Children’s book by Greenfield residents raises awareness about trash contaminating waterways

  • Author Marian Kelner and illustrator Nancy Baker with the book they produced, “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Author Marian Kelner with her book “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Illustrator Nancy Baker with a drawing from the book she produced, “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Artwork from the book “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Artwork from the book “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo”

For the Recorder
Published: 10/10/2018 12:42:58 PM

Marian Kelner is a writer. Nancy Baker is an artist. The two Greenfield residents have known each other for years and frequently play pickle ball together. But they only recently started working as a team.

Kelner had written a poem about a zipper and a tattoo who go to sea together.

“I looked at it and thought, ‘This would make a great children’s book,’” she recalled. “I asked Nancy if she would like to illustrate it, and she said ‘Yes’!”

Their recently published book is titled “Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo.” Nipper is a kangaroo, and Howdy is an armadillo.

“I had no concept of what these characters would look like,” Kelner explained. “I pictured an animated zipper and an animated tattoo. I gave (the poem) to Nancy, and she came up with these loveable characters.”

Baker chimed in, “Actually, the zipper came right away because I thought of kangaroos and having ‘zippered’ pockets. And then I remembered (when) I was in Brazil 10 years ago at an ecotourist lodge. They caught an armadillo, and in Portuguese they were calling it ‘tattoo.’

“I know that these two animals do not live anywhere near each other. Call it artistic license!” Baker added.

Baker and Kelner developed the story further, each inspiring the other as it progressed. The resultant book is colorful and charming. Nipper and Howdy begin by mistakenly trying to sail a boat made of glue. They are rescued from the sticky mess they have made by a benevolent dolphin.

The dolphin awakens the two friends to the dangers of throwing man-made materials into the water. When they return to dry land, they devote themselves to picking up plastic to help the water and the creatures that inhabit it.

Nipper and Howdy recycle much of their plastic, but they also use some of it to create colorful sculptures of fish and other sea dwellers that awaken animals and humans to the perils of plastic in the ocean.

These sculptures are based on the art of a group called Washed Ashore that mounts traveling exhibits to draw attention to the enormous amount of plastic in our seas and rivers.

Kelner noted, “I’ve always been concerned about animals and the environment and upset about the human race’s approach to … turning the whole world into garbage. I just wanted to get out the message that the ocean and the rivers are homes to other species.”

She went on to express her belief that Baker’s illustrations make the book’s lesson more palatable.

“For kids, I wanted the message to be light and easy. The characters that Nancy created are adorable and lovable,” Kelner said.

At the end of the book, the authors bring their message home by listing constructive ways in which young readers can help clean up the environment. This feature of the book was critical to both Baker and Kelner.

“People need to be given tools,” Kelner said. “If you’re not given tools, you could just get depressed.”

The process of putting the book together took many months as the two traded ideas and then eventually involved Maureen Moore of Booksmyth Press in the final book design.

They also took the time to solicit reader feedback to display on the book’s back cover, contacting a number of young people to ask for their comments. The squibs are fun and eloquent.

One reads, “The book is charming and inspiring. I like how it’s just a picture book, but it also spreads awareness of a huge problem, pollution in the ocean.”

Kelner and Baker emphasized the importance of these comments.

“Adults are always reviewing everything,” Kelner pointed out. “It seemed that children should review a children’s book.”

“We didn’t alter anything,” Baker added. “They were quite articulate.”

Kelner and Baker said the book is more or less geared to children between the ages of 5 and 10, although older children will certainly enjoy reading it to younger siblings.

“Nipper the Zipper and Howdy Tattoo” retails for $9.99. Copies are available at the World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls, at the Shelburne Arts Cooperative in Shelburne Falls, and online at

“And if anybody bumps into us, we have some, too!” Kelner said.

“And we’ll be glad to sign them!” Baker added with a smile.

Nancy Baker and Marian Kelner will sign copies of their book on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 2 p.m. at Green Fields Market in Greenfield.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,

Greenfield Recorder

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