Alpaca author spreads love for learning
Latest book is ‘The Elegant Alpaca’
ROLFE — In retirement, author and former educator Denise Wasko has taken up a less conventional hobby.
After 30 years working as a teacher for area schools and as an educator at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, the teacher’s ideal pet turned out to be an alpaca.
“Well, you have something fun,” she said to her husband, who has Scottish Highland cows. “When I retire, I’m going to get something fun, too.”
So like anyone new to a specific pet, she immediately adopted three pregnant females in 2016.
“After we bought them, I didn’t know much about them,” Wasko admitted.
After taking a crash course through research, her first book became a way to help other novice alpaca owners asking her all the questions she started out asking.
And as three alpacas soon turned into seven, one hobby also turned into two.
While children in Iowa are well versed in the typical farm animals, Wasko has found a novel animal most of them get excited about, turning it into a tool for encouraging reading.
“You’ll never be bored in life if you like to read,” the author of three books said.
Her most recent work, “The Elegant Alpaca,” delves into fiction for the first time with illustrations that follow the adventure of Shakota, her white alpaca with a “poodle” cut, who wants to join Denise and her husband on their trips to their daughters’ weddings over the summer.
“Shakota, she’s kind of my hero,” Wasko said. “She’s been a mama twice.”
Wasko didn’t want her to give birth to her most recent baby over the summer, while she was traveling out of state for the weddings.
“She just acts like ‘yeah, I’ll wait for ya,'” Wasko said. “I imagined what it must like to always be in a pen.”
And Shakota did wait, giving birth to Minnie, a caramel brown girl, a couple weeks after they got home.
In the book, Shakota wonders what it’s like to dress up for a fancy party, venturing out for some camelid shenanigans at a wedding she stumbles upon.
Though she doesn’t dress fancy in real life, she does get to venture out occasionally for visits that bring reading to life for children more than any illustration can on a page. What’s more is that it makes being an author seem like a goal within reach for children that will soon be able to write.
That excitement is something Wasko takes pride in sparking.
“It makes it real to them,” she said, that someone who went to a school just like theirs became an author and they can, too. “It’s a goal that can be reached. That’s really fun to see happen.”
And when they can see live alpacas or feel their fiber, their interest level in the book is much higher, Wasko explained.
“That’s kind of my whole goal,” she said. “As an educator, I want to get kids interested and excited to read and continue reading, and let parents know the value and importance of reading to their kids.”
Various contests on Facebook allow kids and adults to win books for their favorite library, school or day care by doing things like guessing when their next cria — the term for baby alpacas — will be born. (If you play this guessing game, remember that the gestation period for alpacas is 11 to 12 months.)
Readers will find a theme for any mood with the three books. The first one is informational and the third one is entertaining, but the second one came out of tragedy.
One of Wasko’s first three females, Jaida, died suddenly two months after giving birth to another baby girl. The book, Roxy Remembers, follows the journey of newborn Roxy as “Nana D” and her husband, Jim, foster her around the clock with bottle feedings until one of her “aunts,” adopts her, allowing her to feed with her “cousin” after giving birth.
“It kind of tells the story of loss,” Wasko said. “By the end, she wouldn’t take the bottle from us anymore.”
Wasko’s first two books, “Nana D’s Alpacas” and “Roxy Remembers,” are available on Amazon. All three of her books, including her most recent work, “The Elegant Alpaca,” are available directly from her at a cheaper price than Amazon. She can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.