A bedtime story that was told to South Whidbey artist Anna Cosper as a child in Holland can now be read by young bookworms all around the world.
The illustrator and her father Doug Cosper, a retired journalist and professor from Colorado, recently partnered on designing and writing a self-published novel for middle-grade readers titled “On Wings of Wonder.”
The father-daughter collaboration is based on the stories Doug would tell Anna and her sister before bed about a young boy traveling on the back of a blue butterfly around the globe.
“He rode on a butterfly to all these different countries and just experienced all these wild and weird things and ate really weird food,” Anna recalled.
Somewhere along the way, she found herself bitten by the travel bug.
“I’m realizing now that I think those stories were my dad’s way of getting my sister and I to travel when we grew up, but it worked because I love travel now,” she said.
For several years, she and her father have been trying to bring the story to the page. What started as a children’s picture book evolved to a 260-page novel for readers ages 9-12.
But it’s not just kids who are taking notice of the book. Several adults have also expressed their interest in the book, which deals with some serious topics.
Doug pulled inspiration from his time as a teacher training journalists and university students in developing democracies, including South Sudan, Cambodia and Myanmar. At the latter location, he recalled teaching journalism secretly in the U.S. Embassy. In Cambodia, he worked with the survivors of the Cambodian genocide.
On her vacation breaks from art school in the Netherlands, Anna would often join her father, who taught in a total of 10 different countries over the course of a decade.
“I would sketch a lot and he would write a lot,” she said. “We would collect all of this kind of data on all of the wonderful things that we encountered and interesting stories that we heard from people who lived there, and kind of wove those into the book.”
In “On Wings of Wonder,” an 11-year-old boy from a mountain town in Colorado encounters a giant talking butterfly named Flinder, the Dutch word for the brightly colored insect. He forms a friendship with a Rohingya refugee who survived the massacre of her village in Myanmar. The pair team up to search for the boy’s missing mother, traveling all around the world in the process.
The book is sprinkled with Anna’s illustrations, from mountain ranges to baobab trees to mopane worms. Besides roasted insects, the kids in the book also feast on “dik dik on a stick.” She used sumi-e, Japanese ink painting, to create her illustrations.
“Anna was much more than an illustrator in the book,” Doug said. “Over the years she put in so much editorial and inspirational content.”
Although butterflies admittedly can’t talk or be ridden to different countries, the book’s characters represent real-life cultures; the novel also cites some recent, real-world atrocities, such as the ongoing genocide of the Muslim Rohingya people. Another prominent character in the novel, a Bushman boy, is representative of a disappearing way of life of living in the Kalahari Desert.
In writing the book, Doug said he was hoping to bring awareness to their plight.
“Readers nine to 12, I think they’re old enough to realize — if it’s presented gently enough — what’s really going on in the world,” he said.
The $1 purchase price of each book will be donated to nonprofit organizations supporting the Rohingya refugee and Bushman communities. The novel has an accompanying website, onwingsofwonder.com, where kids can find resources about the various phenomena appearing in the book.
But above all, both father and daughter agreed their book is about wonder.
“It was my great goal in writing the book to present wonder to the readers in such a way that they see butterflies differently than they ever have before,” Doug said.
“It’s intended to encourage you to cultivate and keep your sense of wonder and curiosity about the world,” Anna said.