In Arts & Entertainment

Lulu and Rocky land on our shores via the Lake Express Ferry from Muskegon, Michigan. (PHOTO: Renee Graef)

Homegrown children's book offers a fun tour of Milwaukee

Milwaukee-area author Barbara Joosse and illustrator Renee Graef have created "Lulu & Rocky in Milwaukee," in which two cute characters discover the charms of the Cream City.

Hailing from Michigan, a couple fuzzy cousins hop the Lake Express Ferry to explore Milwaukee. They check in at The Pfister, drop their bags and are off to the Urban Ecology Center to canoe the Milwaukee River, they eat cheese curds in the Third Ward, take the obligatory photo with the Bronze Fonz, have a fish fry at Lakefront Brewery and more.

I asked author Barbara Joosse about this fun jaunt through Milwaukee.

OnMilwaukee: I'd love to hear about the genesis of "Lulu & Rocky in Milwaukee."

Barbara Joosse: When Renee and I first conceived of the Milwaukee book, we didn't have a series in mind. What we wanted was to put Milwaukee's fancy foot forward. There's no city like our city. We've lived in or nearby Milwaukee most of our lives and are entirely smitten. We wanted people who live here to remember why they love Milwaukee and people who've never been, to fall in love with our quirky charm. Our favorite (and frequent) comment its, "I love this book because it feels like us." We wanted to reflect the true spirit of Milwaukee, not just the places.

Who are Lulu and Rocky and why are they in Milwaukee?

I've been a fan of Eloise since childhood and enjoy writing in her breathless, bubbly voice. So Lulu took on something of the Eloise persona. In the original writing, there was no Rocky. Aunt Fancy traveled with Lulu. But Sleeping Bear Press, our publisher, wanted a more male vibe, so we created Rocky. Pufferson pretty much just plopped in the story and stole my heart. Aunt Fancy will remain elusive. We will see her fancy, purple-gloved hands writing letters, but never her face. I will say this about Aunt Fancy. She is. Fancy. And she loves the little fox cousins.

Lulu lives in Michigan. Renee wants Rocky to live out west somewhere, which is okie doke with me. We haven't officially given him a home town, but west seems to fit. We MAY have to explore to find just the right place. Aunt Fancy lives ... somewhere fancy. Maybe Paris. Yes, I think Paris.

Which brings me to why. Beyond Milwaukee, which we wrote for sheer love of the city, why did we want to do a series? he he. Renee and I absolutely love each other, and when her boyfriend – now husband – snatched her out of Cedarburg to move to L.A., we missed each other. So ... we cleverly created a series that brought us together several times a year, to travel and adventure together.

Was it at all a struggle to decide what to include and what to exclude?

It wasn't difficult to decide what to keep. It was, in a way, like formulating the ingredients of a cake. No ingredient dominates. All are important. One depends on the other to work. We wanted Lulu and Rocky to be active. We wanted art to be a huge presence and include the soul illuminating Brise Soleil and celebratory Chihully sculpture. We wanted the purest bit of Milwaukee there is (in my opinion): the fish fry at Lakefront Brewery.

And, hey, we got a little bit of flack from that. A few reviewers criticized us for including a (horror!) brewery venue and having Pufferson drink something that might be beer! No one from Milwaukee criticized because we know breweries and taverns in Milwaukee are family places. I took that critique as a high compliment: I reflected a true Milwaukee! So choosing wasn't difficult. We wanted the mix and chose our favorites pure and simple.

Did you and Renee do the actual itinerary that they follow?

Renee and I have been to all these places a zillion times. But we didn't do them as a tour. However, I am writing a "Lulu & Rocky Walking Tour of Milwaukee" for Historic Milwaukee.

The book, of course, is a great souvenir of the city. Did you have that in mind when you wrote it? Was that your intended audience?

I want people from Milwaukee to send this to snobby relatives as bragging rights. I want people to live here to have soft hearts when they think about their city. I want classes to go to these places together, and have photo ops in these places, and meet the concierge at The Pfister and eat fried cheese curds.

I want visitors to buy this book before they come and visit Lulu-tested fave places. But, more than anything in the world, I want the DNC to come to Milwaukee and for attendees to take this book home, suitcase by suitcase, and read to their kids and grandkids all over the country and have Milwaukee get under their skin.

Will Lulu and Rocky visit other cities from their home, presumably, in Michigan?

Lulu and Rocky will visit other cities in this series, "Our City Adventures." Next up, Detroit. Then Nashville and Austin. We won't write about a city unless we we love it, too, and that it has a story to tell. But nothing will shine like Milwaukee.

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