It’s a collaboration between mother, daughter and nephew, but “Meet Mika” probably wouldn’t have happened had not 6-year-old Madison Wambold not been given a plush raccoon toy as a newborn.
Multiple versions have been purchased over the years, the girl clinging to them like no other “lovey,” as her mother, Julie Didion Wambold, puts it.
“It is her favorite,” the elder Wambold says during a recent phone interview. “I probably have 100 or so photos of her carrying this thing around everywhere we go.”
Self-published, “Meet Mika” is meant to be the first book in a series “designed to be interactive in nature,” with the intelligent raccoon as the guide.
Wambold, who grew up and lives in Sandusky, gave some of those photos to nephew Zeke Didion – a fellow Sandusky High School graduate who is in his second year at Kent State University, where he is studying visual communication design – so he could illustrate the book.
“We were having a conversation one day, and I said, ‘Hey, do you think you could illustrate this? Is this something you have the skill set to do?’ And he was like, ’Yeah,’ and Mika was born.”
Wambold had read many a children’s book to Madison and thought they could bring something to the space.
“I’m a pretty driven person,” she says, “so I decided, like, ‘What do I need to do to make this happen?’ I started doing some research on my own. At that point, we pretty much had the idea for the Mika series and this list of different stories – these adventures Mika goes on.”
Madison’s role could be considered story consultant. If this were the filmmaking world, she wouldn’t be credited with writing the script but, perhaps, would receive a story-by credit.
“I like to say Madison becomes the inspiration,” her mother says. “If something happens or we run into a unique situation, I’ll kind of jokingly ask her, ‘What would Mika do about that?’ And she’ll now start to storytell.
The back cover of "Meet Mika" explains the story of Mika.
“Mika gets to go on all these adventures, and she’s really imaginative about it. And then I take her imagination and put it into a format that makes some degree of sense for the reader.”
Wambold has a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Bowling Green State University and works in that field, but the goal wasn’t to write “mental health-heavy books,” she says.
“I think that there are a lot of those on the market. But I also do want to be teaching kids something as we go through each one of these stories – or teaching the caregiver something. And that’s where the interactive component came in. I would say we don’t have a whole lot of books that do that.”
The books ask the readers to respond to questions to develop a relationship with Mika.
“For example,” Wambold says, “Mika shares a list of favorite foods, and then there’s a page where the reader can write out a list or circle on an illustrated page their own favorite foods. It really develops this skill set to be able to have communication between not only parents or caregivers and children but also teaching those social skills for two children.
“You know, (children are) egocentric – it’s all about them,” she continues. “So it reminds them that even when they’re sharing about themselves, they should probably ask their friends, ‘What are some things you like?’ Or ‘What are some things that you want to do?’”
To say she was happy with Zeke’s work would be an understatement.
“I was pretty blown away – I’m a skeptic by nature,” she says. “I gave him a book in a Word format, and he created this character.”
The formatted text for the second book, “Mika Is a Spy,” is in his possession and waiting for his artistic touch.
What themes will that book address? What might kids learn from it?
“That we’re going to keep a secret,” Wambold says.
She says she’s been “overwhelmed” by support from the community around the first book, but that’s not the most rewarding aspect of the effort.
“It’s a privilege for us to be able to do this together – it’s me, my child and my nephew,” she says. “We went into this saying, ‘We want this to be fun.’ And if it ever becomes not fun anymore, we’re gonna walk away because that’s not the goal of this.”
Julie Didion Wambold will sign copies of “Meet Mika” at 8 a.m. Nov. 25 at Mr. Smith’s Coffee House
, 140 Columbus Ave., Sandusky.
For more information, email [email protected]
, visit facebook.com/MikaBookSeries, follow on Instagram – @MikaBookSeries – or check out the first book’s Amazon page
. Also available on Amazon are the “Journal With Mika” paperback and the “Mika Takes Notes”