Janet Gagnon glanced around the room on the third floor of the 100-plus
year-old building and smiled. This brought back good memories.
She hopes her book can do the same.
Gagnon, an Ellis native and graduate of Girls Catholic High School in
Hays, earlier this year published a children's book , "Mud Poppers and
Leaf Whistles," about a young Austrian immigrant from the Bukovina
Gagnon, who now lives in Fairfax, Va., was in Ellis County this weekend
to attend a family wedding.
On Friday, she visited her former high school on West 13th Street, a
three-story rock building that now serves as the parish service center for
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Hays.
Gagnon reminisced about the spot where she sat, in a room in the
southwest corner of the building where a new coffee bar, Cup a Joe, had
opened for business the night before.
She had vivid memories of participating in physical education in the
gymnasium, which is what the third floor was used for at the time.
It's that type of memories that prompted her to write the children's
"There's a lot of information out there for adults about our ancestry,
but very little for children," said Gagnon, the youngest of 10 children of
Joseph and Agatha Weber whose ancestors came to America from the Austrian
province of Bukovina and settled near Ellis.
Gagnon said after helping her children research history on their
ancestors for school projects, she thought, "Hmmm. What's going to happen
when I'm gone?"
"So I thought, 'I'd better get something down in writing,' " Gagnon
said. "After our generation is gone, they're not going to know this."
So she set about making notes about her heritage, and it evolved into
writing a children's book after she helped the children of other relatives
with family research.
She calls her book "historical fiction," because the names aren't real
people although it's a story about real people.
But for anyone in this area, it's a lot like a personalized version of
the classic "Little House on the Prairie" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The reader can find familiar names all throughout the book including
Johann, the name of the young Austrian boy, a 12-year-old who came to
America from Eastern Europe on a ship with his family.
"I tried to get a name that was used a lot back then," said Gagnon, who
said the book originally had been written for 9- to 12-year-olds but
younger and older readers have enjoyed it, too.
The story tells about the trials his family endured while coming to
their new country while traveling in the steerage of the ship, the lowest
class ticket that featured hundreds of people in one room below deck.
"It's a very different thing that I don't think children are aware of,"
Gagnon said. "They just didn't get on a luxury liner and come to America."