Madeline Gabor wrote her first children's book about Lil Toot, the small boat owned by Captain Fred and Kathy Hershman that takes people from the Santa Barbara Harbor to Stearns Wharf. | Credit: Courtesy
Credit: Courtesy

Lil’ Toot frequently saves the day for tourists, parents, or anyone seeking an affordable, scenic, and quick boat ride between the Santa Barbara Harbor to Stearns Wharf. Who knew this tiny yellow tugboat’s life story could be an inspiration for all ages as well? 

How Lil’ Toot Got His Smile tells the true tale of how Captain Fred and Kathy Hershman of Celebration Cruises resurrected the awkwardly sized vessel into an oceanfront attraction in 2003. Written by Camarilllo native Madeline Gabor, a U of Oregon grad who’s worked for the Hershmans since June 2021, and colorfully illustrated by Nadia Rajput, the children’s book is a delightful tale of redemption and finding one’s place in the world. Gabor tells us more below. 

Why’d you turn Lil’ Toot’s story into a book?  It was actually Kathy and Fred’s idea. Upon graduation, I received a grant to write a children’s book, which I always wanted to do. I had the story for it since high school. I told my boss of my accomplishment when that book was complete, and she said, “We’ve always wanted to write a book about Lil’ Toot.” That’s when I offered to write a book. Kathy told me the story of how he came to Santa Barbara, and it just seemed like the words flew out of my fingers when I was typing. The story came so easy to me. Also, if you’ve ever met Fred and Kathy, you can see how hardworking and caring they are, so I was more than happy to do it!

How much of the tale is true?  100 percent. Everything in the book is true. Lil’ Toot’s previous name was Captain Red, and Fred found him in someone’s front yard in Massachusetts in need of many repairs. The last page of the book shows photos of Lil’ Toot’s transformation. 

What should readers learn?  The moral of the story is about self-acceptance and love. Lil’ Toot couldn’t thrive being in someone’s yard, since he is a boat that’s meant to be in the water. Surround yourself with people that lift you up and try to put yourself in environments that are beneficial to you and your growth. The story can also be used as a tool for any family of adoption, as well.

Author-signed copies are available onboard Lil’ Toot and at the ticket kiosk on Stearns Wharf. See

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