Lennon & McCartney. Rogers & Hammerstein. Raffa & Rigsby.
Maybe the last two don’t roll off the tongue like the others, but island resident Edwina Raffa, along with Annelle Rigsby, are the authors of five books (four children’s and one adult) over a twelve-year period. Their co-author experience, however, began strictly as an academic exercise.
“Annelle was curriculum specialist at The Sanibel School, while I was school councilor there as well as at the Beach Elementary School,” said Edwina, a fourth-generation Floridian who moved with her husband Joe to Fort Myers Beach in 1973 to open the first of two pharmacies. “The principal at Sanibel was Barbara Ward, who wanted to apply for the Blue Ribbon School Award, and that is a huge undertaking. She asked us to write the presentation, and we learned we could work together, so when we retired, we gave writing a book a try!”
It was Joe who suggested the Wright Brothers as their first topic, leading to “Race to Kitty Hawk.” This was in 2003 and “even though none of us realized it, lo & behold, that was the centennial year of flight! Silver Moon Press from New York City not only picked it up, but arranged for Annelle and I to attend the first flight celebrations in North Carolina, then tour schools all around the county.”
“Race to Kitty Hawk” is their only book to use an illustrator. “Ordinarily the publisher assigns one to their authors, but we recommended Wellington Ward, who was a wonderful maritime artist and the husband of Principal Barbara. Silver Moon not only accepted him because of the quality of his work, but his grandfather was one of the lifesavers at the adjacent Kill Devil Hills and actually knew the Wright Brothers, so there were all kinds of unique connections.”
Escape To The Everglades
Following their initial success, they began their second book in 2006, reasoning that “since we live in Florida, why not do something on Florida history! We knew 4th graders study Florida history and social studies, so we wrote ‘Escape To The Everglades’ about a 14-year-old boy in the 2nd Seminole War.” In addition to the book, they authored a teacher’s guide with programming and historical notes detailing the real events. “We went around Florida, taking the presentation into schools, and would dress students in Seminole clothing and sing a song. At the end, we gathered the class around a faux campfire, turned out the lights, and read them the first chapter.”
Shortly thereafter, Edwina received the compliment of her career: “The Brighton Seminole School asked if we could talk to their kids, as their students use our book for culture and history, and that alone is quite the achievement. Unfortunately, Annelle could not attend so I went alone, and was so touched when a teacher told me ours is the only book they have that tells a story from the viewpoint of a Seminole boy, and that became the highlight of the whole deal!”
Edwina and Annelle followed the same successful formula in 2008, with “Kidnapped in Kew West,” about Henry Morrison Flagler and the railroad across the Keys, including historical notes and teacher’s guide. “It is ideal for teachers because they can use it for science, as it is full of flora and fauna, as well as for language, art and social studies, with activities, puzzles, and crafts. And we made a very fortuitous connection!”
Car 91, Where Are You?
As they concluded their research, they spoke to the giftshop manager at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, who suggested their Executive Director proof-check their manuscript, and that led to a wonderful relationship. “The Executive Director not only wrote a recommendation for the book, but sent us to their Palm Beach partner school and set up a museum celebration including kids with Flagler’s Railroad Car #91 that transported him to Key West. They arranged for us to go to schools throughout the state, as well as to the Florida Reading Association Conference, then, lo and behold, 2012 was the centennial of the completion of the railroad. The Flagler Museum sent us to all 20 elementary schools in the Keys and bought books for every 4th grader! They became pretty much our sponsors, and we are so grateful.”
They switched gears in 2014, writing their first and only adult book entitled “The Christmas Anniversary” that “a lot of people tell us is funny. It is about a couple a few weeks shy of their 50th anniversary who decide to divorce, sending their five children into hysteria and plotting all kinds of ways to get them back together.” Edwina and Annelle returned to their roots the next year with “Ghost of Gator Island,” about the Calusa that is an adventure story for kids.
If you would like to acquire their books, they are available locally at the Mound House, Edison/Ford Winter Estates, Local Color, Annette’s Book Nook, or order them from Barnes & Noble or online from Amazon, as well as finding them at the Fort Myers Beach Library.
Unfortunately, life intervened and their partnership ended: “Annelle moved to Gainesville, and I sure hated to see her go,” explains Edwina. “It was so much fun doing the books together, and easy to bounce ideas off one-another. If one of us got down, the other picked her up. My husband would always say there is too much laughter going on for us to be doing any work! Annelle really understood me and her companionship made the projects fun.”
Due to that relationship, Edwina has no plans for any solo works, but she does long for the creative process: “Something happens when you get caught up in the adventure of the story! You get so that you place yourself in the book, where you know your characters as people and they become real to you, and I do miss that, but what we accomplished together I wouldn’t trade for anything – it’s been quite a ride!”