Jefferson County naturalists Tiller and Cummiskey author of children’s book


FAIRFIELD — Jefferson County residents Brittney Tiller and Therese Cummiskey have collaborated on a children’s book, which they just released through Barnes & Noble.

Tiller is a Jefferson County Naturalist, a position she assumed in 2019 after Cummiskey left office. The two are good friends and have been posting educational nature videos online for a few years. It started in 2020 when the COVID pandemic made it impossible for Jefferson County Conservation to hold in-person programs, and online videos were one of the few ways to stay connected with area youth.

After making more than a dozen educational videos, the two came up with the idea of ​​writing a children’s book together. With the help of illustrator Denise Venteicher, Tiller and Cummiskey published “The Adventures of Toad and Timberdoodle: Leaving Winter Behind”. The names “Toad” and “Timberdoodle” are the nicknames Cummiskey and Tiller acquired, respectively, through their work at the nature center, which also became their nicknames for the video series they produced.

To celebrate the publication of their book, Tiller, Cummiskey and Venteicher will host a “Grand Book Opening” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, August 6 at Jefferson County Park, Camp Kyle Amphitheater west of the Nature Center. . They will have copies of the book for sale and plan to read it and answer questions.

The book follows the two main characters, a toad and a timberdoodle (also known as an American woodcock) as they encounter other creatures in the spring and learn how they survived the winter. Tiller said it was fun to write a book that tells all about the incredible lengths animals go to survive the freezing cold months, from migration to hibernation to isolation. She particularly enjoyed writing a book that focused specifically on local wildlife.

“I remember a long time ago, Therese said there weren’t a lot of Midwestern wildlife books out there,” Tiller said. “There’s a lot about the African savannah or the animals in the ocean, but there aren’t many books where all the animals are here. If the children looked at their backyard, they could see all these animals.


Where do these two nicknames of “Toad” and “Timberdoodle” come from? Cummiskey has been known as “Toad” for 35 years, but that wasn’t her first nickname. Before moving to Fairfield, Cummiskey worked at an outdoor education center in Ohio, where his boss required employees to have a “nature name.”

“He didn’t want the kids to feel threatened by calling us ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs’,” Cummiskey said. “We all had a ‘natural name’. There was ‘Craig Catfish’, ‘Chris Coyote’ and ‘Nancy Nighthawk’. I took the name ‘Therese Trilobite’ because I love fossils.

When Cummiskey started working for Jefferson County Conservation, she settled on a new nickname and chose “Toad”.

“It suited me just fine, having kids chasing me in Hy-Vee yelling ‘Toad! Toad!'” Cummiskey laughed. “I loved it.”

After Tiller was hired at Jefferson County Conservation, she also tried a few nicknames, such as “Brittney Bobcat,” but they didn’t stick. Cummiskey recalled that on his official work day, Tiller found a Timberdoodle nest with a group of children.

“On her first day on the job, she found something even I had never seen,” Cummiskey said. “I just gave it the name, ‘Timberdoodle.'”

Later, Cummiskey introduced Tiller as “Timberdoodle” to a large group. Tiller laughed, because she thought there was no way it would fit. But he did.

“At the end of that week, I was walking out of the nature center to my car, and a kid rode past on his bike and yelled, ‘Hey Timberdoodle!’ And the rest is history,” Tiller said. .

COVID is coming

After COVID hit Iowa in March 2020, schools closed and Jefferson County Conservation also suspended programs. The following month, Tiller hosted a “virtual field trip” to Cedar Creek Wetland, where she and Cummiskey filmed an educational video that they posted on social media.

“Right off the cuff I said, ‘This is a Toad and Timberdoodle adventure, the first and maybe the last,'” Tiller said. amazed was the number of parents and grandparents who told us how much they loved it and how they had learned so much and asked us when we were going to do the next one.

Due to popular demand, Tiller and Cummiskey continued to make videos, usually filming them at various county parks such as Turkey Run and Zillman’s Hickory Hills. To date, they’ve lost count of how many videos they’ve made, but it’s at least 15.


A woman named Denise Venteicher, who lived in Fairfield for nearly a decade before moving, is good friends with Cummiskey and designed a logo for use with the Toad and Timberdoodle videos.

Fairfield resident Diane Goudy has helped other people publish books, and she told Tiller and Cummiskey that they should turn their videos into a book. Goudy intended the characters to be Tiller and Cummiskey in human form, not their animal nicknames, but that’s not how Tiller and Cummiskey interpreted it. These two decided to base the book on their respective animals.

They wrote the story they wanted to tell about animals surviving winter and, because of their connection to Venteicher, asked her if she would be willing to illustrate the book.

“I have to say 90% of the story was written by Brittney,” said Cummiskey, who added that her role was more of a nature advisor. “I would say one of the animals our characters might encounter is a red-bellied woodpecker, because woodpeckers live in their hole in the winter.”

When Tiller and Cummiskey met Venteicher in person, they were pleasantly surprised to find that Venteicher had already illustrated most of the book on his computer.

“We are panicked. We’re so excited,” Cummiskey said. “We both pulled out our phones to take pictures of his artwork. We were blown away. »

Venteicher began her sketches by drawing them by hand, then scanned them into a computer where she colorized them.

Tiller and Cummiskey published the book through Barnes & Noble. It is printed on demand with each order. It can be ordered from the company’s website at

Brittney Tiller, left, and Therese Cummiskey hold up copies of their recently released children’s book ‘The Adventures of Toad and Timberdoodle: Leaving Winter Behind’. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

Call Andy Hallman at 641-575-0135 or email him at [email protected]

Brittney Tiller, left, opens the book to show illustrations by Denise Venteicher, while Therese Cummiskey holds an early mock-up of the two main characters. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

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