Jacquie Milligan has been many things: painter, mother, writer for shows like “Hawaii 5-O” and “The Mickey Mouse Club,” Boeing customer support specialist, founding member of the Whidbey Island Writers Conference Committee, “ardent fan” of Italian operatic pop trio Il Volo and published children’s book author—to name a few.
It is this last endeavor that has Milligan, a Freeland resident who describes herself as an “excitable personality,” beaming and giddy, “going nuts” in her words, as she sits in the WiFire cafe in Freeland, three of her five recently revised “Whootie Gives a Hoot” children’s safety books spread out before her.
The series, which she originally penned in the ’80s, will be re-launched in conjunction with her 90th birthday celebration next week.
The stories, which double as coloring books, follow the adventures of Whootie, a wise bespectacled gray owl, as he rescues his colorful animal comrades Jenny, Patches, Candy, Pepper and Snowball from various misadventures and advises them in the rules of safety.
After working in Hollywood for 25 years, Milligan began a job writing brochures and promotional materials for hospitals in the Houston area when she was assigned to write a story for children about poison prevention. Thus Whootie was born. When the original publisher went out of business in ’95, Milligan re-obtained the rights and eventually, with the encouragement and help of her own close friends, decided to revitalize Whootie and his pals.
“One of my friends, Andre, has loved [the books] all these years and she kept saying, ‘Whootie is going to fly again,’ ” Milligan recalled. “And I’d just say, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ All of a sudden in February she sent me an email and asked permission to send the set of books to a publisher, her publisher [who is in France].”
Milligan agreed, and began the arduous task of transferring the books, which are approximately 50 pages each, into digital format. In the process, she decided to make certain changes, such as revising some of the language and contacting the original illustrator who agreed to redraw the cover art.
“You can lecture [children] all you want, but it goes in one ear and out the other usually,” Milligan said. “There are so many things that kids get into that are dangerous and this way they follow the adventures and Whootie advises them… and it sticks with them.”
In addition to Whootie, Milligan has had a historical romance novel and a couple of short stories published and is working on a mystery novel. She has also been toying with the idea of revitalizing “Treasure Hunt,” another children’s book.
Micky Coleman, Milligan’s best friend, said she is proud of Milligan and is ecstatic to be a part of the re-launch.
“I think it’s pretty amazing that she put such an incredible amount of work into getting them ready to go again, rewriting them,” said Coleman. “It’s been going back and forth to France so it’s been quite complicated, quite an accomplishment.”
The book launch party and Milligan’s 90th birthday celebration will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, July 24 at Whidbey Pies Cafe in Greenbank Farm.