October 24, 2021

Water buffalo done CNY style

Photos by Katie Keyser/contributing photographer

From left, Sadie LeBlanc, 11, her greatgrandmother, Jane Newman of Cortlandville, Penelope LeBlanc, 9, and Jane’s granddaughter, Bethany LeBlanc of Lansing.

Water buffalo have a special place in the Newman household.

Every year, Jane and her late husband, Will Newman, would buy shares of a water buffalo from Heifer International at Christmas time for their grandkids.

“One year we did a camel,” said Jane Newman of Cortlandville.

“We joke, ‘We all have a herd of water buffalo,’” said Bethany LeBlanc of Lansing, Newman’s granddaughter.

Now the animal is the subject of a children’s book, newly published by Newman and LeBlanc.

Their “Jennifer and the Water Buffalo,” was self published by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing in March. It will hit large book stores this month.

Newman provided the story — a true story — and she and LeBlanc did the illustrations.

“I think it’s special,” LeBlanc said. “It tells a story about the family and about the Heifer International Project and helping. And it’s about kids and their imaginations.”

“It was fun. It was a little difficult to figure out water buffalos. I usually paint water color landscapes,” LeBlanc said.

A generous share

Heifer International allows people to buy shares of, or pay the full price for, animals that are given to families in need in other countries who use the animals for milk or farming.

One year, Newman’s granddaughter Jennifer, then a 5-year-old, was talking to Newman’s late husband, Will — asking what a share is — and started imagining what each of her cousins would do if they had a water buffalo in upstate New York.

“A water buffalo could help Michael hunt for salamanders in the creek,” she told her grandfather.

“Kaitlyn could practice the oboe while sitting on it’s back.”

“If Annie had a water buffalo, she could practice volleyball with it,” the little girl said.

A page from “Jennifer and the Water Buffalo,” by Jane Newman and Bethany LeBlanc.

Newman, a retired teacher and child psychologist, who’s also an artist, was so captivated she immediately wrote the story down.

“It was just delightful,” Newman said. She resolved to make it into a book.

She worked with LeBlanc, of Lansing, a home-schooling mother of three and artist, to make it a reality.

The story had been laying in a stack of papers for more than 10 years.

“I slowly started to do illustrations,” said Newman, after writing the story down. “I did them about this big,” she said, pointing to an 8 by 11 inch paper.

When she approached a printer to recreate them for a book, she was told:

“Oh no. You have to do them really large. And they shrink them and they have more detail and color.”

Newman got discouraged and stacked the paintings in a closet.

“I took them out and said, ‘I am either going to tear this up or burn it or finish it,” she said.

Last summer, she asked LeBlanc for help. “I helped draw out some pictures and painted some of them,” LeBlanc said.

The children’s book would be appropriate for 5 to 12-year-olds, Newman said.

Providing for family

When Newman and LeBlanc were done with their pictures, they spread them out on the floor. LeBlanc’s three children, who were elementary to pre-teen in age, looked them over and suggested edits.

“A bird’s nest is missing from this one,” said Penelope LeBlanc, 9.

“And the most important part that I tried to show grandmother was the bird’s nest,” said Sadie LeBlanc, almost 12. “I wanted them to be hidden. Grandmother drew them. I thought it would be cool to have activities (to look for). I like to have hidden stuff.”

“I am also writing a book, inspired by grandmother,” Sadie LeBlanc said. “I want to put it on Amazon.”

According to Heifer International, the water buffalo provides milk for families, allows farmers to till their fields easier than doing it by hand, and provides fertilizer for crops.

The water buffalo is used more than any other animal in India, Southeast Asia and parts of South America. And it can be sold for medicine and clothing.

Any babies the animals have are given to other families, Newman said.

“It feeds them, supports them, sends kids to school,” Newman said. “This started years ago.”

Before Heifer International, Newman’s brother-in-law, the late Kermit Riehlman, used to send heifers abroad, she said. “And other local farmers (did that), not just him.”

Grandma Camp

Newman and LeBlanc have gotten together every week, the last five years, to paint.

“Sharing ideas and painting is helpful to the creative process,” said Newman, who has been painting off and on for 63 years.

LeBlanc has just started showing her paintings out in the community, at Ithaca Bakery and at Hopshire Farms Brewery.

“We love coming here,” said Sadie of Newman’s country home.

The great grandkids call it “Grandma Camp.” Once a week in the summer, they do special activities, whether a swimming trip to Yaman Park in Cortland or a visit to The Museum of Science and Technology in Syracuse, which has an excellent ball pit, the kids say.

Newman is working on her next book, “Jennifer and the Zabbarators.”

A zabbarator?

“It’s a word Jennifer made up,” Newman said. “She said it was for catching bears.”

The book is already written, Newman said.

And there’s another one after that: “Jennifer and the Chocolate Chip Cookies.”