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Petaluma author takes kids back to nature

  • Author Nina Gruener's fifth children's book is 'Lulu & Pip.'

Nina Gruener of Petaluma grew up spending summers at Pinecrest Lake with her grandfather, aerial photographer Robert Cameron, whose many books feature bird's-eye views of cities across the globe.

In the summer, when she yearns to unplug from modern life, she grabs her family — husband, Chris, and kids Wes, 7, and Audrey, 4 — and heads back up to that rustic lake 30 miles east of Sonora.

“We go up to the mountains where we don't get service,” said Gruener, who with her husband, owns Cameron + Company, a boutique publisher in Petaluma. “It feels like the land that time forgot.”

The alpine lake, stocked with rainbow trout and nestled in a pine forest, was the inspiration for her fifth children's book, “Lulu & Pip,” released in May by Cameron + Company.

Part “Pippi Longstocking” and part “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the book is a tribute to a time in the not-so-distant past when kids played outside all day and let their imaginations run wild. Somewhere along the way, that childhood got hijacked by electronic devices, and Gruener is not happy about it.

“Childhood should be wireless, but in the truest sense of the word,” she wrote in an essay. “Camp-outs and crackling fires, road trips and kick-the-can 'till the streetlights come on, flushed cheeks and dirty fingernails.”

Like Gruener's 2011 book, “Kiki and Coco in Paris,” “Lulu & Pip” centers around a little girl (Lulu) and her beloved rag doll (Pip). Both books feature the whimsical photographs of Stephanie Rausser of Petaluma.

“The way she captures children is so sweet but almost mysterious in a way,” Gruener said. “Her work is kid-friendly and colorful, and kids are drawn to it.”

Lulu is a spunky redhead who leaves the busy city to go on a rustic camping trip. In the city, Lulu and Pip are surrounded by cellphones that keep people from seeing the world around them.

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