McHenry author, Island Lake illustrator collaborate on children's book series

  • Jeanne Sommerfield, left, and author Mark Sommerfield read from his book "Two Awesome Hamsters Stories Vol. 1" earlier this summer at Marvin's Toy Store in Crystal Lake.

    Jeanne Sommerfield, left, and author Mark Sommerfield read from his book "Two Awesome Hamsters Stories Vol. 1" earlier this summer at Marvin's Toy Store in Crystal Lake. Courtesy of Madison Sommerfield

Posted8/25/2023 6:00 AM

"Too Many Hamsters in My House!" and "The Hiccuping, Hopping Hamster" are not problems for furry pets in a local day care center.

Instead, they're two of the stories McHenry resident Mark Sommerfield has written for his children's book series, "Two Awesome Hamster Stories," since June.


Sommerfield, 70, said he had always been told he had a gift for writing, but it wasn't something he'd actually taken the time to do before he retired 14 years ago.

"Then, in 2019, I started getting ideas and writing things down" for book ideas, Sommerfield said.

He'd looked into self-publishing printed books, but one company wanted $5,000 for 350 books.

"Is this something just for rich people?" Sommerfield said he wondered over the cost.

Then, in June, Sommerfield and his wife, Jeanne, were walking near the McHenry Dam when they encountered Audrey Marie Hessler and her husband, Ross.

Hessler, 69, of Island Lake, is a retired English teacher who often speaks to Christian women's groups. She has self-published books -- journals and books written for her grandchildren -- on Amazon Kindle.

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The two couples started discussing friendly churches to try out and eventually talked about Hessler's work as a writer and illustrator and Sommerfield's desire to write books.

"When I first met Mark, I thought, 'I would show him how to do this,'" to publish online himself, Hessler said.

Instead, she has become an illustrator and editor for Sommerfield's book series.

So far, Sommerfield has two books, in both soft and hard cover, available on Amazon about his hamster characters. Each book includes two stories.

A third book, "Gramma and Grampster Hamster," is expected in a week or so. It will contain one story.

"We have a niche," Sommerfield said about his characters. "We are having a lot of fun with it."

None of the six children in their blended family, or their 16 grandchildren, had hamsters. But he wanted a character "that kids can relate to," Sommerfield said.


Not everyone likes dogs or cats, but he didn't know anyone who didn't like or who felt threatened by hamsters, he said.

What his stories do tend to focus on is acceptance and encouraging others, he said, adding that the upcoming "Buddy the Bearded Hamster" was an example of that.

Sommerfield said Buddy is a hamster born with a beard who worries people won't accept him, but learns that his friends and family love him the way he is."

"Everybody is different. They might feel 'I look strange,' but your friends and family love you for who you are. ... You are fine the way you are," Sommerfield said. "Never judge a hamster by its cover."

Sommerfield said he also hopes to inspire other retirees to pursue dreams they may not have made time for when they were working adults.

"Whether it is art, music or writing ... go for it," Sommerfield said. "You have the time now, even with kids and grandkids, to encourage other people."

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