Like many Appalachian Trail hikers, Emily M. Leonard of Lowell had a lot of stories to tell once she returned from hiking the famous footpath from Georgia to Maine. So she decided to write them down in the form of a children’s book.
In “Black Bear’s Adventure: An Appalachian Trail Journey,” Leonard offers highlights from her monthslong journey through the wilderness. Released in August, the self-published book was written by Leonard and illustrated by twin sisters Laurie Joy Miller of Old Town and Lisa Joy Jones of Orrington.
“I always wanted to write a children’s book,” Leonard said. “I have a teaching background and I just thought there wasn’t a lot out there about the Appalachian Trail for children.”
“Black Bear’s Adventure” is chronological, starting with Leonard’s decision to hike the trail and ending with the day she completed the arduous trek atop Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin. It introduces children to the Appalachian Trail and the activities of hiking and camping, while instilling valuable lessons about outdoor exploration and achieving goals.
Leonard’s writing is straightforward and heartfelt. She shares what it feels like to slog through days of rain with sore feet, but she also shares the joys of meeting new friends, spotting wildlife and sleeping under the stars.
The book’s mixed-media illustrations, jointly crafted by Miller and Jones, add color and texture to the story, literally and figuratively. Their collages of ripped paper, paint and ink are whimsical and fun to look at, and give the book a truly unique look.
For all three women, this is their first published book.
“To see it come together is really neat,” Miller said. “I really enjoyed working with Emily and my sister. It was definitely a fun process.”
The book is soft cover with 48 color pages. And with it, Leonard is selling a companion booklet that includes fun facts about the Appalachian Trail, hiking and Leave No Trace outdoor ethics. This 36-page booklet also includes worksheets designed for children and an adventure journal section.
Leonard hopes that both the book and companion booklet will be used in schools and by homeschoolers.
“As a PE teacher, I didn’t have a lot of resources like this, and I wish I had,” Leonard said. “I have two teachers right now who’ve decided they’re going to use it in their curriculum.”
A mother of two, Leonard hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015, after her two sons went to college. Making friends along the way, she walked nearly 2,200 miles, following the well-maintained footpath over the Appalachian Mountain Range through 14 states. Her husband, Bruce, was working during that time but supported her by helping with logistics and supplies.
Early on in her journey, Leonard — per Appalachian Trail tradition — adopted a trail name, “Black Bear.” The name was a nod to her home state, Maine, and the University of Maine, where she graduated with a degree in physical education in 1990. She also chose the name because black bears are strong and protect their families, two traits she admires.
After her successful thru-hike in 2015, Black Bear returned to the trail in 2017 to hike it again with a friend. And she plans to hike it a third time in 2022.
“There’s something about the draw of those white blazes and the trail community, the people you’re surrounded [during the hike],” she said. “We come from all different walks of life, but we’re all out there and accepting of each other. Nothing else matters. Not politics or income. It’s friendly out there.”
Leonard has always enjoyed telling stories and writing, though she struggles with punctuation and spelling, she said. She doubted her ability to write a book, but decided to give it a try anyway. Working with editors, she polished her tale, then started looking for someone to illustrate it.
She didn’t have to look far. At L.L.Bean in Bangor, Leonard works with Miller, who creates artwork and a variety of crafts with her sister, Jones.
“I’ve always loved children’s books,” Jones said. “When my children were growing up, I loved reading to them and going to the library and finding the books with the great pictures that would hold their interest. So when Emily asked me about it, I said yes.”
Over the course of a couple years, the three women met up and laid out the artwork and words on pages. They also worked with editors and a local designer, Chris Berge, before sending the pages in to be published through Kindle Direct Publishing.
Leonard hopes the book will encourage young people to become interested in hiking, camping and simply spending time outdoors. She also hopes the story will encourage young people to pursue their dreams, whether those dreams are to hike the Appalachian Trail, publish a book or something else entirely.
Signed copies of “Black Bear’s Adventure: An Appalachian Trail Journey” and the companion book can be purchased through Leonard’s website and blog, emilysescapades.com. Both books are also sold at North Woods Trading Post, which is located just outside the south entrance of Baxter State Park, and Leonard is working to introduce the books to more local bookstores throughout the state.