A red barn stands on a farm in Hope, Mich., where alpacas, goats and chickens were raised and apple and pear trees grew. When the Barbara Hagler and her husband, Dan, bought the farmhouse, it came with six chickens.
"One of them had a crooked beak," Hagler said. "This was Henrietta."
Because of her defect, the Araucana chicken couldn't pick up seeds with her beak. But weeks after her new owners moved to the farm, she was laying eggs—one of them blue. She was always special, and she became central character of Hagler's first children's book, "Henrietta's Hope," published in 2009.
Since then Henrietta has been buried on Hope Farm—not all chickens earned the same fate—and Hagler, a St. Louis native, moved from Michigan to Woodbury to continue promoting her six-book series set at her former rural home.
The second edition of "Speedy Steve the Rocket Rabbit" was released late last month and can be purchased at Barnes & Noble and other local bookstores. This week, Hagler is signing books from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 22, at Lake Country Booksellers, 4766 Washington Ave. in White Bear Lake.
"Speedy Steve," a story about a fun-filled animal race, is the first in a series of three Christian-themed children's books. Hope Farm Adventures also includes "A Pack of Alpaca" and "Buddy and Bully Goat." Hagler has also penned the Hope Farm Series—"Henrietta's Hope," "Julia's Joy," and "Luca Loves."
The 50-something's books are targeted to younger kids—second or third graders—with whom parents like to read aloud, Hagler said. Each book includes a Bible verse and faith-based lesson learned by animals given personalities by the author.
Speedy Steve, for example, is the speediest rabbit on Hope Farm. He loves to race in and out of Farmer Dan's garden, taking goodies while gloating to himself about his speed, until one day with the Hope Township race only weeks away, Speedy Steve pushes too far. He's not sure if he can represent Hope Farm in the race, or if he'll ever be speedy again.
Julia the barn cat, and of course Henrietta, make appearances in Speedy Steve's book. Also Benjamin the Plain Brown Bunny and Rita Rabbit teach Speedy Steve a lesson in true friendship.
All of the characters are animals from the real-life Hope Farm, the barn became the logo for the series, and Farmer Dan even makes appearances.
Aside from "Speedy Steve," the first edition of which was published in 2014, Hagler's most recent book was "A Pack of Alpaca," featuring the three most famous animals that lived on Hope Farm. National Geographic Wild called in 2015 to film alpaca gelding at the Haglers' farm.
The show aired on the day the family moved. Hagler watched it while sitting on a moving box in the garage. About 1-1/2 years Hagler's husband of 39 years was laid off, and Farmer Dan eventually got a new job in Woodbury.
They left daughter Melissa (husband Matt) Jones, daughter Rebecca Hagler, and son Jonathan (wife Michelle) Hagler in Michigan. And two dogs and Kit Carson the house cat made the move along with Hagler and her husband, who attend Crossroads Church in Woodbury.
Hagler has held 60 or 70 book signings since 2009. She thinks she's found her niche, and now she just needs to keep promoting it.
"For a long time I was looking for what my gift was," said Hagler, whose background is in teaching and children's ministry. "God said, 'I gave you a gift.' If it's good, it's God. If it's not, it's me. I always say God gave me some of the parts of the story."
The series doesn't turn a profit yet, because the profits are put back into what she sees as her ministry. She spends the profits to keep printing children's books.
What's next for Hagler's children's book series?
"I don't know," she said. "I kind of wait to see what God lays on my heart."
Will Woodbury show up in the next book?
"It's a good chance," Hagler said. Maybe the dogs will become the next stars of a story, she added, promising to be inspired here, too.
"I've just got to start thinking," she said.
The books can be purchased at tatepublishing.com/bookstore, barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.