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West St. Paul resident Luci Hollenkamp has written a children’s book about foster care. A former foster parent herself, Hollenkamp wrote Ronni Raccoon and the Foster Bunnies to support children in foster care.
“These kids, they just wanted to be home, they longed for the familiar. But we made the best of it, even though it was not perfect.”Luci Hollenkamp
About Luci Hollenkamp
Hollenkamp lives in West St. Paul and owns Picture Perfect Art & Frame, a business that’s been in West St. Paul for more than 30 years. She’s lived in West St. Paul for about a decade. Hollenkamp enjoys reading, sewing, and gardening.
Ronni Raccoon and the Foster Bunnies is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and can be ordered from local bookstores (ISBN: 979-8-9878594-0-7).
A Conversation With Luci Hollenkamp
We talked with Hollenkamp about Ronni Raccoon and the Foster Bunnies.
What prompted you to write a children’s book?
I have been thinking about writing a children’s book for several years. I have talked about it in the past and one of my siblings even gifted me a class on writing one year as a birthday gift. I enjoyed the class and feel like I learned a lot from it. I want kids to not feel ashamed if they are in foster care, it is out of their control. I wish I was in a place to continue to take care of children, but that just isn’t possible now.
What kind of experience do you have with foster care?
I was a foster mother to a sibling group over a decade ago. When I wrote this book I wrote it from the perspective of the caregiver—I am “Ronni Raccoon.” I was so excited to have the opportunity to be a mother figure, a caregiver to these kids. I jumped right in. I had never had children of my own but have many nieces and nephews and love spending time with them. I was so excited. And these kids, they just wanted to be home, they longed for the familiar. But we made the best of it, even though it was not perfect.
I remember the first night they were with me, I made one of my childhood favorites for dinner, tater tot hot dish. They hated it. If you read the book I referenced that in a way. I felt so sad, I wanted so bad for them to feel welcomed and loved. I really just wanted for them to feel happy and carefree like kids should feel. We talked about what they liked, and we navigated other family tradition issues. Even though we all lived in the Midwest, in the Twin Cities, they had very different favorites, and different ways of doing things. We blended. I bent and made meals they described and liked, and they were really good about what we called “a polite bite” when I made something they hadn’t tried before. They didn’t have to eat it all, just give it a try. A little goes a long way when you do it with love and kindness!
I am still actively in contact with these kids, now young adults. They are the most awesome individuals I know.
Have the kids you fostered seen the book? What was their reaction?
Before they saw the book they knew it was in the works and they saw the listing and thought it was awesome.
Recently I saw two of them and they saw it for the first time. The youngest said he really liked it. He is very quiet, so it’s tough to tell, but that’s considered high praise. The middle kiddo didn’t say much, just said it was nice. But she texted me this morning to say her teacher liked it. She brought it to school and was showing it off! The oldest is off at college and so I won’t know what he thinks for a while.
Why was it important to you to write a book about this topic?
I have a soft spot for children. Minnesota, this country, has a large number of older children in foster care that could just use a caring adult to take them in. Children have no control when they find themselves in foster care. I used the term “lost” to describe the Foster Bunnies parents in my book. But children can find themselves in foster care due to a parent having anything from an illness that puts them in the hospital with no one to look after the kids, to parents going to prison or being found unfit for various reasons. The kids are just caught up in it, through no fault of their own. They just need someone to fill in, sometimes temporarily, sometimes forever.
Foster care can be an incredible challenge—it takes more than good intentions. What advice do you have for anyone considering becoming a foster parent?
I am not an expert by any means. There are classes you take to make sure you have proper training and you have to be certified. It seems overwhelming, but it is very doable. Take notes! Get the names and contact info for people in the class. Join support groups. Those are your people, they will be a huge asset. But my biggest advice would be to do it with an open and accepting heart. Don’t be judgmental, be ready to have your feelings hurt. These kids are in real pain, and they will push you, they will test you, and it is not personal.
A lot of book bans are happening now because of difficult topics that some people don’t want to talk about. Why do you think it’s helpful for kids to talk about some potentially difficult issues like foster care, adoption, loss, etc.?
I think it is good to talk about difficult issues and have honest conversations about them. We get in trouble when we try to stick our heads in the sand and pretend these issues don’t exist. Talking about them de-stigmatizes them. When you try to hide tough topics, you make them something mystical, something that has an allure because it is a secret. That can lead to misinformation. I remember hearing about the birds and the bees in school, and the girl who shared her “knowledge” with me, well, she didn’t give me the best information. Open honest conversations are so much better.
How did the creative process work?
I had been thinking about this project for a long time, almost a decade. Once I set my mind to it, it just flowed so easily. I also feel at this point in time we could all use more love and more caring for each other. Despite our differences, we are more alike than we are different. A little kindness and consideration goes a long way.
Any surprises along the way?
I was unsure if I could publish this book. I am a very private person. But quite honestly I am proud of the story and it is my tribute to the kids I had in my care, both as foster children and my nieces and nephews. I am surprised at how happy I am with what I wrote!
Any more book projects in your future?
I am going to make this book a series. I will use things that happened while I had foster kids. I will draw from memories of childhood—being the oldest of seven I was often “in charge” of my siblings. And some of the things that happened growing up with so many siblings, well there are some good stories there!
Thanks to Luci Hollenkamp for talking with us about her new children’s book. Learn more about foster care in the state of Minnesota.
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