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Local author calls her first book 'love letter' to late friend

'Therapy project' written during pandemic develops themes anging from friendship, adventure to anxiety after city folks buy a cottage on the lake

Ashlea FitzWeber spends her days surrounded by books, but there is one book in particular that she hopes will be flying off the shelves.

FitzWeber, who works at the Barrie Public Library as a library associate, recently penned her first book, City Girl: The Cottage Adventures, which is the first in a series of seven stories in 'The Cottage Adventurers' series.

The story is loosely based on the experiences and adventures at her own family cottage and follows twin sisters, Zoe and Zelda, whose parents buy a cottage on the lake, FitzWeber explains.

Although one sister is excited about the adventures that await, the other is nervous to be away from the city, without wifi and her devices.

With help from her family and a new friend, Zoe eventually learns to open her heart to the new adventures that come along with life at the lake, and begins to develop a love for the great outdoors.

FitzWeber describes the book as a “junior novel, perfect for the young and the young at heart,” which boasts fun, vibrant, eye-catching illustrations while exploring a variety of different themes ranging from friendship, adventure to anxiety.

It also deals with grief, resilience and hope, she says, noting the book’s first illustrator, her good friend Michelle Kenzlers, passed away before she was able to complete the project.

FitzWeber wrote the book during the various pandemic-related lockdowns, calling the process her “therapy project.” Once it was complete, she asked Kenzlers to illustrate it for her. Sadly, Kenzlers died in December 2021, in the middle of the process, says FitzWeber, but in an interesting twist of fate, her friend's sister, Kristine Ronan, ended up taking on the project and was able to complete the illustrations.

“It’s been a good lesson on how people learn to persevere in grief," FitzWeber says. "You don’t ever get over the loss of someone, but you can learn to use your grief and channel it a different way. Having the book helped us to feel close to her while we were creating the pictures, or wondering what Michelle would do. It was a beautiful ending to a story I wish would have had a different ending.

“The story itself, I think, is just adorable, but the beauty of having this sort of love letter to Michelle is how we approached it," she adds. "We wanted her to be able to achieve her dream of being a published illustrator. This is me getting her legacy, and her beautiful work, out into the universe.”

FitzWeber has already completed the other six books in the series and excitedly showed off a few illustrations she received for the second book, which she said is set to be released in April. 

The next book is about sign language, something she knows a lot about, having been the owner of SmallTalk Academy, where she has been teaching sign language to kids of all ages and abilities for more than 20 years.

“It’s very representative … (with) all kinds of different cultures, different children and abilities," she says. 

FitzWeber says a big source of her own personal happiness comes from being outside and from reading, adding her hope is to help inspire kids to want to read, or to realize they can still have fun without their electronic device.

“If I could help a bunch of kids who maybe don’t have a cottage to go to to just be able to visit in their imagination.”