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New book celebrates America's cherry farmers

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — There may not be a National Cherry Festival this year, but cherries are still being celebrated in a new children’s book by two northern Michigan women.

 The Legend of the Cherry Queens: A Very Cherry Fairy Tale is written by Sally Meese and illustrated by Mollie Moody. The two are the forces behind the legendary Cherry Queen float in the Leland Fourth of July Parade, which inspired the book.

“We were having a blast doing the parade and then, in costume, we’d walk back to our cars,” said Meese. “Little kids would swarm us; they were mesmerized. They’d ask where Cherry Queens live, what do Cherry Queens do. I had to answer!”

Based on their questions and the subsequent answers, Meese wrote a poem that was published in the Leelanau Enterprise. The book idea, which has been simmering for about 10 years, grew out of that. Proceeds from the sales of the book are going to children’s literacy programs.

The Legend of the Cherry Queens is a fanciful and humorous read-aloud story for children and adults of all ages. Meese and Moody wanted the book to be an ode to American farmers, so they’ve included cherry facts, some of which surprised their early focus groups. “One little girl told us she didn’t know cherries came from blossoms,” Meese said.

Meese and Moody said they learned things while creating the book, especially about pollination. The cherry facts in the book were vetted and authorized by Don Gregory, a cherry industry leader in northern Michigan. There’s also a versatile, child-friendly recipe for Cherry Queen Tarts, a childhood favorite of Meese’s.

The story in The Legend of the Cherry Queens is told from the point of view of cherries as they face trials and tribulations of growing from blossoms to fruit. Their coming-of-age journey takes them from innocent childhood, through pre-teen drama, troubling teen years to full and joyful ripeness thanks to the wisdom of their elders, the Cherry Queens.

Sally Meese is a multimedia artist, community art leader, and award-winning parade float designer. This is her first venture into the art of story-telling. She lives in Lake Leelanau, Mich., and Tucson, Ariz. 

Mollie Moody is a watercolor artist and top juried winner of the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild, who lives in Suttons Bay, Mich., and Tucson, Ariz. Moody has been married to Meese’s father for 41 years. She said switching from fine art to book illustration came with a learning curve, but one she enjoyed.

The women are eager to do readings and signings at bookstores and libraries and have lots of Cherry Queen costumes on hand from their years in the parade. They’re excited to help people learn more about cherry farming and farming in general. “We want people to understand the challenges of farming, but still have a wonderful, fanciful story,” Meese said.

The book is published by Mission Point Press of Traverse City and is available at select bookstores and online. The hardcover edition sells for $18.95; the softcover edition sells for $12.95.