Local authors pen children’s book about black squirrel’s origin in Kent


Ariel VanNatter’s book cover illustration. 

Benjamin VanHoose

If there’s one thing everyone who has set foot on Kent State’s campus is familiar with, it’s the black squirrel. The little critters have practically taken over Kent, rising in popularity and becoming the unofficial mascot of the city. But, while many have funny, black squirrel anecdotes to share, the true story behind their Northeast Ohio origins tends to be less than common knowledge.

That’s where local authors Kathy Frazier and Deborah Walker step in.  

The writers held a meet-and-greet Saturday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. at Earl’s Nest in Kent’s Acorn Alley to sign copies of their new children’s book, “And Now You Know Too! The Story of How the Black Squirrel Came to Kent.” Frazier and Walker, both long-time residents of Kent, got to practice their autographs and dedicate personalized messages to readers of all ages—all while spreading knowledge of Kent’s famous rodents.   

“We have always wanted to write a book together,” Walker said.

Both authors cited the shorthand they’d developed over a close friendship as making the entire two-year process possible.

“We practically finish each other’s sentences,” Frazier said. “It was truly a team effort, taking turns writing and collaborating.”    

The 30-page, full-color hardback, sold online and at Off the Wagon in downtown Kent, uses the fictional character Bucky the Black Squirrel to present the true story of then Kent State groundskeeper superintendent Larry Wooddell and former Davey Tree employee “Biff” Staples relocating 10 black squirrels from Canada to Kent in 1961.      

The idea for the book began when Frazier lived next door to Wooddell. They then surveyed K-12 students in Kent to see if anyone knew the correct history. The results surprised them.     

“Only a handful vaguely knew the true story,” Frazier said. “Since Kent is unique to their origin, it was important to us to educate the community.”

From there, the pair brainstormed ways to best tell the story. Thus, Bucky was born and the writing process began. 

“We really learned—as much as ever—what it takes to write a book,” Walker said.     

Although research was done scrolling through microfilm at the library, Frazier and Walker agreed that much of the insight came from Lowell Orr, a former Kent State biology professor who played a key role in helping the immigrant black squirrels acclimate to Kent.    

“Dr. Orr was instrumental in our research,” Walker said. “His first-hand insight was invaluable.”      

The book highlights several Kent locations recognizable to community members. The Esplanade, Acorn Alley and Kent’s Davey Elementary School all make an appearance.

“Most of our inspirations came from when we would run together,” Walker said. “The path Bucky goes through in the book was actually our running route at the time.”     

To bring their writing to life, Frazier and Walker searched for an artist able to tackle such a large project. Frazier said they were “very lucky” to enlist 2015 Kent State visual communication design graduate Ariel VanNatter to illustrate.    

“I had a lot of fun with it,” VanNatter said. “I tried to give them what they wanted and, luckily, they are really nice people.”      

Even though Frazier and Walker are no strangers to the writing process (both have been published in educational journals), they found the most challenging aspect this time around to be the editing.       

“So many people looked it over,” Walker said. “There were still changes being made the day before printing.”

After ironing out a few hiccups along the way, the authors realized that all the work was worth it when they held the final product in their hand for the first time.       

“We cried,” Frazier said. 

“It was a vision we’d had for so long,” Walker said. “It was surreal.”

Frazier and Walker run consulting company Touching the Future Today, providing professional growth for educators both locally and nationally.       

“Both of us have this passion for teaching and learning,” Walker said. “We want people to not only read the book for enjoyment, but also to learn about these little critters.”

The authors teased that a companion activity book could be in the works. Mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise aren’t out of the question either.

“It’s a good read,” said Ronald Burbick, president of The Burbick Foundation, which helped fund the marketing and publishing of the book. “Every kid in Kent should have a copy.”

Benjamin VanHoose is an entertainment reporter for the Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]