Columbus, Ohio USA
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Mimi the Mermaid and the Pearl Necklace
Columbus Sisters Pen Inspirational Book

By Cindy Bent Findlay
May 2010 Issue

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Karin Wurapa with her two talented girls, Sydney (top) and Jordan . Photo © Raymond Wurapa.

Every spring, the St. Joseph Montessori School in Columbus gathers its students together with a collection of writers for the school’s annual Authors Day.

It’s a chance for kids at this Italian Village school to rub shoulders with the people behind the books they love, to ask questions about the characters, and learn a little about the craft of writing, first-hand.

This year, those students will have more than just a day with a pair of those authors. Two of them, Sydney and Jordan Wurapa, co-authors of Mimi the Mermaid and the Pearl Necklace, are students at St. Joseph’s themselves.

Mimi the Mermaid and the Pearl Necklace is the story of a young (yes) mermaid who finds a beautiful pearl and makes it into a necklace that she believes transforms her with its beauty. Without spilling any plot spoilers, Mimi learns an important lesson about beauty by the end of the book.

Equally as important and impressive is that the Wurapa family, spurred on by the sisters, decided the net proceeds from the book will be donated to Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Mimi the Mermaid was a character and a story written by Sydney, then 6, in her school journal. The girls write daily in their journals at school, says the girls’ mother, Dr. Karin Wurapa, and entertaining doodles, characters and plots are often born there.

“The book just came out, so not a lot of my friends have read it yet. But my friends do think it’s really cool to be friends with an author,” says Sydney, now 9.

“Sydney’s a doodler. She has lots of doodle pads and pencils, and she writes a lot,” says her mother. “Writing is a natural part of their school day, which made it easy to continue at home. And, Sydney’s an avid environmentalist! Both she and her sister love the ocean.”

Jordan, 7, also contributed much to the creative process, says Karin.

“I call her my jumping jelly bean. She’s so full of energy, she’s a person who will put on a raincoat and go out and jump in the rain. Her stories have so many quirky characters and names,” Karin says.

The Wurapa family makes a long trek from home in Blacklick to St. Joseph’s every day because it’s a very high priority to find just the right schooling for the family’s three creative children (brother Christian, now 5, is the family’s third St. Joseph’s student and also participated in the family writing round tables).

The Wurapas love the Montessori model because of its emphasis on engaging children, identifying learning styles, and helping them to lead their own educational journey, says Karin.

Karin, a physician in Family Medicine and Public Health Policy, is currently taking time off to focus on her young family. Dad and husband, Raymond, is an Orthopaedic Surgeon with The Cardinal Orthopaedic Institute, and also works with pediatric patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The same philosophy of learning through discovery that the family loves at St. Joseph’s led directly to the start of Mimi the Mermaid and the Pearl Necklace, says Karin. Sydney shared Mimi (who was originally named “Sid the Mermaid” after herself) with the family, who loved the story immediately and encouraged her to keep writing and to learn about pearls.

“So we started adding to the plot. We’d hear Sydney and Jordan giggling and talking about it in bed after the lights were out. We all chipped in every once in a while, talking about it around the dinner table.

Before you knew it, we all added to it,” says Karin. The book and this project has been a collaboration by the entire family.

Another life lesson Karin and Raymond wanted to instill pushed them on still farther.

“We’re really big on completing tasks and understanding the process,” Karin says.

The Wurapas together made a commitment to finish the book in 2008. “The book” at first meant a pretty copy bound and printed at Kinko’s for grandparents and posterity, says Karin, but gradually, it snowballed into something more.

“The more we went on, the more we thought ‘Hey, this is something we should publish,’” she says.

Illustrator Wendy Rasmussen came on board after the decision was made to self-publish the book. Rasmussen, a Pennsylvania artist, has illustrated some well-known children’s works, including a series of Beatrix Potter editions, the charming Police Cat, Cricket Magazine, and many more. The book’s engaging characters are given an extra personal warmth by Rasmussen’s charming renderings.

