Jolene Menard grew up a stone’s throw from the Wilks Library in New Bedford’s North End. As a kid, she spent rainy days reading Shel Silverstein and Judy Blume books.
Little did she know, a couple of decades later, she’d be reading her own children’s book to her own twin boys.
Menard, one of two female firefighters in the New Bedford Fire Department, originally published her mostly autobiographical illustrated children’s book “Anything I Want” in 2019, but after a series of revisions, rewording and restructuring, she finally unveiled the book publicly this summer.
“My kids love it,” she said. “They love seeing my picture on the back and the pictures of the fire scenes.”
Menard was inspired to write the book after watching a 60 Minutes segment that looked into why only 25 percent of children’s books feature a female lead, and why so often that lead is still being rescued by a male character.
“I wanted to be a part of our children’s future and inspiring young girls,” Menard said. “I have sons, so young boys as well, but it’s mainly for the little girls out there who wouldn’t normally think about these types of jobs. Or they can’t figure out what they want to do. I was inspired to empower young girls.”
The story, which Menard initially wrote in 30 minutes while pregnant three years ago, tells the tale of a young girl, Charlotte Marie — who is named after Menard’s niece — who imagines all the possible jobs she might have when she grows up: Soldier, pilot, deep-sea diver and firefighter.
The book, which is self-published through AuthorHouse, skips forward to Charlotte as an adult. She joins the Army and is deployed overseas, swims with dolphins, studies and becomes a firefighter and, finally, authors a children’s book.
It reads a lot like a rhyming autobiography of Menard, who joined the National Guard at age 17, before she even graduated from New Bedford High.
“I didn’t want to go to college yet and I wanted to do something cool,” she said. “I had the energy for it. I wanted to go to boot camp.”
After September 11, 2001, her unit, the 772nd Military Police Company out of Taunton, was called up. First, they were sent to protect Otis Air Force Base, then they were deployed to Afghanistan.
In 2005, she was hired by the New Bedford Fire Department. In 2009, she became a certified SCUBA diver. The only thing featured in the book she hasn’t done is fly a plane.
“It was easy for me to write because it’s my life,” she said. “It shows you’ll have to work for what you want and to make sure whatever you’re doing, you’re enjoying.”
She used her childhood love of poetry, which she would write with her cousin, to pen the first draft. She wrote it while pregnant — she was the first New Bedford firefighter to work while pregnant — but she didn’t know the gender of her pending arrivals.
“There’s all girls in my family and if I had a daughter I wanted her to know she can do whatever she puts her mind to,” said Menard, who has three nieces. “I want her to see that girls can be main characters in books without having to be rescued.”
Beyond the plot, the book features several homages to her own life. The main character is named after her 7-year-old niece and goddaughter. The dog is named Ralf after her own rescue. On the cover two boys walk through a park. Those are her twin 3-year-olds, Michael and Jacob, holding hands with Seth, the 10-year-old son of her husband Lucas Olivier, who appears walking Ralf in two pictures. Even her lieutenant makes an appearance in the final fire scene.
Menard, who lives on an apple orchard in Acushnet, has been wanting to hold book signings, but has been unable during the COVID-19 pandemic. She sees herself writing more children’s books in the future, possibly using other aspects of her own life, like her time playing roller derby and working at Carabiner’s. She might also incorporate jobs she hasn’t held, like state policeman or doctor.
“I already have a bunch of different book ideas,” she said. “I could probably do two or three right now, but I want to take my time and work them out.”
Follow Brendan Kurie on Twitter @BrendanKurieSCT
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