‘Wonky Donkey’ a Christmas tradition for local ‘grandma’

David Peck

Christmas cheer comes in many forms, and for one Lovell “grandma,” cheer was spread for many years in the form of a special gift that came with a performance.
Around five years ago, Lorna Fowler of Lovell received a recommendation from her daughter, Colleen, that she just had to watch a YouTube
video of a Scottish grandmother reading the children’s book “The Wonky Donkey” to her tiny grandson, laughing her way through the reading.
“It was so funny,” Fowler said of the 2010 book written by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley. “The Scottish grandma laughs so hard she can barely read. I thought, ‘I have to buy some of those books for my grandchildren.’”
So she ordered five books, and they were backordered, so she ordered five more from a different source, then another.
“I went to a couple more places, and all of a sudden I had 15 of those books,” Fowler said. “Now what do I do?”
Then she had an idea. Why not give the books away? She bought a five-gallon bucket and made some caramel popcorn, some homemade bread, grape jelly and parched corn and put the goodies into the bucket with one of the books.
She contacted some families and said they could have the book and the treats if they would gather together for a performance – Lorna reading the “Wonky Donkey” with her best imitation of the Scottish grandmother.
“The rule was that the whole family had to be there when I did my thing – Mom, Dad and everybody – my presentation of ‘The Wonky Donkey,’” Fowler said. “I read it to the family, and we watched it on YouTube, and they also put it to music.”
One of the recipients of the presentation and goodies was the Ron and Beverly Morrison family, and they very much enjoyed “The Wonky Donkey.”
“When she read it, she showed the pictures so the kids could see the story,” Beverly said. “We pulled up a chair especially for Lorna.”
“The Wonky Donkey” was a hit.
“I gave away all 15 books,” Fowler said.
Another of the families benefitting from Fowler’s generosity and talents was the Michael and Nicole Hendershot family, and a few months later, with the holidays in sight, then 4- or 5-year-old Wyatt Hendershot approached Fowler seeking another performance.
“I thought it was a really fun tradition every year, how we watched all of the videos and she read to us,” Wyatt, now 9, said.
“This little, sweet darling came to me the next year and said, ‘Sister Fowler, what book are you going to bring us this year?’ Well, Sister Fowler was not planning on bringing a book, but I investigated and found he (Craig Smith) had written a second book, ‘The Dinky Donkey,’” Fowler said. “I went  back and bought about 15 more books, plus, families found out about the first one, so I had to order more of ‘The Wonky Donkey,’ too.
“Lom (husband Lomand) has never said a word, but I’ll bet I’ve given 100 books away. Even some of the little kids at church
started calling me the Wonky Donkey Grandma.”
A year later, Smith came out with “The Grinny Granny Donkey,” then “Wonky Donkey’s Big Surprise.” The tradition continued, Fowler ordering books, making treats and visiting families for the grand presentation.
“It just grew,” she said. “There weren’t as many (new families), but it escalated.”
Sometimes the families would come to her. For instance, she said, Kenny and Rosie Grant brought their kids Lexi and Lucy to the house to read books with Lorna.
About the time book number four came out, COVID-19 hit, and Fowler couldn’t go out to homes anymore. She still gave books away, but she could no longer do the presentations.
All in all, “The Wonky Donkey” series and Lorna Fowler’s generosity and presentations have made a lasting impression.
Morrison remembers what it meant to her family.
“Wendy (Winterholler, daughter) came down from Billings with her family at Thanksgiving, and it was just so awesome,” Beverly said. “My little grandkids got the biggest kick out of it. They laughed and laughed. They thought it was the greatest thing. It was awesome to have Lorna come and share that. It just made our day.”
Michael Hendershot noted other benefits beyond entertainment.
“Since (Fowler read) ‘Wonky Donkey,’ Wyatt has been much more proactive about reading to us and has become very good with her enunciation and intonation, bringing life to the stories,” he said.
For Lorna Fowler, it’s all about learning and nourishing both the brain and body, fitting, since she cooked for and fed children for 27 years as a Lovell lunchroom cook.
“It’s such an important thing,” she mused.