walter oatman

Walter, the orphaned donkey and mayor of Oatman, is shown with his family, Brad and Kelly Blake, left. Above is the cover of “Walter Finds a Home,” the first in a series of children’s books about the burro. 

Walter, the orphaned donkey from Oatman, became a mayor the same way Cat Smith became a writer – thanks to a misfortune that turned into a career. Now, together they are happily conquering the children’s literature market.

The first book of a “Walter The Orphaned Donkey Series” titled “Walter Finds A Home” was already published on Nov. 10 and the response has been overwhelming, the author said. A book signing will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21 in downtown Oatman.

Walter the orphaned donkey is a known sensation in Mohave County and in various social media circles. Rejected by his mother, he found a new home at Brad and Kelly Blake’s house in Oatman. When the Federal Bureau of Land Management gave the Blakes a call in 2019, they had no idea they would end up with a growing burro as a roommate. Walter was born next to the old schoolhouse, which happens to be the set of a 1962 epic Western movie, “How the West Was Won.” Brad was the one who managed to make the baby finally start eating, saving it from death.

Smith – on the other hand – became a writer after getting sick with lupus as a child and realizing that her dreams of becoming a navy nurse or an FBI agent were not feasible. For many years she has been working as a journalist for papers including the Mohave Daily News and The Needles Desert Star. Like many others, she saw Walter’s story online, decided it was the cutest thing ever and reached out.

After some exchanges with Brad and Kelly, the decision was made. They would write a book. It was January 2020.

“It took me two months to write it,” Smith said of her debut as a children’s writer. “We are already halfway through book two.”

Each book will feature a different Walter adventure, all based on his real-life experiences.

“So, for example, we have Walter going to a farmhouse and Walter taking a road trip,” Smith explained.

The Blakes hope that Walter’s story of being rejected and finding a new home will inspire children and anyone who struggles with obstacles in life.

“We want him to be an emotional support animal,” Blake said.

Because of COVID-19, the Walter crew hit a brick wall at one point last winter, but got a “go ahead” in May. From early June, things started to happen fast and a week after the release, they are delighted and surprised by the response.

The first 500 copies were signed by the crew in Walter’s home. Walter was involved in the process, as his hoof print testifies on each of the copies (they use a hoof stamp). Sales were brisk, and another 3,000 copies have been shipped.

The publisher is Armagon Press that belongs to Smith’s mother – Anne Z. Smith, CEO/public relations coordinator, who secured a publishing company out of New York.

“We connected with Archway Publishing, an online subsidiary of New York publishing giant Simon & Schuster,” Anne Smith said. “They work with a lot of children’s authors who are just starting out.”

Let it be a tribute to Walter’s fame that Mississippi illustrator Jasmine Smith (no relation to the writer) knew about him before she was asked to draw him.

Picked from a list of illustrators by Cat, Jasmine had already encountered Walter online.

“When I first saw samples of the illustrations, I felt that Jasmine is inside my head,” Smith said. Now, they are talking about an animated film.

To order your first edition copy, visit www.walterthewonderdonkey.com. Books cost $12.95 each and ship in two to four weeks.

The book is also available for purchase in Oatman, and can be found at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts and local libraries.

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