Like many children, Stella Bonner sometimes had trouble falling asleep at night. One thing that always helped—hearing a story, or more specifically, she liked hearing her dad’s stories.

“They helped me turn off my brain and gave me something to dream about,” says Stella of her and her dad’s bedtime routine.

Her favorite story was one that Patrick Bonner ’02 came up with about four years ago. It was a tale of a young girl who had a magic pencil that allowed her to write her way into books. Since the story began, it changed and evolved as it went along and eventually became, what they called, “Darien the Librarian.”

One summer evening in 2019, Stella—now 10 years old—suggested that they turn the story into a book. Together, she and her dad started outlining ideas in note pads and on Patrick’s phone and soon after began typing chapters.

When COVID-19 struck, the father-daughter duo ramped up their writing. “We had been writing a little bit each night and had about four chapters done when quarantine hit. Then we had all this time together, so we said, ‘Let’s sit down and really write this,’” says Patrick.

Two hundred pages, 42 chapters and 50,000 words later, Darien the Librarian was brought to life as a middle grade fiction book. But the story doesn’t end there. At Stella’s urging, the Bonner family decided to use the new novel as a fundraiser to help those affected by the pandemic and ultimately raised over $27,000 for Feeding America.

Goonies Meets Harry Potter

The story of Darien is inspired a bit by the ’80s cult classic "Goonies," and a bit by "Harry Potter." There’s magic. There’s adventure. There’s time travel. There’s good versus evil. And underlying it all, there’s the bond of friendship and family.

In short, it is about a young girl named Darien who recently moves to Ocean Point, a fictional version of Scituate, Mass., where Patrick spent his summers growing up. As Darien tries to navigate her new life, she stumbles upon a magical ability to jump in and out of books. This ability is related to a 30-year-old mystery in the town that then sparks a series of adventures and discoveries.

There are two time frames in the story. The chapters alternate between a set of three girls—Inky, Blinky and Ro— in the late ’80s, years when Patrick was growing up, and then Darien and her two new friends, Bobby and Kim, in the present. Eventually, the stories converge.

The converging story line was a deliberate structure. “It was fun to write about my childhood and Stella’s childhood at the same time,” says Patrick. Stella notes how her father explained to her such novelties as landline telephones, Slush Puppies, penny candy and video rentals.

During Patrick and Stella’s early writing stage, before quarantine, Stella would bring new pages into school and read them to her class after recess. The enthusiastic response from her classmates spurred on the pair’s evening writing routine. “My class kept us motivated,” says Stella.

When the two hit the occasional writer’s block, they would take a break. “Stella never runs out. She saw the story in her head and had a vision. She is a tough editor and kept the story going. But we would definitely stop when we had to,” says Patrick.

Like Father, Like Daughter

A history major and political science minor at Stonehill, Patrick thought that maybe he would become a teacher, but when a teaching position didn’t open up after graduation and he and his then-girlfriend, Genevieve (Soucy) ’02, wanted to get married, he took a job in insurance and has been in that field ever since.

“I always had a thing for creative writing,” Patrick recalls. As a senior in high school, he wrote a one act play and later wrote a few screenplays. “I always liked stories and researched the science of writing—plot and character development—but I never gave writing the time it deserved. Once we had kids [along with Stella, Finley (9) and Leo (5)], I used stories to entertain them.”

When he committed to his oldest daughter on that summer night that they’d write the book, he knew there was no turning back. “When you make a promise to your kid,” he says, “you have to keep it.”

Like her dad, Stella loves stories. She reads—and sometimes rereads—almost everything she can get her hands on. Some of her favorite series are "Percy Jackson," the "Land of Stories," "The Descendants" and "Little House on the Prairie." Most recently, she completed the "Nancy Drew" books.

“My family jokes that I would read the dictionary, so we actually put that line in our book,” says Stella, who shares many traits with Darien. In fact, a number of characters and places in the story are a nod to Bonner family connections, and some names are those of Stonehill friends. “There is a character named after Jonathan Palmer ’03, my best friend from college, and one named after Cindy (Lau) Bonner ’04, my sister-in-law,” notes Patrick.

Like both her dad and mom, Stella has her sights set on Stonehill—Class of 2033. Her early thinking is similar to her dad’s initial intention. “I’d like to be a teacher,” she says.

A “Little” Fundraiser

Inspired by the fundraisers she was seeing on television during quarantine, Stella wanted to do something to help those in need. Rather than publishing and selling the book, the Bonner family decided to do a “little” Facebook fundraiser to raise funds for Feeding America, a nonprofit nationwide network of food banks that feeds more than 46 million people.

“Honestly, Genevieve and I thought we could maybe raise $200 from our family and friends. So Stella and I set the goal at $500 on Facebook and posted that we’ve written this book and would like to give away digital copies to anyone who makes a donation to Feeding America,” explains Patrick.

"The book became secondary to the fundraiser itself. I think it was the thought of this little girl giving up something that she spent so much time and effort on for the good of other people,” says Patrick Bonner ’02 of the $27,000 he and Stella raised for Feeding America.

