Kamloops author and poet Jack Jones has released a new children’s novel, inspired by a trip to a remote French island off the coast of Madagascar.
Dodo tells the tale of 10-year-old Kamloops twins who receive a visit from an ornithologist uncle from Reunion Island, one of several remote islands in the Indian Ocean where the dodo bird and its relatives lived.
“He’s an unknown quantity to them, except that he’s a bird man,” Jones told KTW.
Uncle Jacques, as the character is known, waxes eloquent about his life’s career working with birds and his exotic origin. He tells the tale of the tragic extinction of the dodo and even visits Kamloops schools to share his knowledge.
After the kids’ life-sized paper mache model of the extinct bird goes missing, the novel shifts to mystery.
“The story becomes a whodunnit at that point,” Jones said.
Jones, 88, is a former French teacher at a number of schools in the city and was also named poet laureate of Kamloops, holding that role from 1986 to 1989. He came to Kamloops from Australia in 1968 and still lives in the River City.
He wrote Dodo four years ago, after commissioning his granddaughter, Hannah Sutton, to create illustrations for the book.
But the familial connections go back much further. When Jones’ daughter Jenny was 16, she exchanged with a French student named Veronique.
The two families made a connection and years later, in 2011, Jones and his wife went to visit Veronique where she now lives, on Reunion Island.
And that is where Jones took inspiration for his first children’s novel.
“It’s a fantastic island of extinct volcanoes, as well as the extinct bird, but also one live volcano that erupts almost annually,” he said. “It’s a curious place.”
Jones held the book on the back burner until about 2016, before connecting with Alex McGilvery at Celticfrog Publishing.
“The essence of the story is really the sadness of the loss of a species,” Jones said.
“That’s the sad message, but it’s part of life and something we have to realize. Although I’m not proselytizing, the message of losing species is important.”
Jones said the book is being put out casually, admitting that the pandemic has made it difficult to give the book a proper launch.
But otherwise, recent months have remained productive for Jones, who said he starts each morning in his gazebo, writing to some of his 18 correspondents he regularly communicates with by letter.
Jones said he is also writing poetry for adults once again.
Writing has become a refuge for Jones — not only from the present state of the world, but also from his wife’s affliction, Alzheimer’s disease.
“I’m pretty well writing every day. Every morning, between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., I’ve got my head down and I’m enjoying this respite. It’s a release for me from both COVID-19 and from my wife’s ailments, and it’s a happy thing,” he said.
Dodo is available at a number of shops around town, including Erwin’s Fine Baking, the Smorgasbord Deli, Legends Used Books and the Book Place. Quantities are limited for now, but Jones said more books are on the way.