KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — Joyce and Bonny Autrey looked forward to presenting their new baby at the Ketchikan Public Library last week: A bright, autobiographical beginning chapter book titled, "Can I Kayak, Daddy?"
Joyce Autrey, Bonny's mother, said she began work on the book when Bonny — now 31 years old — was only 8.
But, Bonny said, "It was my idea."
The book, which Joyce Autrey described as "fiction based on nonfiction," features Bonny — who has Down syndrome — as a little girl living in their beach house at the homestead dairy property 4 miles south of Ketchikan with her mother, her father, John, and her older brother, Ian.
Bonny, in the story, wants to do many things, such as expertly skipping rocks, but she is told, much to her frustration, that "someday you'll get older and then you can do it."
Bonny's deepest wish, however, is to kayak like the rest of her family.
She watched her father kayak to work every morning, and heard the tales from her father and brother's adventures as kayak guides.
Bonny, in the book and real life, was brought along on kayak adventures, such as picnics to nearby beaches, but she had to ride on her father's lap in his hatch while he paddled. She was given a special "pink kayak hat," and her own paddle, but she yearned to paddle on her own, in her own hatch.
One day, in the story, Bonny's father tells Bonny that he has a surprise for her. When she looks outside, she sees a large bright red kayak — and it has a third hatch where she can sit and paddle all on her own.
Interspersed in the story are the many details of a happy Southeast Alaskan family's adventures kayaking, beachcombing, picnicking and growing together.
Also included in the book is the sheet music and lyrics for "Bonny's Song," which Joyce Autrey said she and Bonny made up together. Joyce Autry, who wrote the music, studied elementary education, music and creative writing, and has been a piano teacher for 25 years.
Autrey also has been a writer since she was a child, and published a poetry chapbook in Ketchikan that was printed in 1988 and 1994.
Autry said one of her motivations to write "Can I Kayak, Daddy?" was to spread the message to people about how people with Down syndrome can "learn and do many things."
She and Bonny talked about Bonny's childhood in Ketchikan. Joyce Autrey said she found ample support locally through the schools, sports teams and Community Connections organization.
Bonny graduated from Ketchikan High School in 2001, and was chosen as the prom queen that spring.
Growing up, she was active in Girl Scouts, Special Olympics, basketball, and was the "flip-turn queen" of the Killer Whales and Kayhi swim teams, Bonny said. She also is a drummer, took voice and drum lessons and was a choir member as well.
Bonny lives in her own apartment at the Opportunity House in Ketchikan, and said she certainly doesn't miss one thing from living with her family.
"They snore," she said, laughing.
Joyce and Bonny Autrey have read the book together at elementary schools, at family gatherings, and more recently, at local signings and one in Anchorage at a "Buddy Walk" fundraiser for the Alaska Chapter National Down Syndrome Congress.
Joyce Autrey said she sent the manuscript for the book to several publishers in the 1990s after researching the market and it received good reviews, but received the comment that it was "not the right timing" for the book.
After 20 years with no published book, Autrey said she told herself, "Well, I'm not going to wait 20 more years."
She decided to take a leap into self-publishing. She said that was an expensive route and an exhausting, drawn-out process, but it has been very rewarding in the end.
"Any publishing takes patience and persistence with all parties involved," she said.
Her dream was a hardcover book that would be long, like a kayak, but she knew a softcover version would be necessary as well, so she worked with two publishing companies and one illustrator to create exactly the book she envisioned.
She also wanted small illustrations of shells and starfish on the corners of the pages, a specific font, and at the end of the book, the sheet music for Bonny's Song, a collage of family photos and a listing of Down syndrome associations.
One year later, her book was released.
In May, their book made its debut at Parnassus Books in Ketchikan. Joyce Autrey said that owner Maggie Freitag donates all proceeds of "Can I Kayak, Daddy?" sales to Community Connections.
The published book definitely was the culmination of Joyce Autrey's dream, but Bonny is very clear on her own role.
"She's the author, and I'm the star," she said, grinning.
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com