KINGSTON, R.I. – May 21, 2015 – If H is for Hope and I is for the Independent Man and R is for Rocky Point, then one thing is certain: We are not in Kansas.
We’re in Rhode Island, flipping through the pages of Jill Austin’s “RI Loves: Showing Love for the Ocean State from A to Z,” an alphabet book about the places and things that make our state unique – and a bit quirky.
Here’s a sampling: B is for baseball (as in PawSox); L is for Lemonade (as in Del’s); P is for Providence (as in the Capital City); and K is for Knowledge, which includes a shout-out to Austin’s alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, where she cut her teeth in writing and communications.
“I’m so happy about the book’s success,” says Austin, 35, of North Providence, who also did the illustrations. “The feedback has been tremendous and has encouraged me to start working on other Rhode Island-themed children’s books.”
Austin grew up in Smithfield, where she excelled in writing at Smithfield High School. At URI, she started out as an English major, but switched to communications her sophomore year, graduating in 2001.
She honed her writing and public speaking skills in college and was also a member of the Student Entertainment Committee, organizing events and activities on campus.
It was at URI where Jill Manni met her husband, Patrick Austin, also a 2001 graduate and communications major. “We first laid eyes on each other in Peck Hall,” she says. “But we didn’t connect until a few months later.”
They were friends for more than a year before going on their first date on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1999: Mystic Aquarium to gaze at sea lions; a picnic lunch in his car; a stroll through Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence.
“I could see our friendship turning into more,” she says. “It made me very happy.”
The two married in 2005, and, in 2012, Austin decided to leave her job as a special events coordinator at the zoo – the same one where they had their first date – to stay home with her daughter, Gwen, who will turn 4 in July. Her other daughter, Hannah, was born in March.
Her inspiration for the book? Gwen, a reading machine. A mother’s love being what it is, Austin decided to try writing a book just for the toddler. Using Adobe Illustrator, she created “RI Loves” and figured she was done with it.
Her husband thought otherwise. He knew the book was good enough to self-publish. They found a printing company and ordered 500 books, which sold out in four months. In March, they ordered 1,000 more copies.
Writing the book took her on a journey back to her childhood, spending summers on the beach in East Matunuck, riding the Rock & Roll Express at Rocky Point Amusement Park in Warwick, riding the historic Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill and devouring chocolate glazed doughnuts at Allie’s in North Kingstown.
Some of her ABC favorites:
F is for Farms like Jaswell’s in Smithfield, where Austin and her brother picked apples and where she takes her family now.
G is for Gates surrounding the Newport mansions that Austin visited as a kid and where in one, The Breakers, her husband proposed.
M is for Milk, which Austin’s parents rushed to buy at the store before a major snowstorm, like all responsible Rhode Islanders.
N is for Nibbles Woodaway – a.k.a., the Big Blue Bug that looms over I-95.
S is for Soda, specifically, Yacht Club pop that Austin and her friends happily gulped during summer barbecues.
U is for Unforgettable memories of the Scituate Art Festival, the Bristol Fourth of July Parade and the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the zoo.
W is for Weather, a hot topic in the state, with residents complaining of sweltering summers and bitterly cold winters, but still insisting, “There’s no place that we’d rather be.”
Y is for You – all children in Rhode Island, including Gwen, charmingly depicted in the book as a red-haired youngster sporting her favorite winter hat, earflaps and all. “RI really loves YOU!” Austin writes. “No matter where you roam. This little state holds a lot of love and will always be your home.”
Toddlers are keen on the book, as well as grown-ups living out of state and feeling nostalgic for Little Rhody.
“RI Loves” is $16 and available online and at local bookstores. To buy a copy online, visit www.pvdparents.com. Books are at Barnes & Noble in Warwick, Barrington Books, Books on the Square in Providence, Curiosity and Mischief in Narragansett and Island Books in Middletown, among others.
Austin is thinking about writing a companion book to “RI Loves” since there are more “amazingly unique” places and people in Rhode Island. She is also working on a book about the Rho Dyelinn accent, as in, “Where’s the bubbla? I’m wicked thirsty.”
“What started as a fun, creative project for a stay-at-home mom has turned into a dream come true,” Austin says. “To be called an author is, for me, a tremendous accomplishment.”
Pictured above: Jill and Patrick Austin, and their children, Gwen, 3, and Hannah, 2 months. Jill is the author of “RI Loves: Showing Love for the Ocean State from A to Z.” Patrick is digital media director of Cumulus Media. Photo courtesy of Jill Austin.