MOHAVE COUNTY — Writing has always been a passion for one local Mohave County journalist. Covering crime most of her career, Cat Smith, switched it up a bit when she decided to pen her very first book, a children’s series following the life of Walter, the Orphaned Donkey from Oatman, Arizona.
“If you asked me a few years ago if my first book would have been a kids series I would have said no,” said Smith. “I had been working on a crime book but it just wasn’t moving anywhere at the time and I had to step back.”
Smith had spent over twenty years covering crime, and other newsworthy events for area newspapers and advanced to crimes and courts journalist for a Wyoming metro paper.
It wasn’t until a video of Walter appeared on Facebook in late November 2019 that Smith said an idea sparked the notion that Walter needed a children’s book for all his followers that tuned in daily to see what he was up to.
“He was just so cute and had taken the heart of so many people worldwide.” she said. “My daughter fell in love with him and seeing her so excited to see his videos I knew she’d love reading about him.”
Smith knew Johnathan Blake, also known to family and friends as Brad. She had written a feature article on him in 2013 when he was a volunteer firefighter for Oatman Fire Department. Blake was working on restoring the old fire truck for parades and local events.
“Speaking with him about the book idea was great. He loved the idea and after we met with him and his wife, Kelly, to discuss how to proceed, it took off,” explained Smith.
The script, she said, flowed like water onto paper and with the assistance of her mother, Anne Z. Smith, CEO/public relations coordinator for Armagon Press, they secured a publishing company out of New York.
“We connected with Archway Publishing, an online subsidiary of New York publishing giant Simon & Schuster,” said Anne Z. Smith. “They work with a lot of children’s authors who are just starting out.”
Anne Z. Smith had worked in production for Simon & Schuster in the 1970’s. After getting the go ahead to continue, Smith collaborated with the Blake’s to tell the adoption story of Walter.
“They (the Blake’s) wanted to share how Walter became a part of their family and how being adopted is a heartwarming moment in anyone’s life. They wanted to show it was okay that being accepted as part of a family doesn’t mean you have to be the same,” said Smith.
And that is how ” Walter Finds A Home ” was born. The book takes the reader on the journey from Walter being abandoned by his mom in the desert to becoming part of the Blake’s family.
“Through the writing process I don’t know how many times my daughter, Brooklyn, 11, had asked me to read her the story,” said Smith. “She absolutely loves Walter and the fact I’m writing about him.”
The book also depicts some amazing illustrations by Jasmine “Jazzy” Smith, of Biloxi, Mississippi.
“No relation,” laughed Smith. “We were looking for a children’s illustrator and I happened to come across her name on a list. I reached out to her and she had heard of Walter, which even made it easier for her to create the art work we needed. Just wait until you see the work she did, it was like she was seeing what we had in our minds, took it from there and created it on paper.”
The book was geared for a June release, however, when COVID hit the nation in February it put a two-month halt to production.
“We were originally shooting for a summer publication, but everything stopped for about two months at the publishers,” said Anne Z. Smith. “We are very happy that when things reopened with their production team they worked tirelessly to help get this out as soon as they could.”
“Walter Finds A Home” is the first edition in a series of ten that will be published over the course of the next few years, along with an animated film.
“The books will hopefully be released twice a year,” said Smith. “Book number two is currently in its rough draft stage. Spring and Fall distribution is what we are shooting for.”
Fans of Walter can attend the first book signing on Saturday, November 21 at 1:30 p.m. Arizona time at Burro Flats Gift Store in downtown Oatman. Additional signings will be announced following the November 21st one.
“Books will be signed by all of us, even Walter, who has his very own signature stamp,” said Smith.
To order your first edition copy, visit www.walterthewonderdonkey.com. Books are $12.95 each and ships within two weeks.
The book will also be available for purchase in Oatman in the coming week. When ordering be sure to indicate ship or pick up.