Author Fed Kids' Dreams, Imagination

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods

At bedtime the other night, I asked my daughter if she wanted me to read one of the Mayor Peyton Book Club books.

"The zoo!" she said. "The zoo, because the alligators scare you!"

So we started with We're Going to the Jacksonville Zoo. We never made it to I Can Read! or any of the other books that are part of the children's literacy campaign. Mia fell asleep somewhere between the alligators, which she assured me wouldn't bite because they're in a book, and the final page, which in each selection is both a farewell and a preview.

I will see you next month.

Let's make a date.

Where will we go? I just cannot wait!

As Mia lay there snoring softly, I opened up one of the books and looked at what had been written inside the cover in black marker.

The author, Fran Peacock Coker, gave me the books to take home when I did a column about her in 2004. Above an illustration featuring the St. Johns River, local animals and the characters in the books, she had written:

"Mia, bring your Daddy and explore with us."

In the two clouds, she wrote "Dream" and "Imagine."

Coker's words -- not the ones in magic marker but the ones she wrote on her home computer for the books -- have helped my daughter learn about Jacksonville landmarks, helped her take some of her first steps toward reading, helped her dream and imagine.

And the same thing could be said about children all over town.

That's what I thought of when I heard the news.

Coker died Monday in a fire at the family vacation home in Nova Scotia. She was 58.

She is survived her husband of 39 years, two sisters, two children, three grandchildren and 16,400 (and counting) future Jacksonville readers.

Ethan Long, the illustrator for the books, is working on something that will be on permanent display at the Jacksonville Children's Commission. …