Leslie Cronkhite Armstrong is a retired art teacher from Kentwood High School. Once she retired, she decided to write and publish a children’s book.
The idea for her book started 20 years ago, long before she had even thought about retiring.
“I found a busted child’s rocking bouncy horse (in a dumpster) and there wasn’t much left of it, but it was really old and was made of something besides the typical plastic that most of them are made of today with. It’s a surface that I could work with. It has a far amount of — I would guess, although no one has been able to find another one like it — some rubber in it,” Leslie said.
She was able to rebuild and restore the rocking horse with the help of a friend who turns wood, Leslie said.
Leslie said she wanted the old rocking horse to turn into a carousel horse, so her friend built a stand and a pole and then she continued designing different and elaborate details, to the point where Leslie said she describes it as more of a sculpture now, rather than a child’s toy.
“So (Buster) was more of an art project first, but then I started messing around with this story. What the story could be. I created the story around the sculpture because it’s true and I just created characters to help tell it. It’s through the voice of Buster, it’s not narrated by the characters that are human,” she explained.
And that’s how “Buster the Dumpster Pony,” came to life.
The synopsis of the book is, “In a world where broken toys and dreams are discarded, perhaps there is hope of restoration and new possibilities. Mima discovers Buster in a dumpster and sees more than a broken down and forgotten child’s toy. With love, imagination, creativity and time, a glorious new Buster is revealed.”
Leslie said this is a children’s book first and foremost, but it has a different formatting.
She said she designed the book to have a discussion guide at the end of the story, because it’s a “truth story.” There are 10 questions for adults to go over with children.
“I think children’s stories are lovely and you can’t read enough stories to them, but I think there’s richer, deeper possibility when you write stories that have values and moral integrity,” Leslie said. “The kinds of things that most families, parents, teachers, counselors would love to instill in children and the publisher thought that was kind of brilliant.”
With a different style of children’s book in mind, Leslie said she was lucky that a publisher picked up her book.
She said it took her about two years to write, rewrite and edit her story.
When she started trying to find a publisher to take on her book, she said she got five rejections before finding the Georgia based publisher that liked her book. She said although five might seem like a lot of rejection, it’s actually a really good amount.
For perspective, she said Dr. Seuss had 28 rejections before a publisher took him on as a writer.
“The publisher that finally bought it, she said something to me when she called. She said, ‘I edit a lot of books and I edit a lot of children’s books and this is the first one that has made me get a lump in my throat and I’ve had a tear or two to wipe away. So it must be something that’s going to resonate for others if it can take this old bird down,’ something like that,” Leslie said.
She said one of the hardest parts about writing this story was dealing with the outlining of her story, and then getting into a number of writers groups.
When she joined the writing groups, she said she asked herself, “What have I gotten myself into?” Once in these writers groups, she fully understood what it took to be a published author.
“It’s not about, ‘I’ve got a great idea, write it, and that’s the end of it.’ There’s so many other things,” she said.
She said she enjoyed writing her story and working with her publisher because it was like solving a puzzle — once you get one piece down, the other ones start connecting.
Her absolute favorite moment though was when she was able to finish her book all the way through and see the final product.
”For creative types, when you’ve got something that you literally kind of need to give birth to, put it out there in the world, and you kind of just stayed on it until it’s just fighting to get out. For me it was just the absolute, wonderful moment that it was done and I was pleased with the results and the process was enjoyable at times, frustrating at others,” Leslie explained. “It was work, no doubt, because there’s 32 illustrations and I’m the illustrator as well the author so trying to give vision in a visual way and a (sparse amount) of words because in children’s books, it’s really show me, don’t tell me. You have to trim it down to where words are absolutely necessary and pictures carry the story.”
Leslie explained that her takeaway from writing this book to be careful about planning for the final product to avoid unnecessary reworking.
All of her hard work ended up paying off in the long run.
She said there are so many vendors selling her book she can’t keep track of how many she has sold since her book hit the market on Oct. 19.
“Buster the Dumpster Pony” can be found on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.
“If you’ve ever needed someone to pick you up and dust you off and stand up for you when you’ve felt like you were alone, it will resonate in a way that might kind of surprise you,” Leslie said. “I never saw myself as a storyteller and this book kind of freed me from my own negativities surrounding what I could and could not do.”