Mandan News

Students step in to help publish author’s book

Sweet Brian Elementary School students who contributed illustrations for Penny Wolf's book of poetry, "Mo" (back, l-r) Ethan Gress, Sam Luther, Rebekah Nottestad, Penny Wolf, (middle, l-r) Kaden Tomac, Owen Gress, Shentelle Voigt, Lily Griffin, Adam Gress, (front, l-r) Max Griffin, Kendra Tomac, Kassie Voigt, Nate McHugh, Bennette McHugh. Submitted photos


By Tina Ding for The Mandan News


Deliberately, Penny Wolf carried a pencil while tending chores. As she milked cows, her mind wandered. Penny took those thoughts seriously and jotted notes. Despite the randomness of her writing opportunities, she intended to transition a two-stanza poem to a piece she might one day publish.

Local author Penny Wolf remembers loving both reading and writing as a child. “We lived about a block and a half from the public library,” Wolf said. “It was a big deal when I became old enough to both have a library card of my own and to be trusted to walk there and back with a book to read, all by myself.”

From a young age, she connected most with books of humor or rhythmic nonsense such as Dr. Seuss; however, it wasn’t until Wolf’s daughter needed help with a poetry project that Wolf realized she was ready to write. Together with her daughter, she wrote the original two-stanza poem entitled, “A Cow Named Sue.”

Growing her writing experience, she authored, “Quilter’s Corner,” a column with the Mandan News. A quilter, Wolf unleashed her creative energies into planning, stitching and either gifting or selling her quilts until she no longer could due to issues with her neck. “Outside of the column, I wrote lengthy Christmas poems about our family,” Wolf said. “Each year we’d include a poem in our holiday cards.”

Wolf developed her own style of nonsensical writing and revisited her “Cow Named Sue” poem. Brainstorming and scheming, she decided to publish revisions of the poem as a book.

“I prepared and sent out manuscripts,” Wolf said. “Hearing back from one of them was encouraging.”

After researching a bit more, she realized she wanted to self-publish. Instead of relinquishing control to a publisher, she opted to publish the book locally.

Wolf gained valuable experience in the process; she applied for an ISBN number, selected a printing company and sought a unique path to obtain illustrations.

A North Dakota native, Wolf appreciated small town schools and the varied levels of abilities in student works. She approached an area teacher and requested student help. She wondered if they might provide illustrations for her children’s book. The teacher agreed. With Wolf’s criteria in mind, the classroom students responded with a portfolio of illustrations. She selected those that fit each page. Now print-ready, she consulted area print shop; the book went to print.

Once the book published, she sold several as well as gifted copies to the school for their use in fundraising. She didn’t really consider she’d write another. When thoughts came together for another book, “Bea’s Bad Day” became book two; she published her story, children’s illustrations and a collection of poems written by sixth graders.

Wolf returned to her family business at the dairy farm. Again, she found herself jotting notes and building material for a third book. “The third book wasn’t planned,” Wolf said. “‘Mo’ came out November 1 and also contains children’s art works and a collection of fifth grade poems.”

Today, “A Cow Named Sue” and “Bea’s Bad Day” are found on Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library list. “Mo” is available at several gift shops or retailers, including Mocha & More in Mandan and Arrowhead Plaza.

St. Joseph's School student Nellie Masseth shows off the finished book of poetry, "Mo."