‘Isabella Propeller’ takes off
If you’re doing something for the first time, it’s good to have a partner who has some experience to guide you along.
For children’s book author Jonathan Graves, he found a mentor by chance to help him with the creation of his first title, “Isabella Propeller and the Magic Beanie.”
“My wife, Lucy, is a Presbyterian minister,” Graves said. “She was a marrying a couple at the Valle of the Cross Episcopal Church and I was sitting in with the congregation. I began talking with a woman and I told her that I was tinkering with the idea of writing a children’s book. She asked me if I knew any illustrators and I said no. And she told me about Gail Haley, a Caldecott Medal award-winning illustrator who lived outside Blowing Rock.”
After finding Haley’s website online and looking at examples of her work, Graves decided she would be the perfect illustrator to help him with his first book.
“We met in early 2007,” Graves said. “I got a chance to look at her work and I absolutely loved her art. Plus, she had experience and became a really good mentor for me.”
A lawyer before retiring and taking on writing books for kids, Graves found that he had to alter his wordy style of writing.
“Writing an illustrated story in just 40 pages can be extremely difficult,” said Haley, who has written and illustrated nearly 50 books in her storied career. “People think that anyone can do it because a lot of celebrities write children’s books, but it really takes a lot of hard work, she said.
With Graves living in Blowing Rock and Haley living eight miles away, the pair worked on the “Isabella Propeller” project for several years.
The story revolves around the title character, a little girl named Isabella who visits her grandparents in their hometown of Blowing Rock. She discovers a magic beanie, meets a mysterious “wind lady” and has a perilous adventure trying to save her dog, Mullaby.
“I was inspired by the winds of Blowing Rock and by being a grandfather with young grandchildren,” Graves said. “When they would visit, we would sit on the story bench and tell stories. Each person would add to the story. Isabella and her brother Tripp and sister Jenny are all playful twists on my grandchildren’s names.”
One of the other key characters in the book is a courageous hawk named Red Tail.
“There was a lot of research involved with this book,” Haley said. “I went to the Raptor Center in Charlotte and took a lot of photos of a red tailed hawk named Skoshi.”
Skoshi is mentioned in the “thank you” credits at the end of the book.
Like all good children’s books, “Isabella Propeller and the Magic Beanie” has themes, messages and lessons. One of the most important lessons is that you can do magical things when you are selfless and trying to help others.
An important theme in the book is the nearly universal desire to fly.
“Everyone I’ve asked has said they have dreams about flying,” Graves said. “So, here we have a flying female heroine who is being protected by a totem animal that is indigenous to this area.”
“This area” is also one of the major characters of the new book. “Isabella Propeller” features a Haley-created map of Blowing Rock, complete with nearly identical recreations of the town’s school, park, post office and ice cream store.
Jonathan Graves is a native North Carolinian who lives with his wife, Lucy, in Blowing Rock and Atlanta. A first-time children’s book author, Graves is inspired by the vivid imaginations of his
grandchildren and the charm of his Blowing Rock home.
Gail E. Haley
Gail E. Haley has the unique distinction of being the only illustrator to earn both the Caldecott Medal in America and Great Britain’s Kate Greenway Medal. Her medieval tale, “The Green Man,” was a Parent’s Choice recipient and she has also received Japan’s Kodai Tosho Award and the Kerlan Award.
Previously, she served as a writer in residence at the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University.
“Isabella Propeller and the Magic Beanie” is available for purchase through the Amazon and Parkway Publishing websites. It is available locally at the museum gift shop at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, Kilwin’s, the gift shop at Chetola Resort, Tweetsie Railroad, Mountain Cottage on Sunset Drive in Blowing Rock, Black Bear Books in Boone, Mast General Store in Boone and Valle Crucis, Park Road Books in Charlotte and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
The author has donated copies of the book to the Blowing Rock Community Library and Blowing Rock Elementary School. Other schools and libraries can receive copies by contacting the author via http://www.isabellapropellor.com.
Graves will have an official launch of the new book on Saturday, Oct. 29, from 1 to 3 p.m. at BRAHM in Blowing Rock. He will also host a reading and signing next spring at the Blowing Rock Community Library.