A small-town high school English teacher is earning praise in a big way for her new children’s book.

A small-town high school English teacher is earning praise in a big way for her new children’s book.

Earlier this month, Jolene Lewis held a book signing at the Healdton Library for her new short novel, “Who Needs Girls?”

“I’m a teacher and I want children to read and to love to read and to want to read, so that’s my aim, to put books out there that children will enjoy. I think kids have enough on their shoulders without having to deal with divorce and death, so reading should be an escape,” Lewis said.

The story focuses on a 9-year-old boy named Dink, who learns the meaning of love and loss from a retired circus horse, and on his journey he learns how family — even one with four girls — can be the nicest thing in the world, she said.

“It’s really about dealing with disappointment and seeing the value of your family no matter if they are girls,” Lewis said. “It’s really based on some of my own family.”

The 142-page book made the USA Book List and is the recipient of the Gold Seal Award by Mom’s Choice Book Award. Despite the praise she’s getting, Lewis is still shocked by people’s reactions, she said.

“What’s funny is the adults like it as much as the kids do. I have adults that walk up to me in the grocery store and tell me, I’m on the part where ... and I just kind of laugh to myself because these are adults getting excited,” she said.

But the book wasn’t always so well received. Lewis nearly gave up on it a few years ago, after a two-page rejection letter from a publisher in New York City. But Lewis said she got a welcomed surprise from her daughter, Joni Atha, who illustrated the book, then fought to get it published.

“It left her a little teary-eyed. I don’t even think she ever thought the book would be printed,” Atha said. “This book was special to me because I like horses, and the character is based on my uncle, my mom’s brother. So it’s based on her family and some of the things are based on events that actually happened. So it’s special to me.”

Hafabanan Press, which is based in Channing, Texas, first agreed to publish the book about two years ago. And 11-year-old Healdton resident Cameron Webb couldn’t be happier to read a story about somebody who is really cool, he said.

“I love horses too and I really don’t like my sister that much,” he said. “Because you don’t know what they’re going to do next.”

Keith Howard, 221-6542