BIG HORN — The new children’s book “Best Friends” may be about the friendship between a frog and a snake, but it wouldn’t exist without the love of a father and daughter.
Work on the 34-page book has helped bridge the 1,431-mile gap between Big Horn resident Donald Steffanus and his daughter Candy Steffanus, who works as the Chief Financial Officer of a construction company in Louisville, Kentucky.
Donald, the book’s author, would send the story page-by-page to Candy, who would transform the text into hand-drawn colored-pencil illustrations. Slowly but surely, the book took shape.
Now, after their years of work on the project, the Steffanuses are excited to reveal “Best Friends” to the world.
“The book is really nice, and I would definitely be ready to do another,” Candy said. “My friends are already asking me which animals I’m going to be drawing next.”
For Donald, the journey of writing “Best Friends” started roughly three years ago after he accepted an invitation to attend a friend’s family reunion at a beef ranch in Florida.
“There were a lot of kids running around, and they of course wanted to know where Wyoming was,” Donald said. “So I asked them if they wanted to hear a story. They did, and I started telling them this story about a little frog and a little snake that live in a pond near a farm.”
The story was about an unlikely friendship between a frog named Hoppity and a water snake named Slivers. And although the friends face challenges — from traps and snapping turtles and older frogs who question their friendship — they ultimately emerge triumphant.
“I hope the kids take away that the animals, although they’re supposed to be enemies, could still be friends,” Donald said. “I think that’s a good message for kids.”
As he told his story to the kids at the family reunion, Donald began to realize he was on to something.
“They were spellbound,” Donald said. “They didn’t move around or talk or anything. And, as soon as I was done, I told my wife ‘That might be a story I need to write down.’”
As Donald considered putting “Best Friends” on the page, he reached out to Candy to see if she would be interested in illustrating the tale.
“A long time ago, I actually went to school for art with the goal of being an illustrator for children’s books,” Candy said. “I became an accountant instead, and although I pursued other artistic opportunities, I never had a chance to do a children’s book until my dad called me up. But it was right up my alley.”
Candy said she was largely given creative freedom in bringing the characters to life, although her dad did have notes here and there.
“On a few drawings, Dad was more involved, but on most of the others, he just said ‘Do whatever you think is best,” Candy said. “I was concerned whether he would like what I was doing, but he was just really positive.”
“It was great,” Donald said. “She has a great talent, and she was very open to working with her dad despite her busy schedule.”
Donald said he’s been asked about the possibility of a follow-up book, but hasn’t settled on whether he will continue the stories of Hoppity and Slivers or tell the stories of some new animal friends. Candy’s friends in Kentucky have a few ideas of Wyoming animals that could be featured including elk and prairie dogs.
But whatever happens next, both Steffanuses said they were proud of their work on “Best Friends” and honored to share such a special and personal project.
“Something we did together will be around forever,” Candy said. “And that’s pretty neat.”
“Best Friends,” which was published by Dorrance Publishing in January, is available at Sheridan Stationery, Books and Gallery, and the author will host a book signing there Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.