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"Claire, the Loon"

Writer/composer Aamodt pens kids' book 'Claire, the Loon'

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WALKER, Minn. - When selecting a title for her children's story, Joanne Aamodt couldn't resist using a play on words with a musical flair.

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What better name for a book featuring loons by one well-acquainted with Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" than "Claire, the Loon?"

The picture book, geared toward kids ages 4 to 8, takes readers on an adventure with the main character, Claire, as she makes her annual flight from the warm, southern waters of Louisiana to the now-melting spring lakes up north.

The Walker, Minn., author, cousin by marriage to local news and radio personality Al Aamodt, is both writer and musical composer.

"I've always been involved in music, so evolving into writing music was more of a natural thing," Aamodt says. Writing stories is a newer pursuit, though she adds that she always enjoyed writing papers and essays in college.

Though not her first published work, "Claire" represents Aamodt's debut as a children's author. She's also worked as a ghost writer for several full-length adult works.

A California native, Aamodt says she discovered and fell in love with loons when she and her husband, John, moved to their lake home in Minnesota in late 1999.

"They're really interesting and different, so I starting looking around in book stores to see if there were books on loons written for children," says Aamodt, a grandmother to four children, ages 5 to 9.

Her search was focused around the upper Midwest - "places where loons hang out," - but the pickings were slim. Any material for children was in textbook form, she says.

In a subsequent inquiry at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Aamodt learned that loon research is still in its infancy. "So I decided to write about loons for kids in an adventure story, and in a way that they'll be learning without realizing they're learning."

Aamodt spent two weeks writing the initial story, and many more editing. "I finally got to the story I wanted, and the day before it went to the publisher I added the poems, realizing how much the kids would love them."

Her publisher, Author House, matched her up with an illustrator. Despite the fact that he was unfamiliar with loons, and she had to help him "get the loon to look like a loon and not a duck," Aamodt says she's been very pleased with the end results, which are lively and vivid.

In a back page of "Claire," she's included a website where readers can go to learn about and track loons.

"Most loons from this area fly to Lake Michigan, and from there, south," she says. There they "eat and eat to gain strength" for the rest of their journey.

One loon tracked from Lake Michigan flew to the gulf, covering 1,700 miles in two days. "And that's not unusual," she says. "Also, though they may take off together, they fly individually or in little family groups."

The characters in the book are based on her family and dearest friends.

"Claire" can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But Aamodt is offering an exclusive deal to those who buy it through her - a free compact disc of Debussy's "Clair de Lune" with real loon calls embedded into the recording.

Her goal is to take the book on the road. "I hope to bring to as many children as possible factual information about this precious and social waterfowl," she says.

In time, she'd also like to write a sequel.

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