Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Local first-graders received a wonderful surprise this past semester from a pair of authors who visited their classroom.
Therese Cummiskey and Brittney Tiller published a children’s book in 2022 called “The Adventures of Toad and Timberdoodle: Leaving Winter Behind,” about how various animals survive the winter. The book drew the attention of Nicki Rotenburger, a sales associate with Farm Bureau Financial Services in Fairfield.
Rotenburger and Tiller both have children in first grade, and Rotenburger bought a copy of the book after attending a public reading Tiller and Cummiskey gave last summer. Rotenburger told her co-workers at Farm Bureau about how much her daughter loves the book. Farm Bureau agent Alex Kessel heard how well the book was received, and suggested that the company should make it available to a wider audience.
“Alex loves to read,” Rotenburger said. “He suggested giving a copy of the book to all local first-graders.”
Since Kessel works in several neighboring counties, he wanted to give copies of the book not just to first-graders at Fairfield and Maharishi School but to those in surrounding schools, too, such as Pekin, Cardinal and Van Buren. He also gave copies to the Fairfield Homeschool Assistance Program. In all, 340 first-graders received a book.
Tiller and Cummiskey are the current and former Jefferson County Naturalists, respectively, with Tiller taking over the job from Cummiskey in 2019. The two are good friends, and during the pandemic when Jefferson County Conservation could not hold programs in person, Tiller and Cummiskey produced educational videos about nature using their nicknames of “Toad” for Cummiskey and “Timberdoodle” for Tiller. The videos were so well received that the two women hatched the idea of writing a book together, with the assistance of illustrator Denise Venteicher.
Tiller said she and Cummiskey pondered how many copies of their book they should print, and decided on 100 for the first run.
“We were worried we’d get stuck with a bunch of books,” Tiller said. “Now we’ve ordered maybe 700-800. We’ve far exceeded our goal. We had no idea this would be the journey it’s become.”
Once Tiller and Cummiskey learned that Farm Bureau Financial Services planned to purchase a copy of the book for every first-grader, they made arrangements to host a reading at every school in November and December. Tiller and Cummsikey read aloud from the book, each portraying their respective character of Toad or Timberdoodle. An employee of Farm Bureau joined them by holding up flash cards with animal characters on them, and instruct the students to make the sound of that animal. At the end, the students found out that they would all be taking home a copy of the book.
“The most fun response was seeing how excited the kids were to have their own book,” Tiller said. “A couple of the students raised their hand and asked if they had to bring it back.”
Rotenburger said it was sweet to see how happy and surprised the students were.
“They were all so thankful,” she said. “Their eyes twinkled and lit up. It was so cute.”
Farm Bureau Financial Services made sure that every student got a copy, including students who were out sick. The company also donated copies to the school libraries and to the Fairfield Public Library.
“We got sweet thank you notes back from the students,” Rotenburger said. “It was a fun thing for all of us to be involved in.”
Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org