifetime and continue to refresh my soul.”

Pausing, her eyes sparkled, “I remember feeling the galloping horse and the wind in my hair. I thought I was going 90 miles an hour.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com

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