ERIE, Pa. (AP) — When 2-year-old Artie Amick couldn’t pronounce the words “tiger” and “jaguar,” he simply did what any toddler would do — he mashed them together.
“It just melted my heart every time he did it,” said Artie’s mother, Catherine (Cat) Amick, 36, of Erie. “So that was always with me in my heart.”
Amick, armed with a degree in English from Gannon University and working in marketing at Erie Insurance, decided to take her son’s made-up word and combine it with her family’s love for the Erie Zoo to bring her son’s fictional animal to life.
That’s how “Sara Sassafras and the Tiguar” was born, a children’s board book that Amick wrote. She partnered with another Erie native and co-worker at Erie Insurance, George Lippert, who illustrated the book. It takes an imaginative look at the differences between tigers, cheetahs, leopards and jaguars and the different markings on their coats. She had created the fictional character “Sara Sassfras” years prior when she often joked with her husband, Brian, about naming one of their children that name.
But she didn’t just want to create the book and sell it in stores — she wanted to give back to these animals that gave her the idea in the first place.
“I knew right away that I wanted to get the zoo involved,” Amick said. “Artie grew up there. There was a period we would go every day. We would wake up and he’d ask to go to the zoo and every time we were there, he’d have to point out the ‘tiguars.'”
The book will directly benefit the Erie Zoo’s big cat exhibits, including the lions, tigers, lynx, leopards and jaguar. It’s most appropriate for kids ages 3 to 5.
“It was so incredibly fun to create this,” said Lippert, who does graphic design for Erie Insurance. “In a lot of ways, these big cats are so similar that all that really changes is stripes, spots and markings.”
Lippert began illustrating by sketching with pen on paper and scanning in images but he has since switched to creating illustrations digitally on a tablet and creating images that have a mixed-medium look with watercolor and ink.
About $4 from each purchase will be donated to the Erie Zoo.
“The book is so cute. Obviously, our big cat exhibits are extremely important to the zoo and we are so grateful to work with them,” said Emily Antolik, director of communications for the Erie Zoo. “What would be great is if a child were able to get the book and bring it to the zoo and actually see the animals in the book and then see them in real life at the zoo.”
Those interested in donating to the project or preordering the book can do so through the zoo’s gift shop or at www.gofundme.com/sara-sassafras-and-the-tiguar. The book will be published in June or July.
Donors have the choice of keeping their book or gifting it to a local library, school or to the Erie Zoo’s education department. An audio version of the book is also available on YouTube or at facebook.com/SaraSassBooks.
“It’s really important to me that it resonates with people and they learn something from it,” Amick said. “It gives parents another opportunity to read with kids and we’d be thrilled to be part of their bookshelf.”
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com