It was just another day, another adventure for the mother and son from Woodridge. They brought their kayak to Whalon Lake, paddled around and made their way to an island. There was rain, dragonfly spotting and plenty of laughs, too.
Unbeknownst to Laura Smetana, this little adventure would serve as the inspiration for a children’s storybook that she would pen with her son, Stirling Hebda, as well as more writing.
Smetana and her son, a third grader at Edgewood Elementary School, recently celebrated the release of their first book, “Little Squiggle’s Lake Adventure.”
“I gave a copy to my school and our (school) library. My friends can check it out of our class library,” Stirling said.
The project took nearly a year, from the first drafts to edits, illustrations and learning the ropes of self-publishing, but neither were deterred by the time involved and instead found the process sparked other writing projects along the way.
“He inspired me to start writing more,” Smetana said. “It’s sparked all these new writing projects.”
It all started the night of their kayak adventure. At bedtime, Stirling didn’t seem interested in any of his usual books for storytime. Smetana offered him a new book to read, one that had been sitting unnoticed on the shelf for some time. It was a book she created when she was a fifth grader at Hillcrest School in Downers Grove as part of a young author assignment.
The story was about a giraffe named Little Squiggy. Smetana read the story and turned the pages of illustrations from her fifth grade hand. When she finished, Stirling asked if they could write a book together, and like many parents trying to tuck their child in after a long day, she agreed and turned off the lights.
The next morning, Stirling woke up and was ready to get to work on their story.
“He said, ‘Let’s get writing,’ ” Smetana recalled.
With scraps of paper and a pen, they started to write about their previous day’s lake adventure using characters from Smetana’s childhood writing.
“It was really a fun thing to do,” Stirling said.
Throughout the process, they did every edit together, Smetana said, adding Stirling had some really good input.
“We really collaborated,” she said.
While Smetana has used her writing skills throughout her professional career, it was the exercise in writing with her son that reignited her love for creative writing. Not long after finishing their collaborative work, she penned “Ice Cream with Grandpa: A Loving Story for Kids about Alzheimer’s and Dementia.” Smetana said the book, set to be published in June, is inspired by her son’s beautiful relationship with his grandfather, who is her father, after his diagnosis.
“It’s about the bond they shared over their love of ice cream,” Smetana said. “It’s the kind of book and story I wish I had to help explain what was going on.”
It’s a book written for children, but she took the initiative to include an expert’s advice on how parents can help their children after a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She said she hopes the book can be helpful, as well as enjoyed for its sweet story.
While mother and son have enjoyed their time writing together, they also want to inspire others to follow dreams to write.
“As a kid, maybe I secretly did want to be a writer,” Smetana said, as she fondly remembered her teachers at Hillcrest School who encouraged her writing.
Stirling said he thinks this project will show others how they can turn their stories into published books.
“We hope this inspires them to write their own book,” Stirling said.
The two hope to collaborate creatively again soon and share more stories of Little Squiggle and their adventures.
They donated hard copies of the book to local libraries, one of their favorite places to visit for books and maybe a video game or two. Whether it’s a chapter book, a cooking book or a book about his favorite video game, Stirling said there’s always something great to read at the library.
And now that list includes a book he and his mom wrote.