New children's book honors founder of Milford Community Band and his legacy of love
When Delaware writer Jennifer Antonik decided to pen her first children’s book, she knew she wanted to create something that would take her young readers on an adventure.
Building from her professional experience as a storyteller, working in journalism and public relations, and from reading to her own children, she was familiar with the way stories can feed the imagination of a child.
“Their faces just light up, and when their faces light up, the whole town lights up,” she said.
While this dream to write for children always swam around Antonik’s brain, it wasn’t until the passing of her grandfather in June 2020 that she knew exactly what story she needed to tell.
The patriarch of the family, a mentor, musician, Sunday School teacher and much more, Norman Joseph "Joe" Lear Sr. touched many lives, and his loss was felt deeply.
For Antonik, writing about her grandfather became therapeutic or healing as she experienced her own grief. She said it felt like an epiphany, a moment where she said to herself, “That’s what I have to do ... write his story.”
Her debut children’s book, "The Music Man: Our Rootin’, Tootin’ Hero," tells the story of Lear and how he started the Milford Community Band, a group of about 50 musicians who play free concerts throughout the year.
After working at the General Foods plant in Dover for more than two decades, Lear enrolled at Wesley College where he participated in the jazz band. After that, he searched for ways to continue playing music, eventually leading him to create his own community band, which has provided a home for area musicians ever since.
As a juvenile nonfiction biography, the book does not include every detail of Lear’s story, but Antonik hopes the origin story of the Milford Community Band can inspire the younger generation.
“There’s perseverance in there. There’s youthfulness,” she said.
Above all, Antonik wants people to know that her grandfather was all about love, and that he loved people, especially children, fiercely. He would always tell young people that “[you can do] whatever you’re big enough to do,” Antonik said.
To edit the book, she brought on her sister Jessica Rash, an English and language arts teacher at Milford School District.
The two surprised their parents and grandmother with the book over Christmas, and Antonik said her mother was the only one who could get a few words out during the emotional reveal, saying “it was as if Granddad was with us for Christmas."
To help honor her grandfather, and in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic’s hit on the performing arts, a portion of the book’s proceeds will go toward the Milford Community Band through the end of January.
“This was my way of expressing my thanks to him and the band for giving us so much enjoyment in life,” Antonik said.
Beyond a story about a local man, though, the book includes educational pieces about different instruments and the sounds they make. Antonik is now working on getting the book into local libraries and schools.
In the meantime, she has written a second book, "Boops and Goobs find a home," which is a fictional telling of how her family adopted two cats.
As Antonik continues to write and collaborate with local artists, people can purchase the books on Amazon and follow her progress at jenniferantonik.com.