Okinawa book by military spouses picture perfect for youngsters

Okinawa book by military spouses picture perfect for youngsters

Stripes Korea

Military spouses Tara Johnson and Courtney Chauvin both fell in love with Okinawa. Neighbors in a Yomitan apartment complex and both mothers of two young children, the two were hoping to find an Okinawan children’s book to carry the memories of the idyllic paradise they called home.

But they couldn’t find a book that met their needs, so they created a counting board book featuring 10 original paintings and called it Okinawa 123. They published the book 18 month ago and have since printed more copies.

Stars and Stripes recently reached out to the two creative military spouses, both back in the States with their families, to discuss their book and how they put it together.

Q, So, you were looking for a children’s book about Okinawa, but couldn’t find one. So, you just made your own?

Tara: Courtney and I lived across the hall from one another in an apartment in Yomitan. Courtney is an Air Force wife and I am an Army wife. We became fast friends and had lots of common interests and both have Fine Arts degrees (and Courtney also has an MFA). Courtney had first mentioned wanting to do an Okinawan coloring book, she is an incredible artist and I had seen some of her coloring book drawings. I am a graphic designer and knew how to turn her idea into reality since I have created lots of physical products for my work.  I helped her create “Color Me Oki” an adult coloring book dedicated to Okinawa. It’s so great by the way!

I helped her create “Color Me Oki” an adult coloring book dedicated to Okinawa. it’s so great by the way! Both Courtney and I gave birth to two children on Okinawa, and wish we had a book like “Color Me Oki” to read to them. We came up with the concept, and while Courtney did the paintings for the book, I wrote the rhyme that would tie it all together. We self-published and printed it.

Courtney: After four years of living on Okinawa, and both of us having our first two babies here, we each had a very special connection with the island and each other. It must have been on one of our many morning walks that the idea first came about. We had worked on the coloring book together previously, but we both realized there was a book missing on our children’s shelves: something educational that captured the magic of Okinawa. Tara is a powerhouse and has this special way of making ideas come to life. So, we put our backgrounds in fine art and graphic design to work and created Oki 123!

Q. How did you decide on the concept of the book?

Tara: We both just really love Okinawa. We spent lots of time walking through our small neighborhood in Yomitan soaking up so many aspects that make Okinawa magical, wishing we could live there forever. We really wanted to capture a few of those special things that our kids could fall in love with, too, in case they couldn’t fully remember the place they were so lucky to be born in.  The counting and colors idea is a pretty common one, but it had not been done in Okinawa, and we thought Okinawa needed one.

Q. How long did it take you to complete and publish the book?

Courtney: We joked a lot that the book was like a child we shared. Actually, around the same time we started to do the project, Tara got pregnant with her third child. The book was physically in our hands a couple of months before the baby was born, so the whole process took about 7 months.  We made some story boards, did the paintings, put the layout together, and had the book printed in Hong Kong and shipped by cargo ship to Okinawa. The book was released in May 2018 and we have already printed it a second time. Knowing that this book has become a special treasure to thousands of children has been really meaningful to both of us as moms and Okinawa lovers.

Q. What makes Okinawa123 so special?

Tara: Okinawa 123 is full of original beautiful paintings.  Each painting was created just for this book, and each page celebrates a special part of what makes Okinawa such a magical place.

Q. Is there another book or project in the future.

Tara: Of course! We won’t give it away, but since this book is for very young children (colors and numbers), our next book will probably be for slightly older children as we watch our own children grow up, too. We are excited to make another book we hope they will love.

Q. How can people get their hands on one.

Courtney: Okinawa 123 is available at, the Kadena Gift Corner, the Marine Gift Shop on Camp Foster, the Fleet Giift shop on Camp Shields, Jakkepoes Pancake House in Yomitan, and Esparaza’s Tacos & Coffee in Chatan.

Stars and Stripes readers can get 15% off with code STARS15 at

Anything else you’d like to add?

Courtney: Whether you or a friend of yours has lived in or visited Okianwa, Okinawa 123 is a great memento to celebrate the island and culture, or a great way to share it with someone else! In addition to books, we also offer gift sets which make a great unique gift for a baby shower or Christmas. Most of all, we are just happy to be able to share a place we both cherish with so many through the pages of this book.

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