Pair of retired teachers pen children’s books

Barbara Gay, of Carmel Valley, left, and Libby Nickel, of Poway, right, teamed up last summer to create the “Travis and Mollie” children’s book series.
(Brittany Woolsey)

When Barbara Gay noticed the quirky and funny habits of her two dogs — like laying down at the top of the stairs to keep an eye on the front door and walking on their hind legs — she knew she had to share them with the world.

A retired high school teacher, Gay, 82, had not worked in 17 years but decided last year that pursuing children's books about her pups would be a good way to keep her active and further her role in education.

Gay, who lives in Carmel Valley, told the needlecraft class at the Poway Senior Center about her newfound hobby of writing about Travis, a goldendoodle, and Mollie, a beagle, who she and her husband rescued from the Rancho Coastal Humane Society in Encinitas.

The only issue, Gay said, was that she needed an illustrator.

"I can write but I can't draw," she admitted.

Gay recruited Libby Nickel, who attended the class, to draw for her. The two became fast friends and partners.

"We hit it off right away," recalled 85-year-old Nickel, who lives in Poway. "Our personalities are different, yet we speak the same language."

Since last summer, the pair of women have written six books for their "Travis and Mollie" series. They have a total of eight books planned and have worked with Matt Kerlin of Pacific Beach-based Total Document Solutions to design and print the books.

The series follows the pair of dogs in adventures such as sailing on the open sea, riding a firetruck, celebrating the holidays and attending obedience school.

"Really, it's fiction based on fact," Gay said. "Some things aren't true. For example, in our last book we had them riding on a firetruck. They haven't done that. We also have another book where they go sailing. These dogs haven't gone sailing but the two dogs I had before did go in our boat."

Meet Travis and Mollie
"Meet Travis and Mollie" by Barbara Gay and Libby Nickel JUST FUN Books & Things

Originally, the women wrote the books for pre-school-aged children but quickly realized the books could be read to babies and toddlers and read by older kids.

"We don't have a controlled vocabulary because these are 'read to me' books until they start reading themselves," Nickel said.

Gay added the goal is for the books to be entertaining and educational. She said children can learn new vocabulary words from the stories.

Gay and Nickel said they have found the books resonate well with young children because kids generally enjoy animals. Nickel said her friend read one of the books to her preschool class, and seven of the students informed the teacher that they had rescue pets, just like Mollie.

Nickel said she's enjoyed breaking out of her comfort zone to take on a new hobby, especially at her age. She said it's important for older people to remain active mentally and physically. Both Gay and Nickel walk about 40 minutes per day.

While Gay said she has enjoyed writing about her dogs and their funny habits, she also appreciates that the books help keep her busy.

"It certainly makes our brains work and keeps us knowing that there's something to look forward to the next day," she said.

Gay's and Nickel's "Travis and Mollie" series are available on Amazon at For more information, visit

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