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Author tackles tough subject with tiny heroines
Jean Davis Okimoto is an award-winning author and publisher with an impressive list of credits to her name. Only you’d never know it. Meeting her for the first time, Okimoto’s warm yet elegant manner, close listening, thoughtful responses and delightful humor belie her considerable accomplishments, the latest of which is the publication of “Five Famous Mice Meet Winston of Churchill,” Okimoto’s 21st book.
“Five Famous Mice,” which Okimoto will read and sign at 6 p.m Friday at the Vashon Bookshop, is a sequel to “Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming.” Both of these light-hearted children’s books tackle the serious topic of global warming, while subtly including inspirational speeches from historical figures.
In the first book, Okimoto introduced Winston of Churchill, a brave and charismatic polar bear who educates his fellow bears about why their home is melting. Using speeches from his namesake, Winston inspires the bears to protest global warming. In the sequel, five disenfranchised mice fight the good fight against global warming and their own right to be heard. Based on five Canadian women who campaigned for women’s rights — known as the Famous Five — Okimoto’s mice quote lines from speeches made by their leader, Nellie McClure.
Like the mice, Okimoto knows how to take action and to be heard. After publishing books with major houses for the past 20 years, Okimoto reached her fill with editors making decisions about her writing. So she met the problem head on and established her own publishing house, Endicott and Hugh Books. Along with “Winston” and “Famous Five,” Endicott and Hugh has published two books out of Okimoto’s fictional trilogy about Vashon, several memoirs and a collection of poetry. She said she is having a ball doing it herself.
“I turn 72 at the end of the year. One of the great criteria for how I use my time is to ask is this any fun?”
While fun may be one criterion, being meaningful is the other. Okimoto, who worked as a psychotherapist for 40 years, describes herself as being in the last third of life, often called the generative phase.
“There is a point in your 60s and 70s where you begin to shift your focus from what you can achieve to nurturing the achievement of others,” she said.
True to her words, Okimoto voluntarily facilitates a weekly memoir group and finds the work an absolute joy. As a publisher, Okimoto wants “to give life to other people’s projects,” primarily works by people with whom she feels a connection. She also chooses where to donate her books’ proceeds. For “Famous Five,” Okimoto picked the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust and invited Tom Dean, the executive director, to give a brief talk before her reading.
Despite her many accolades, Okimoto doesn’t let herself off the hook, she said.
“You sit alone for hours and wonder if you are doing anything of help here. I have to work with that thought.”