MARQUETTE - Jackie Winkowski has been an author for a lot longer than most people might think.
In recent years, her books about sled dogs have been a big hit, but her first publication came many years before that.
"It's amusing to reflect on my 8-year-old self producing a black-and-white photo-illustrated book," Winkowski said. "Featuring my nephew Scott and our St. Bernard, Buppy, it was entitled 'Scott and the Killer Dog.' How I wish I still had that book.
"Beginning at a young age, I wrote short stories and plays, including one in sixth grade, where I sewed the entire cast of dog sock puppets and created the cardboard stage."
Her newest book, "Promise of the White Dog," was recently released and Winkowski will be doing a number of book signings and other appearances as the U.P. 200 Sled Dog race approaches.
Like her love of writing, her affection for animals started as a young girl growing up in the northern Upper Peninsula.
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Jackie Winkowski and her dog Miki will sign books:
1 to 2 p.m. today, Snowbound Books, Marquette
6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at "The Magic of Dogsledding" presentation at Peter White Public Library's Community Room*
9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 16 and Feb. 17 at the U.P. 200 race headquarters at the Holiday Inn, Marquette
6:30 to 8 p.m. Feb. 21 at "The Magic of Dogsledding" presentation at the Portage Lake District Library Houghton
(*A portion of sales at these two events will be donated to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association
The books can be purchased at: Amazon.com, Art U.P. Style,Bookworld, U.P. Children's Museum Gift Shop, Einerlei (Chassell), Michigan Fair,MIupperhand.com, Peter White Public Library/Arts and Culture Center Gift Shop, Snowbound Books, Da Yoopers Tourist Trap (Ishpeming), Marquette General Hospital Gift Shop
"I grew up on Keweenaw Peninsula strawberry farm overlooking Lake Superior. Dogs and cats were constant companions," she said. "A fond early childhood memory is of our family Newfoundland, Barney, wearing a handcrafted leather harness, pulling me in a Flexible Flyer sled over ice-covered Keweenaw Bay as my mother walked alongside us.
"My mother Lempi (Kauppinen) instilled in me a love of nature and all animals, domestic and wild."
Winkowski moved to Marquette in 1975 when she enrolled at Northern Michigan University. She worked in secretarial and administrative assistant positions for 25 years, including a long stint in the superintendent's office for the Marquette Area Public Schools.
"I left there in 2010 to devote more time to Snowy Plains, our home business: dog sledding adventures and my children's books," Winkowski said. "Currently my husband, Jim, and I live with our family of sled dogs on forested acreage in Sands Township."
When the U.P. 200 Sled Dog Race became a reality in 1990, it had a profound effect on animal lover Winkowski.
"My inspiration to become involved in dog sledding came from the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run sled dog races; I was forever changed, watching the very first U.P. 200 sled dog race," she said. "When Jim and I started out in the sport dog sledding, we felt it was too good to keep to ourselves, and by the mid-1990s, we had began sharing experiences with others. "Writing about the dogs evolved naturally."
As a former editor of Above the Bridge - a magazine about the Upper Peninsula that won Winkowski and her sister, Judy, Michiganians of the Year honors from the Detroit News - she had experience with writing.
"In 2004, I wrote the first draft of 'Miki's Challenge.' Students in the Marquette schools were my greatest inspiration," Winkowski said. "Periodically over the years I was invited to present about dog sledding. Once, when I had just finishing telling children about some of the amusing things the dogs did and how they acted, a boy wearing a big smile said to me: 'What you just said ... write about those things. Write like that!' That touched and stayed with me."
That first book led to another... and another...
"'Miki's Race,' which details ups, downs, and surprises during Miki's sled dog races, followed a year after 'Miki's Challenge'," Winkowski said. "I have completed several other titles which I hope reformat to match the updated style of 'Miki's Challenge,' 'Miki's Race,' and 'Promise of the White Dog'."
Winkowski said she is deeply affected when people respond to her books.
"Among reader feedback is that much can be learned about the sport of dog sledding through my books," she said "All contain positive life lessons for children. The messages are not forced but emerge naturally within the stories: Believe in yourself. Always do your best. Try, try again. Find victories in everyday life."
The latest, "Promise of the White Dog," is fictionalized but inspired by real occurrences. In this book, in addition to Winkowski's photos are shots from Aladino Mandoli of Ishpeming and Lisa Dietzen of Marquette.
"In the hardcover version the photos turned out so lovely, I hope besides viewing it as a children's book, people will want to add it to their collection of coffee table books," Winkowski said.
The three will speak on "The Magic of Dogsledding," Tuesday at Peter White Public Library in Marquette Tuesday and at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton Feb. 21.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.