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'Lulu & Rocky In Milwaukee' Shows Children The City's Sophisticated & Fun Sides

Children’s books can be a great way to explore places you have been or have yet to visit. It’s even better when the characters visiting these places happen to be cute animals.

In the first book of the Our City Adventure series, Lulu & Rocky in Milwaukee follows two fox friends (and their penguin friend Pufferson) as they explore the city with activities like canoeing, going to a fish fry, and visiting the art museum.

Credit Sleeping Bear Press

The book is written by two friends and Milwaukee-area natives, who together have over 100 books worth of experience.

"We really love Milwaukee and we wanted to put Milwaukee's fancy foot forward — kind of expected and unexpected. And we wanted Milwaukee to be beloved by other people," says author Barbara Joosse.

The book encourages kids and their families to be active in the city, according to Joosse, with an emphasis on the parks and other physical activities 

they can participate in.

"We wanted to choose the places where kids could experience what we see as the real Milwaukee — it's sophisticated, and it's crazy fun," she says.

In addition to colorful images showing every animal you can imagine at the Pfister Hotel or walking along the lakefront, illustrator Renée Graef also hid Easter eggs that only locals would recognize.

"It was more organic, really. I did the illustrations and then I just thought, 'Well, if he's holding a coffee cup, I want to put a Colectivo skull on it,' " she explains.

Graef admits that typically publishers do not allow the author and illustrator of a children's book to work together, but they both agree that it made the final product much better — and it made it a lot more fun for them. 

Credit Renée Graef/Sleeping Bear Press

"We pretty much took it in steps because Barb wrote the story, and then as I'm illustrating it there were adjustments made along the way," Graef explains. "It's really wonderful to work with my dearest friend and have a back and forth."

"It works because we're both strong and flexible," adds Joosse, who says that writing LuLu & Rocky was like baking a cake: "Every ingredient is important and depends upon the other to work. So, it was this extremely careful balance of a few things to eat, things to look at, things to do, places that are awesome and fancy, places that are fun and active."

LuLu and Rocky's trip to Milwaukee was only their first adventure, but with every book in the upcoming series Joosse and Graef want the feeling of those place to envelope their readers.

"There's something that happens when you read a book that has this big warm feeling about it," says Joosse. "You read it to your child or grandchild that makes you love that city and remember it. So, that's how it's going to be used and people will see Milwaukee the way we do."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.