Arts & Entertainment: New book’s appeal proving strong among readers of all ages

// Author, illustrator signing June 8 at Café Brosseau

South Sound writer S.E. Shell has written a charming new children’s book that is proving to be a hit with young readers and adults alike. “Coffee with Orange Sherbert” has been out on retail bookshelves for only a few months, but it quickly received a five-star rating on Amazon and was listed as a bestseller for the first week of February this year by the American Booksellers Association.

On June 8, Shell and the book’s illustrator, award-winning Gig Harbor artist Mary Elizabeth Smith, will be at Café Brosseau in Proctor District signing copies from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A former journalist, this is Shell’s first book. “Writing a book was basically a natural extension of what I do,” she said, noting how the tale parallels some of her own life experiences. “This story’s been in me for a long time.”

“Coffee with Orange Sherbert” tells the heartwarming story of a friendly ginger tabby cat named Orange Sherbert who lives amid the wharves and docks in the waterfront town of Brookings along the Oregon coast. A popular kitty, everyone seems to love “Sherbie” and takes care of him. As written in the story, Sherbie got his name, and spelling (Sherbert), from children who knew him at the local ice cream shop. Since the kids liked to pronounce the popular flavor "sher-bert," that was what they called him and it stuck.

“Writing a book was basically a natural extension of what I do. This story’s been in me for a long time.” - S.E. Shell, author of "Coffee with Orange Sherbert"

One day Sherbie meets a young woman who is new in town, a newspaper reporter starting her new job. A transplant from the “big city” and now in a very small town, the standoffish locals eye her with suspicion. This makes the girl feel very lonely – until she meets Sherbie. “Sometimes she sees, when the harbor closes down at night, that he’s very lonely too,” Shell explained. “She finds solace in this cat. They’re like kindred spirits.” The two pals begin meeting at the local coffee shop early each morning, and a magical bond develops between them. It is not long before tragedy strikes, offering a big surprise for readers, but it seems nothing can come between Sherbie and his friend leading to a very happy ending for everyone.

Alienation, prejudice, finding friendship in strange places and comfort with a new friend… Everyone knows these feelings, and these are the larger lessons in “Coffee with Orange Sherbert” that make the book appealing to all ages. In fact, Shell said many have purchased the book to send to United States military soldiers overseas. Readings at area schools have been a hit as well.

“We’ve done several readings at schools and kids love the book,” Shell said. “Animals don’t care what city you’re from or if you’re new in town – they’re unbiased. And everyone can relate to finding a friend.”

Beautifully illustrated with picturesque harbors and seaside life, “Coffee with Orange Sherbert” is as engaging to look at as it is to read. Smith’s watercolors bring life to the characters and visually set the tone for the book’s gentle beauty. A limited edition run of the book sports another version of the cover by 14-year-old Tova Beck of Gig Harbor.

Painting since she was 5 years old, Smith runs her own graphic design business (http://www.harborart.com) and today is a graphic designer for the Washington State Fair. Her paintings have won awards in national, regional and local art shows and she has been in laudable juried shows that include the Northwest Watercolor Society’s National Exhibition, the annual Puget Sound Area Exhibition at the Frye Art Museum and the Maritime Invitational Art Exhibition in Seattle.

Smith said she appreciated the artistic license Shell afforded her from the start of the project. “It was the freedom to come up with a look that I developed in my mind from reading (Shell’s) descriptions. She liked my painting style and gave me the freedom to create what I thought the scene would include,” Smith said.

“I really scored when I got hold of her,” Shell said of Smith. “One of her specialties is drawing harbor scenes. When I went looking for an illustrator, this is something I looked for. She just nailed it.”

Throughout June, Smith is showcasing her new works at Gig Harbor’s Kimball Espresso Gallery (6950 Kimball Dr.) and will have a reception on June 16 at 4 p.m., combined with a “Coffee with Orange Sherbert” book signing.

The Pierce County Library System is carrying the book in all 18 of their branches. The book is available at Pacific Northwest Shop in Proctor, and in Gig Harbor at Mostly Books and the BoatShop, both on Harborview Drive. The book is also available at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com and http://www.fastpencil.com. The hardback retails for $18.99 and the paperback is $14.99. For more information, visit http://www.osherbertbooks.com and on Facebook.

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