Amy Johnson and Diane Madden’s Debut Book Is A Hit
The Story Behind The Story Of Neeps And Tattie
by Melissa Jacobs
Loch Ness is famous for its “monster,” but new creatures are about to steal its thunder. Two tortoises are the stars of The Story Of Neeps And Tattie, a new children’s book co-authored by Diane Madden and Amy Johnson. By the end of this beautifully written book, gorgeously illustrated by Abigail Gray Schwartz, you’ll have a soft spot for these hard-shelled creatures.
Written for 4-8 year old children but appropriate for people of all ages, The Story Of Neeps And Tattie was published by Maine Authors Publishing and was one of the company’s best-selling books in September. It’s a full circle moment for Madden, who lives in Harrison, ME, and spearheaded a Maine literacy program called Raising Readers, which donated books to pediatricians to give to kids during their wellness check-ups.
The story begins when 10-year old Annie adopts two tortoises from a glen near her home in Loch Ness. Now 62 years old, Annie continues to care for the tortoises in their natural habitats – except when they hibernate in her refrigerator during the winter.
That’s where the real Neeps and Tattie were when Johnson and Madden met the real Annie during a trip to Scotland. In 2019, Johnson and Madden were traveling through the Scottish Highlands when they saw a beautiful stucco house with a little pond. After chatting with the homeowner, the women learned that two tortoises, both at least 50 years old, lived in the pond. “We asked if we could see them, and the woman said that they were in her refrigerator,” Madden said. “Turns out, tortoises need to hibernate in refrigerators, basements or temperature-controlled places.”
Fascinated, Johnson and Madden started learning about tortoises; much of that is included in The Story Of Neeps And Tattie. The animals can live to be 100 years old and are common pets in the UK. “But because they live so long, one owner wills them to their next owner to make sure they are cared for,” Johnson said.
The women were in Scotland with their husbands – and that’s where the deeper story lies. Kevin Johnson and Ed Madden are brothers by choice, not by blood. Johnson spent part of his childhood in foster care until Madden’s father took him into his home and raised the boys together. “They are brothers,” Johnson explained, “and have been part of each other’s lives for their whole lives.”
In the book, Annie adopts Neeps and Tattie, who may or may not be genetically related, and forms a family with them, her dogs Angus and Tess, and eventually, her husband. The authors didn’t say whether their book is based on their husbands’ lives. It may be a subconscious coincidence that they were inspired by the real Annie’s decades of caring for two creatures who were not her human children.
Johnson is no stranger to adopting animals. She’s come close to having a menagerie at her home in Valley Forge, PA. (And now both women have tortoises.) Johnson is also president of the board of directors of Valley Forge Park Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes citizen stewardship of Valley Forge National Historic Park – and all the creatures who enjoy it.
Johnson is delighted to become a first-time author at the age of 59. The former teacher loves books and animals, but never thought she’d combine them. “It was a completely new adventure for me, and a challenge,” Johnson said. “And I think it’s proof that you’re never too old to try something new.”
The biggest challenge was finding the right illustrator. “It took us 18 months,” Madden said. “We wanted to respect the animals, so we didn’t want the tortoises to be cartoon-like. It was hard to find an illustrator who would listen to us.”
That illustrator is Abigail Gray Schwartz. Now living in Freeport, ME, Schwartz grew up in Scotland. “She Zoomed with us and drew the tortoises right there and then,” Johnson said. “I knew she was the one.”
Johnson and Madden plan to do book events in PA during the spring and they are already thinking about their next book. “In her will, Annie McKay would designate good homes for Neeps and Tattie, so we’ll see what kind of family they meet next,” Johnson said.
To get your copy of The Story of Neeps And Tattie, visit this website.
Want to see more photos from the book party? Click here.
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