Spokane’s Riverfront Park gets the spotlight in a new children’s book with a magical tale bringing to life the Looff Carrousel ponies along with the venue’s many sculptures for a night of adventure.
“Ponies in the Park” is a collaboration by author Mary Carpenter and illustrator Mary Pat Kanaley. The Spokane women won a 2021 Spokane Arts Grant to create and self-publish the book. Part of the $10,000 grant will be used to distribute the book to Spokane County second-grade classes and elementary school libraries to help kids learn about local history and art in the downtown park.
After pandemic-related delays in printing, Carpenter and Kanaley received a shipment of books for distribution near Thanksgiving and are now selling them online, at the carrousel gift shop and such stores as Pottery Place Plus, Atticus and the Wishing Tree. Back pages in the book offer educational material, including scavenger hunts centered on the park’s icons. Interactive projects also are available on the book website, poniesinthepark.com.
“The book is basically about a little girl’s unexpected visit to the hospital, a birthday wish, and moonlight mixing with magic dust that bring the carrousel and all the art sculptures in Riverfront Park to life,” Carpenter said.
“So it has a magical story in the front, and the subsequent pages at the back has the historical timeline for Riverfront Park, and then for all the art sculptures that came to life in the story, it gives all the history behind those sculptures.
“It’s a really good way to inspire kids to learn about Riverfront Park, the history and the art. It’s teaching through the various senses because they’re able to read about it and learn, but then also go to park and explore, see and touch. I think it makes it come to life in a special way.”
There is both an “in book” and an “in park” scavenger hunt, for learning and exploration at home or in the park. Carpenter and Kanaley also are offering to visit schools to talk about writing and reading as they distribute the book to each facility. The website will offer lesson plan ideas.
Creating all the illustrations in watercolor, Kanaley said she isn’t aware of any other book like “Ponies in the Park” that highlights Spokane’s downtown park and its landmarks.
Kanaley, a former middle school teacher, also has written and illustrated her children’s book series called “Imp’s Adventures.”
“It’s really fun because the illustrator-author relationship for a children’s picture book is kind of like a dance, because Mary’s story has a lot in there but you need to pare it down for when kids read it and for their attention span,” Kanaley said.
“It was, what can I put in the pictures that you don’t need to say, and what do you need to say that I can’t illustrate?”
She said they met together to hammer out creative ideas, such as exploring the park or over a sketchpad at a restaurant patio.
The book’s main character, a little girl called Grace, shares the name of Carpenter’s daughter, who turns 18 this month. The real Grace also has a miniature schnauzer named Lily, another personal tie in with the book’s character having a toy schnauzer, also named Lily, who also comes to life.
Kanaley captured the images of both her daughter at a younger age and their dog, Carpenter said.
A clinic manager for Inland Neurosurgery and Spine in Spokane, Carpenter said after moving to Spokane about nine years ago, she became intrigued by Riverfront Park’s history and the carrousel.
Built in 1909 by Charles Looff, the carrousel was a gift for Looff’s daughter and her husband, who ran the former Natatorium Park in Spokane. The carrousel was relocated to Riverfront Park in 1975.
“I just fell in love with the history,” Carpenter said, recalling that she and her daughter over the years often visited and made up stories while in the park.
“I thought, we need something about Spokane and downtown Riverfront Park. When I first moved here, my daughter was in second grade. They were supposed to be learning about the history of Spokane. They had a scheduled field trip and then things fell through and they couldn’t go, and I remember how disappointed she was. I figured that a book would be a great tool for history and learning.”