Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

‘Dunkin the Jersey Mouse’: Leslie Woodfill’s mouse tale comes alive during trip

May 25, 2022 Updated Wed., May 25, 2022 at 11:22 a.m.

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Eleven years ago, Leslie Woodfill took a trip to New York and landed in Newark, New Jersey.

She stepped out of the airport to wait for her bus and started chatting with a bus driver.

“Watch out!” he said. “Do you see all those mice running around? One could jump on your bag when you’re not looking. You could wind up with a mouse on your adventure.”

That conversation sparked Woodfill’s imagination. What would happen if an adventure-seeing mouse hitched a ride on her suitcase?

“By the time I got to my hotel, the whole story had spun out in my head,” she said. “I wrote the whole thing on my phone.”

The next day, she stopped at a grocery store and spotted a cat toy – a small stuffed mouse. She knew she’d found the protagonist for her story. But what to name him?

“I looked around and saw a doughnut store,” Woodfill said. “Dunkin. His name is Dunkin.”

Back in Spokane, her busy schedule resumed. Woodfill has worked for Make-a-Wish and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She’s executive director at American Childhood Cancer Association Inland Northwest.

But she didn’t forget about Dunkin.

“I still had the story in my head, and I knew there were more stories because I love to travel,” she said. “I began taking Dunkin with me.”

She posted photos of the toy mouse on Facebook and Instagram.

Dunkin has posed on the beach in Hawaii, enjoyed tea at a London shop, strolled Paris streets, and visited the Vatican. Alas, he didn’t get to meet the pope.

He (and Woodfill) travel domestically, too.

He’s had his picture taken with a Boston squirrel and on a dogsled in Alaska.

“There’s only a few states he hasn’t been to,” Woodfill said.

Photographing the mouse gives her instant connection with people wherever she goes.

“Children and adults ask questions, and little kids want to hold him and kiss him.”

People often told her she needed to write a story about Dunkin and his adventures, not knowing of the tale she dreamed up so long ago on a bus ride in New Jersey.

Then the pandemic struck and Dunkin and Woodfill were grounded.

“It was terrible,” she said. “I love to travel and meet new people and see different things.”

She could see her passport from her desk at home and Dunkin sat on a nearby shelf, looking at her reproachfully as if to say, “How come we’re not traveling?”

So, 11 years after she’d first written about the Jersey mouse who hopped on a lady’s suitcase to have an adventure, she typed up the manuscript and searched for a way to publish the story.

Woodfill discovered traditional publishing is a long, difficult process, so she decided to self-publish. Then she looked for a local illustrator who could capture the picture book she envisioned. When she came up empty, she turned to social media and found Tracey Hayes in Vancouver, Canada.

“She sent me a line drawing via Facebook Messenger, and I burst into tears,” Woodfill said. “Dunkin had come to life!”

Collaboration started in earnest in January 2021 –mostly through Facebook Messenger. When the book was ready, Woodfill sent it to a printer, hoping to have books in hand by Christmas.

Several pandemic-related delays ensued until finally the books were delivered to the Fed Ex office in Spokane Valley.

Woodfill didn’t wait for delivery. She drove to the office and picked up three boxes containing the 300 books she’d ordered.

“They all sold!” she said. “So, I ordered 500 more.”

The paperback picture books are available at Auntie’s Bookstore, Boo Radley’s, Wishing Tree Books and Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center gift shop.

Book two, “Dunkin’s New York Adventure,” is due out around Christmas. “Dunkin Flies to Paris” is scheduled for publication next year.

More than anything, Woodfill hopes the books will spark a love of travel in young readers.

“I want them to have a sense of adventure,” she said. “To be encouraged to explore things outside their own four walls – to experience different ways of connecting with others.”

She’s a fan of what her kids called the “longcut.”

“They’d say, ‘Mom! Do you always have to take the longcut?’ ”

Woodfill laughed.

“The longcut is how you learn about life.”

For her, COIVD-19 was a longcut in which she finally got to see Dunkin’s story come to life.

“It’s given me the opportunity to dream again – to think about opportunities I didn’t explore,” she said. “Writing this book has given me an opportunity for joy.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.