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‘Down by the Praise Pond’ shares local author’s faith in debut children’s book

ROCKWELL – The idea that would turn into Sherry Kepley’s first book just came to her one day, and she couldn’t keep it out of her head. She was thinking about a firefly who was afraid of the dark

“That was Phoebe the firefly,” Kepley said. “I jotted it down and thought, ‘If it keeps popping in my head it must mean something.’ ”

Her ideas developed from there. She came up with the idea of the Praise Pond. The small, quaint pond circled by trees, rocks and logs would serve as place of prayer and reflection for her book’s cast of critters.

Kepley enjoys being outdoors and kayaking. The experience of being on the water was among the reasons the idea for the pond rested in her mind.

“It’s peaceful, it’s quiet, it’s just beautiful,” she said.

She wrote a story story about Phoebe and the pond, and one of Kepley’s friends told her she should pursue getting it published. Kepley had written devotions for the Clemmons-based ministry Encouragement Cafe in the past, and learned the ministry has a publishing imprint, E.C. Press.

She applied, sent a manuscript for the ministry to review and they were immediately interested in publishing Kepley’s work. She only submitted Phoebe’s story, but she had ideas for other critters who go to the Praise Pond and the book developed into a seven critter affair.

The anthropomorphic protagonists all find their way to the pond and speak to God about their problems.

“They spend time at the praise pond and talk to God about how they feel and what they are struggling with, that’s what I want children to get from the book,” Kepley said.

Webster is a bossy otter who has trouble keeping friends. Lucybelle is a proud butterfly who does not understand why her vanity drives people away.

Ace is a crane who is afraid to reach for his dreams and Larue is a shy turtle who struggles with insecurity.

Some of the animals have problems that go beyond fears and social issues. Ranger the duck lost someone he loves. Kepley said Ranger’s story does not describe who he lost because she wanted his story to be relatable to any child who has lost someone.

T.J. the bullfrog lives with a disability. The character was inspired by Kepley’s son, Tanner James, who passed away when he was an infant due to a liver disease. Kepley said if Tanner survived he would have been different from most children.

Kepley said T.J. wonders why he is not the same as the other kids, but she does not want any child to think there is something wrong with them because they are different.

“God made you with a purpose in mind and he made you the way that you are for a reason,” Kepley said. “He has a plan for you.”

There are other pieces of Kepley in the characters and they all have a special place in her heart. Her dad died when she was 15. Like Larue she is shy and quirky. She had to work on coming out over her shell.

Faith is a central part of Kepley’s story. Getting saved was a life-changing experience for her. “Down by the Praise Pond” tells kids there is no problem too big or too small for them to talk to God about.

She said people do not need to struggle alone and it is OK for people to not have perfect lives that look like everyone else’s.

Kepley is an X-ray technician at Novant Health’s local outpatient imaging center. She is married and has a son in college. She never expected to be an author.

The book is a collaborative effort. Beyond the editing, the book is illustrated. Lisa Albinus, the artist bringing the critters to life in illustrations, prayed with Kepley before their discussions about how she envisioned the characters.

Albinus created the imprint through the ministry and helps bring its publications to life at every step along the way. She said Kepley is a gifted storyteller, the best author she has worked with, a gem and someone with an unparalleled faith.

“When I grow up I want to be Sherry,” Albinus said.

As soon as she read Kepley’s submission her imagination began running with possibilities.

She started by trying to get the details right. She studied images of the animals for looks such as the red pattern on Ace’s head and the black accents on his wingtips.

Then she sketches and meets the character through images. He is gangly. When he was young his proportions were all off and the reader sees Ace maturing, coming into his own the way he was intended to be.

Getting published is an exciting experience, but Kepley said it pales in comparison to being able to share her faith.

“I want children and adults to learn they’re loved, they’re never alone,” Kepley said. “I think so many people struggle, children struggle, parents struggle, and they don’t have to go through things by themselves.”

“Down by the Praise Pond” will be published in July. The book will be available for $15 via Amazon and copies can also be requested via praisepond@outlook.com

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