A lifelong dream came true for local teacher Denette Fretz with the publication of her first children's book.
"My room's got all kinds of picture books," the first-grade teacher at Grace Christian School said. "My goal was always to have my own picture book."
Her new book, "Pirates on the Farm," has been published by Zonderkidz, the children's division of the HarperCollins-owned Christian publishing house Zondervan.
The book tells the story of five pirates who buy a farm and struggle to assimilate into a prim and proper Southern community. After some missteps by the well-meaning pirates, the community forms what's called the "Ban the Buccaneer Brigade" until the Sanders family next door embraces them.
"It's a 'love your neighbor no matter who your neighbor is' book," Fretz said.
Fretz said pirates were a nonoffensive way to convey the message of accepting those who are different.
"I'm a teacher first. I've always been a teacher. That's who I am," Fretz said. "I like to try to find creative ways to teach a lesson."
In addition to being the product of her years of teaching, the story is also inspired by her experience of teaching in the Bahamas after growing up in Medford.
"I think having a cross-cultural experience played into it," Fretz said. "I was a minority when I was in the Bahamas."
She paired that experience of being different with the area's interest in pirates.
"In the Cayman Islands, pirates are a big part of the culture," she said.
Fretz returned to the Rogue Valley about 17 years ago, and she said about two years after her return she completed her first manuscript.
The book is also the product of years of rejection.
"I tried sending manuscripts for several years," she said.
But rejection letters were all that came back.
"I said when I got 25 (rejection letters), I was going to throw a party. Then 25 came and went."
But she found the time to make a renewed effort three years ago after she took a year off from teaching to assist her ailing father, and to help in her daughter's transition to high school.
"I took a year off to be mom and daughter," she said. "I thought, 'Well, I have time again.' "
She acquired an agent, and submitted her manuscript three years ago. The agent helped her with a book proposal, video and marketing plan.
"I actually didn't realize how much an agent went into getting a book published," she said.
Fretz received offers from Christian publishing houses Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.
"I went with Zondervan because they put more money into the illustrator," she said. "It's a picture book."
She said illustrator Gene Barretta exceeded all of her expectations.
"I feel really blessed to work with Gene Barretta," she said. "I've had the characters in my head for a very long time. I kind of expected myself to be disappointed."
The illustrator has experience making animations for Sesame Street and designing characters for Jim Henson Co.
This may be Fretz' first story, but Fretz says her work with Zonderkidz will continue. The book is the first in her "Next Door Series."
"There are other books, and Gene is actually drawing the pictures," she said.
She said she's finished the writing for her second book in the series, and the publishers have asked her to write a third.
"Each one is going to deal with handling different aspects to interpersonal relationships in a biblical way," she said.
Her next stories may not feature pirates, she said, but all will focus on areas that are of high interest to children in order to help them retain the lesson.
"I'm excited to see what God does with it, and what happens," she said. "It's still amazing. I feel very blessed."
Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org.