In an hour and half, they had raised the $500. By 24 hours later, they had raised $2,000. The Bonners kept changing the goal, and the media caught wind of it. The Boston Globe, Patriot Ledger, WCVB-Boston, and an online parenting website among others—including a television station in New York City—featured the Bonner’s story and the donations kept growing.

By the time the fundraiser ended, the book had raised $27,365 to help feed those in need. That equals more than a quarter of a million meals donated because of Darien the Librarian. Stella proudly notes that donations came from all over New England, New York and New Jersey as well as the West Coast and Italy, Colombia and China.

“It was nice to see people coming together for a cause,” Patrick says. “The book became secondary to the fundraiser itself. I think it was the thought of this little girl giving up something that she spent so much time and effort on for the good of other people.”

Patrick is proud of the book, but that pales in comparison to how proud he and Genevieve are of Stella. In May, the Bonners were notified that Stella was nominated for a special Profiles in Courage during the COVID-19 Crisis Award presented by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. In August, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recognized Stella’s imagination, dedication and selflessness in her own Facebook post and wished her luck with the award. “Stella’s a really selfless person,” Patrick says. “She wanted to help.”

To Be Continued

Patrick and Stella are already working on the sequel to Darien the Librarian, which will focus on Bobby’s character. “The first book focused on mothers and daughters. We wanted to tell a story of strong girls. The second will have a father and son at the center,” says Patrick of their early vision.

Patrick is also writing a screenplay with Finley, his middle child, about where imaginary friends go once children no longer need them. “She has been wanting to write something but not a book, so we are writing a movie as our project together,” says Patrick.

“As you can see, I have a lot of writing to do,” he continues. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. When the day comes to a close, you’ll find Patrick in the spot he most enjoys—with his kids, telling them bedtime stories.

"When you make a promise to your kid, you have to keep it,” says Patrick Bonner ’02 of turning a bedtime story into a book. Here, with his wife, Genevieve (Soucy) ’02, and their children, Leo, Stella and Finley.

Darien the Librarian

An Excerpt from
CHAPTER 41: True Magic

It seemed like no matter how crazy the circumstances, parents are going to act like parents, and in Darien’s case, that meant…

“My parents really are dorks. Sorry about that,” Darien said, thumbs tucked underneath the straps of her backpack. Her mom had told her when she walked like that, it made her elbows flare out and she looked like a chicken. She had made a point of reminding herself not to do it the first couple days of school. But she was with one of her best friends now, and she didn’t care how she looked.

“Your parents are cool,” said Bobby. “And your mom reminds me a lot of my dad, actually. He had a way of having these little in-jokes with a lot of people. So, I know she wasn’t teasing me. ”

“Really?” said Darien. “I hope that’s OK…I hope it doesn’t upset you. Talking about your dad, I mean.” It was the first time they really talked about his father. He had been so honest and open about things in his letter, she was starting to wonder if he had written it thinking he’d never give it to her…or at least would never be able to talk about it with her if he did give it to her. “Bobby, your letter was—”

“I know. It was a little much. I just wanted it to be genuine enough…to work, ya know? I wasn’t sure if it would or it wouldn’t. But you, ah—You’re special. And like I said,” he took a deep breath. “You make me feel brave.”

That hung between them as they walked up the street. Darien had no idea what to say. So Bobby broke the silence he had created.

“Man, how cool is it that you literally are magic? Or like, have magic powers or something?” he said with a huge grin.

“It’s pretty crazy!” Darien smiled. “But as long as you’re saying such nice things…I think I have to tell you something. Something I figured out after I read your letter.” “What?” Bobby asked.

“I’m not sure if my magic…or powers…or whatever it is—I’m not sure if it works without you,” Darien said.

Bobby stopped dead in his tracks on the sidewalk. “Say what?”

“Well, I didn’t find your letter right away. I tried jumping back into some old newspapers, and it didn’t work. I was down in the basement of the library, surrounded by all these magazines and newspapers on one side of the room…and all these first edition books on the other. Everything we had been able to jump into before…together.” She paused as he looked at her, confused but enthralled.

“I tried everything to…I don’t know—channel my energy or summon my powers—it sounds crazy, I don’t even know what to call it. But nothing worked. The only story I was able to jump into without you around… was yours.” She patted him on the shoulder and started walking again up the sidewalk.

Bobby was absolutely stunned. He was so flabbergasted by the realization, so lost in thought about what it could mean, that he had to run to catch up to Darien.

“You’re not being serious…are you???” he asked, half out of breath.

Darien smiled at him. “I didn’t really put it together until I thought about when we all jumped back to that night at the lighthouse.” She could see Bobby looked confused. “Kim could barely swim. She was dragging me under, and then you held onto her hand and she turned into like…a mermaid. The only times I’ve ever jumped into books or any other kind of story have been with you. So who knows.” She shrugged. She was having fun blowing his mind with the revelation.

But then she thought about it a little more, stopped walking again and turned to him. “I will say this, though. I thought for a long time—and now I completely, absolutely, no-doubt-about-it believe that there’s magic inside of all of us. And we all just need to find the right way to let it out. So thanks for helping me find it.”

She smiled at Bobby. And he had nothing clever to say and nothing to add. So the two of them just started walking back up the street together in a comfortable, welcome silence.

Want to Read More of Darien the Librarian? Patrick and Stella’s book is now available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.