“It’s fun to know that you can help people learn the lesson in the book. Some people don’t really understand. They put a lot of makeup on and stuff that they think makes them beautiful, but they don’t realize that they don’t need it ,” Sydney says.

“The hardest part was writing all the words,” says Jordan. She means actually writing the book out with a pen, instead of typing it – Mom says the family emphasizes penmanship.

“I agree,” says Sydney. “It was partially hard to write it out. And, [during editing] it was kind of hard to put all of the words in the right places, and put the sentences where they belong.”

The most fun, says Sydney, was selecting and adding the illustrations to the book. “It was cool because it came to life and wasn’t just on writing paper. And now you can get it on the Internet or buy it at Barnes & Noble.” Jordan says her favorite part was actually getting the first copy and reading it.

A SJMS student waits for Sydney (left) to sign her book while Sydney’s mother looks on
during the Barnes & Noble book launch at Easton Town Center on April 23, 2010.
Photo © Courtesy of Barnes & Noble Booksellers-Easton Town Ctr.

At about the same time that the family decided to publish the book, they also decided the project should extend beyond them.

Sydney reminded the family about its own rule of money. “If you earn a lot of money, like $1,000, you’d take one third and spend it on what you want, give one third to charity, and you’d take one third and save it,” says Sydney.

In the past, the family has helped the food pantry at their church, and given to Goodwill.

Proceeds from the book are being donated to the Reach Out and Read Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital a program with a mission near and dear to the Wurapa family’s hearts.

Reach Out and Read addresses early literacy at Children’s primary care centers around Central Ohio, says Alyson Doyle, Assistant Director of donor relations for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Youngsters as tiny as six months on up to five years of age are read a story by physicians or volunteers at their well-child checkups, and are then given a book to take home with them. The program aims to increase both kids’ and parents’ awareness of the importance of reading and helps physicians evaluate their patients.

Doyle says the Wurapa’s interest in literacy and literature made the Reach Out and Read Program a natural fit for the family.

“It was a great connection for the girls, as young people learning to read. When we told them not everyone is getting that opportunity, they said they’d love to give to that program,” says Doyle.

Doyle says the hospital and the family together set a goal of raising $10,000 in the first year of the book’s publishing, and she says that’s not an unreasonable aim. After production costs, etc. are met, profit from every book sold will go to the hospital.

“The more you talk to donor families like the Wurapas, the higher the expectations they have [for fundraising],” Doyle says. “These little chicks are very smart, they had a business plan from the beginning; they wanted to pay it forward.”

Karin Wurapa says the Development Office at St. Joseph Montessori School has also been extremely supportive throughout the launch of the project and invited them to participate in the school’s Author’s Day event, “Authors in our Midst.” The event will take place on May 21 during the school day with presentations to all students, and writing workshops for some levels.

The pair and mom will be alongside noted authors Lisa Klein, Charles Coleman Finlay, Greg Bonnell and Rick Reiser. For a fun and inspiring theme, all of the authors at the event have some connection with St. Joseph’s this year.

Lisa Klein, a former SJMS parent, writes young adult novels with a historical perspective, including Ophelia, published by Bloomsbury’s Children’s Books. Charles Coleman Finlay, also a former SJMS parent, pens young adult science fiction. His most recent book, The Demon Redcoat, is the last of a trilogy.

Greg Bonnell, illustrator of My Mama Voted For Obama, and Rick Reiser, author of Percy The Perfect Chicken, are current SJMS parents.

A future Mimi the Mermaid signing will also take place at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers Pickerington store on Saturday, May 8 at 11 a.m. The book is available through the national chain, online, as well as through your local booksellers and You can also visit Mimi at for more information or to purchase the book.

At this point Jordan and Sydney both consider their career to be just beginning.

“I think we’re going to write more books,” says Sydney.

“I think we’re probably going to do another book about Mimi having responsibilities and taking care of a pet,” says Jordan.

“Jordan! You’re giving away the story!” admonishes Sydney.

The family laughs together.

For more information about St. Joseph’s Montessori School in Italian Village, visit their Web site at

© 2010 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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