By Kristina Houck
It all started with a Christmas challenge.
Two years ago, Jessica Smith received a blank notebook from a family friend for Christmas. Vic Mackenzie, a retired illustrator, encouraged the then-third grader to write a story.
“He said, ‘If you want to write a book, I can illustrate it for you, and then you’ll be rich and famous one day,’” recalled 10-year-old Jessica.
A week later, she wrote “A Bird Lost in Paradise.”
Inspired by her love of animals, Jessica’s book follows Caitlin, a lost bird in the Amazon rainforest. After meeting a squirrel monkey named Alvin, the pair travels to the Galápagos Islands and other faraway lands, meeting new friends along the way.
“I put some work into it,” Jessica said. “Some people might not realize it’s hard and it takes so much time.”
Although it took only a week to write the story, it took roughly 18 months for the Del Mar girl to complete the book. Her father, Bruce Smith, edited the story and compiled the learning resources section so young readers could learn about the animals mentioned in the story.
“There’s so many books that are just stories, but they don’t teach the children anything except to read,” said Smith, an engineer with SANDAG. “We thought it was good to have something about the animals in the back just so readers could learn something real about the animals.”
And, like he promised, Mackenzie created the illustrations, which Jessica and her father colored using watercolor pencils.
“He’s so creative,” said Smith, who noted Mackenzie worked as a cartoonist for the daily newspaper, Rhodesia Herald. “We were amazed.”
Jessica held a book signing March 9 at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla. She also recently shared “A Bird Lost in Paradise” with her classmates.
“I just hope kids like it,” she said. “And I hope that they’re inspired to do something themselves.”
To purchase a copy of Jessica’s book, visit www.amazon.com/Bird-Lost-Paradise-Jessica-Smith/dp/1300431660 or www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/jessica-smith/a-bird-lost-in-paradise/paperback/product-20983776.html. (Or visit www.amazon.com and search using Jessica’s name or the title of the book.)