Of Snow and Violins

I don’t recall a time when I didn’t love books. I must have been hooked at my first page in my first picture book. Naturally, I wanted to write them also. English class in Junior High expanded my love of language. When the home economics teacher there assigned everyone to write a picture book for preschool children, a passion was born. I embarked on a lifelong adventure with words.

Though there have been lengthy gaps when I was too involved with family matters to spend time with a pen and typewriter, whenever I could  I outlined projects, made deadlines for myself, subscribed to writing magazines, and submitted my work.

One early project started with a dream.  I don’t recall my age when this dream seared itself into my subconscious, but upon recollection it was an outlandish and delightful story. In my young adulthood, married but BC (before children) I decided to write the dream story as a picture book. It involved a couple of seals and a polar bear in the Arctic, a snowman, and a violin. A violin you ask? Yes. A violin.

Not skilled with paint or colored pencils, I figured I could illustrate this Arctic story using my photographic skills. I needed only to make the characters. I designed patterns to sew stuffed animals as well as stuffed snowmen and a violin. After careful construction, I lined up the cast on a board covered with quilt batting sprinkled with glitter, set up my trusty OM-1 35mm SLR on a tripod, and headed into the morning sunshine outside the little farmhouse we rented in Morton County, Kansas.

Crowned with a bluer-than-blue sky, the still morning was perfect for the illustrative slides. I had a blast moving the characters through the plot and snapping photos of every scene. When the slides returned from the processor, I had the story and the illustrations. I submitted the idea and samples to a few children’s book publishers, and received their kind rejections. I eventually chose Plan B and took the collection of stuffed animals, a slide projector, screen, and the story to several local libraries as a guest reader for their children’s story times. Again, I had a blast and the kids enjoyed hands-on time with the characters from the story.

The years raced by. Life happened. My own children arrived. Daily routines became strictly regimented trying to keep up with everyone’s activities. Other than a session or two sharing the story with my own kids, the stuffed characters were stored away in a big plastic tub until last December.

As Christmas approached last year, I recognized there was no good reason to hide the stuffed animals away. My daughters were grown with children of their own—and half of the grandkids were already too old for picture books. Either I pull the old critters out of the closet, or I never would. I gifted a couple to my 6-year-old granddaughter for Christmas and took along the set of photos to read her the story. On our homeward journey I realized that I now had the means to publish A Very Special Snowman myself. After digitizing the illustrations and formatting a children’s book, I sent this same granddaughter her very own copy of the book featuring the Arctic characters for her 7th birthday in March.

I launched the decades-old project to the public Thursday April 20. The “Women Score Higher” conference in Wichita solicited women authors as vendors and I was happy to be able to bring a variety of books for many different readers, including the freshly published A Very Special Snowman.

A few days after 7-year-old Mia received her book in the mail, her 9-year-old sister wrote to me saying she was writing a book and wanted to know how to publish it. It makes a grandmother proud.

Even with a peaceful ending for two careless seal pups, A Very Special Snowman is a little sad for me. Since those days of innocence long ago, the emergency situation in the Arctic has escalated as our warming Earth melts the polar ice. The fate of Arctic animals like polar bears and seals has taken a perilous turn since my early writing years.

But every stage of this project has been a thrill for me—from the dream, to construction of the characters, to photographing the scenes, telling the story, and designing a book in 2023. And the piercing blue sky in the photos of 1979 amazes me still, a reminder that this precious planet is very much worth defending for all of us, polar bears and seals included.