Jerry Markham and The Wonderful Mr. Beans
An old donkey named Mr. Beans sure knows how to spread inspiration around for a semi-retired quadruped. How this rescue animal motivated Jerry Markham and his family to write, illustrate, and publish a children’s book, The Wonderful Mr. Beans, is a tale in itself, and a true one.
Jerry is a West Point graduate and veteran, and he and his wife settled in Madison just before the pandemic hit to be closer to one of their daughters in Guilford, and that’s how the story begins. Jerry says he has never written before but found himself pen in hand one late winter night writing a story about a nearby rescue farm that he and his wife, and editor of the book, Janice, had taken a shine to during the initial stretch of social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis.
Jerry and Janice live just across the river from the Ray of Light Farm in East Haddam, and Janice began visiting during COVID-19 and became a true believer in the rescue organization operated by Bonnie Buongiorne that takes in primarily equines, but also a host of other furry and feathered creatures.
“My wife found out about the Ray of Light Farm during the pandemic. She went up there because she loves animals and spent some time there. And remember, at that time, there wasn’t much you could do. Everything was shut down, there was all the social distancing, and when I found out, I thought maybe we can do something for them, and we started to do a bit of volunteering there. When we approached Bonnie, she was very receptive. We said we wanted to help in some way, and it worked out very, very well,” says Jerry.
As to how he came up with the story, Jerry says it’s pretty much Mr. Beans’ biography. Donkeys have a long tradition of being utilized by farmers to protect and keep cows company; when the real Mr. Beans was left without his cow responsibilities when his farm downsized, he ended up at Ray of Light, and Jerry tells his story.
“It was one cold winter’s day, and I just started putting pencil to paper…and it’s amazing how creative you can get sometimes. It just kind of came to me. I’ve got six grandkids, and I thought I’d write a story about Mr. Beans because we had kind of gotten to know the farm and the animals by that point, and Bonnie had told me about the history of Mr. Beans,” says Jerry.
According to Jerry, the collaboration with his family was a unique and deep experience they were all involved with.
“I gave the story to my wife, and she said, ‘Hey, this has potential,’ which coming from an English major is pretty good praise. We read it to the grandkids, and they really liked it. Then I showed it to my daughter Christy, who is an artist and teacher in Guilford, and she said, ‘If I do the pictures, will you try and get it published because this is really good.’ And the rest is history. I wrote it, my daughter did the illustrations, and my wife edited it, and my grandkids coached me as well. Especially with some of the words, and it truly became a family affair,” Jerry says. “The pictures really make the book. My daughter really makes Mr. Beans come alive, and to see the expressions on his face, this really makes it special. It is a really cool thing; it really makes me smile.”
Jerry says helping in the farm’s mission was important to him and his family, especially his wife, Janice.
“I wrote this specially for Ray of Light Farm. I really can’t say enough about them. They are a fabulous place,” says Jerry. “They really do incredible work, and the farm is an amazing place. They adopt and care for a whole array of animals, and I really hope the book reflects the love these folks and Bonnie have for these animals. My wife and I also volunteer there. You can “adopt” an animal and donate, and that’s the whole purpose of the book so that people can understand and appreciate what they do there.”
The project is so well-coordinated with the farm animals that many of its residents appear in the book, says Jerry.
“I like to call this a living book because the neat thing is that the animals that you read about in the book, Mr. Beans, all of them are actually animals on the farm. So, you can read to your child or grandchild about the animals, and then the next day, you can go and actually visit Ray of Light Farm, and they’re there on the farm. The crazy chicken, the peacock, all of them are there,” says Jerry.
Ray of Light Farm is a horse and donkey rescue facility in East Haddam that not only takes in these large animals and provides the care and health needs but also operates free public visiting tours and a host of inexpensive, hands-on animal programming as well.
The book, The Wonderful Mr. Beans, according to Jerry, is a story about a donkey who, in his past life, happily tended cows on a splendid farm. When the farmer and Mrs. Doodle can no longer manage the farm, Mr. Beans and his farm friends must find new homes, and while his friends find happy homes, no one wants a donkey who tends cows, Jerry explains.
Jerry says the book is geared toward children but has life lessons for all ages, many borne out of the pandemic experience and the challenges it thrust onto the public.
“Mr. Beans is eventually adopted and brought to the Ray of Light Farm. He is given a wonderful new home, but there are no cows, and that is his job. But eventually, Mr. Beans begins his new life. He meets new friends, and adjusts to his new home. Ray of Light Farm teaches Mr. Beans that kindness and love can provide a new chapter in his life, even without cows. It is a simple lesson, but one I hope everyone can take from,” says Jerry. “It’s a children’s book but also an adult one too. It has the theme of kindness and the theme of understanding and accepting change. So, I really hope everyone can enjoy some part of it.”
As to why the couple felt so strongly about Ray of Light, Jerry says he and his wife simply want to honor the work that Bonnie does at the farm. Costs are exceedingly high for large animal care; the hay alone for the animals can top $100,000 a year, so Jerry says every dollar helps the organization maintain its mission.
Jerry says the book is special for him and the three generations of his family that helped work on the project. The characters in the book can also be visited at the farm, including Mr. Beans and all his friends that the public can visit for free by contacting the farm.
“Ultimately, I hope we can in some way share the love that Ray of Light shares,” Jerry says.
The book can be purchased from online retailers, but purchasing directly from Ray of Light Farm ensures the greatest proceeds will go directly to the organization.
There will be an auction both in person and online to benefit Ray of Light on Saturday, Sept. 16. For more information or to register for the auction, visit www.rayoflight.org or call the farm at 860-873-1895, Thursdays through Mondays to book a free tour of the farm, 232 Town Street, East Haddam.