Epps family

From left, Don, Sarah, Charlie and Vickie Epps, show off their new book titled Finding Lost Smiles, which was just published.

• Story follows boy ‘Finding Lost Smiles’

ERIC SPRUILL

Vickie and Don Epps always had the idea of writing a children’s book in the back of their minds. 

What started as an idea, soon became a reality for the couple.

Don, who serves as the principal at Royster Middle School, is known for his jovial attitude and creative ideas, while Vickie, a kindergarten aide at Chanute Elementary School, is a talented writer.

Together they are a very creative couple.

“It was an idea that had been rolling around in my head,” Vickie said. “After school started, I dropped Charlie (their son) off for school one day, I sat down and started mapping it out. Don got home from work and he took a look at it and he said ‘Yeah, this is a book. We need to do this.’” 

“I knew she had something,” Don said. “She asked if I would help out. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a very different kind of person. I am very creative and always have some crazy ideas, so I was all on board. But the most important part of the process is having an intelligent wife who is an extremely good writer.”

The end result of their hard work was Finding Lost Smiles. 

The story follows a young boy named Sam who always has a smile on his face. He has the ability to cheer everyone up with a simple smile, until he meets two new students who he just can’t seem to make happy. He can’t figure out why they refuse to smile.

While several people in Chanute managed to snag a copy of the book last week, the writers didn’t receive their first copy until Thursday.

But they have heard nothing but rave reviews about their book, which teaches children not everyone is happy all the time. 

“The thing that surprised me and I have been touched by is I wrote it for kids so if they see somebody (and) you can tell something is wrong, then you can react. But the response we have got from some of the adults has been unbelievable. It really reaches them on a level I didn’t anticipate. I have had adults say, ‘Well, I sobbed for 20 minutes’ – that was never my intent. They always say, ‘No, no, it was a good feeling,’” she said. 

“It’s a story that we can read to our kids so they can recognize maybe somebody isn’t having their best day and there is something you can do, which is just to be kind. Have a meaningful moment with them just showing them you care. Just a small everyday moment that can make a difference for somebody in a classroom or someone you pass in the hallway.”

The couple began the project last fall with everything falling into place like it was destined to happen. They had faculty members at RMS help them edit their work in progress.

Then when they hosted Brian Aspinall — a writer, educator, speaker and now a publisher — for a clinic at the school, everything was set into motion.

“I didn’t even know he helped people with books. I was driving him to the airport and on the way he mentioned he was helping two people get children’s books published,” Don said. “I mentioned to him that me and my wife were working on a book and he told me to send it to him. So we got it together and I put in a PowerPoint presentation. He looked at it right after he finished speaking to a school and he said we have to do this book.”

From there it was a process that involved several people. Aspinall started up his own publishing company named Codebreaker on the Canadian side of Detroit. He sent it to a group of editors. From there it went to an illustrator named Alexandria Masse, who is a college student from Canada. 

“We have never met Alexandria other than on the phone. She hand-painted every picture in the book over the course of two months. The COVID-19 pandemic really helped in getting this done so quickly. She is a student, so once the quarantine started she had all this extra time. The publishing company wasn’t working on anything either. Everyone had a lot of time on their hands,” Vickie said.

The couple managed to keep the project a secret from their families. 

“We just couldn’t believe it until we saw it on Amazon,” Vickie said. “We didn’t want to tell everyone we were having a book published until we saw it.”

For a direct link to the book on Amazon, visit findinglostsmiles.com

“I just hope this book can help someone, that’s really all I care about,” Don said. “Of course I don’t want to go bankrupt in the process, but we did the book to help kids. I think it is a good book for school counselors to have, or a book every classroom should have, because it helps them recognize when someone is struggling. At the end of the book, we put a list of talking points parents or teachers can go over with the kids.”

Are there more books for the team in the future?

“I have a few ideas rolling around in my head,” Vickie said. 

Since Aspinall is from Canada, the Eppses have gained several followers on Twitter from the country. So if anyone hears Don rattle off, “Well, I am kind of popular in Canada,” this is what he is referring to.

Just don’t be surprised if the Chanute couple becomes popular across this country, too.

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