WOOSTER — Two well-known illustrators of children’s books and an author making her event debut, all from Knox County, will be among 100 authors, illustrators and photographers attending the annual Buckeye Book Fair to sign copies of their books and greet members of the public.
The 31st Buckeye Book Fair will be held Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Fisher Auditorium, 1680 Madison Ave., in Wooster. The event will also feature speakers, children’s activities and a book sale offering books from all genres, including children’s books, Ohio history and Ohio sports books.
All have been written or illustrated by Ohio authors, and three of them are local. They are: illustrator Richard Cowdrey of Gambier, who was inspired by an animal tale of perseverance and friendship in illustrating the children’s book based on real events, “Fiona the Hippo”; illustrator Tim Bowers of Mount Vernon, who continues his series for young readers, “Rappy Goes to Mars,” about a happy dinosaur taking a cool UFO ride; and author Helga Long of Danville, who makes her Buckeye Book Fair debut in writing “Helene,” a biography about her mother’s experiences as a German teen during World War II.
Julia Wiesenberg, executive director of the Buckeye Book Fair, said the high quality of the work from the three is worth attending in its own right. They are sure to receive congenial interaction from the crowds attending the fair, she offered, adding, “All of these books, and their authors, and illustrators, are wanting to become that classic in your life that you love to sit down and read, and re-read.”
“Rappy Goes to Mars”
UFO alien abduction tales involving humans are usually harrowing and horrific — much different than the happy, cartoon-like children’s book for beginning readers illustrated by Mount Vernon’s Tim Bowers, owner of Bowers Studio Inc. “Rappy Goes to Mars” was written by his friend, Dan Gutman, with Gutman thinking up “Rappy” from his species name, velociraptor, the lethal carnivore made famous by the movie, “Jurassic Park.” Rappy is so happy, in fact, that he speaks in rhymes all the time in the book.
It is their sixth book in the series. Bowers painted the book cover in about four days, using acrylic paint as his medium on thick paper, he explained.
“Because the artwork for Rappy was in a stylized, kinda’ cartoony approach, the art took about two to two-and-a-half months to create,” he said. “At first, I will read the manuscript to see what images come to mind, how the characters might look, where the story might take place, etc. Some of that time was spent researching the velociraptor, to see what details could be included in my version. Raptors were bird-like dinosaurs, so I added a few purple feathers to Rappy’s head.”
Bowers, who has illustrated more than 50 books starting in 1987, also owns The Jolly Dog Art & Gift Shop in downtown Mount Vernon. He is originally from Troy, Ohio.
“Fiona the Hippo”
Cowdrey’s book, for children ages 4-7, is a partnership in which he illustrated its 32 pages, while the Cincinnati Zoo staff took on the writing. It centers on a real story about a hippo who overcame tremendous odds from birth, as Fiona was six weeks premature and only 29 pounds, the smallest of her kind to survive and persevere toward adulthood.
Her tale about the will to live and never give up became an Internet sensation, with thousands of people online concerned for her well-being and even witnessing her birth. In addition to the colorful book cover with Fiona peering out from the water, Cowdrey also designed the book fair brochure cover — featuring Fiona on a comfy sofa chair, enjoying her own tale.
“She still continues to be very popular at the Cincinnati Zoo, regardless of her age,” Cowdrey said. “I saw her two months ago and she was up to 800 pounds. The Cincinnati Zoo had no protocol for a premature baby hippo at the time, so they called The Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati and they put IVs in her. It was somewhat miraculous that she survived.”
Asked how he got in touch with the zoo to do illustrative work about Fiona, Cowdrey offered, “I tried something rarely done anymore. I made a cold call, and they were interested.”
Cowdrey has lived in different parts of the country, but is well known wherever he works. He taught illustrations at Mount Vernon Nazarene University for three years and grew up “always as the artist in my (school) class.” He attended the Columbus College of Art and Design on a scholarship. He even illustrated Hallmark cards for a time, in Kansas City.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out I’m not a cubicle artist,” he said.
Author Helga Long began writing the biography of her mother, the late Helene Witzmann, 25 years ago because her mother’s accounts of the struggles, interspersed with joyous moments in Magdeburg, Germany, during World War II were so interesting. Her mother’s memories to daughter were taped.
A retired teacher, Long began writing the book in 2015, the year after her mother’s passing, with an entire process of editing and publishing that involved two years.
Magdeburg, where Helene grew up, was 80 miles southwest of Berlin.
“My mother was a very positive, hard-working person.,” Long said. “She was 14 years old when Hitler first sent troops into Poland in September 1939, so despite living her teenage years and young adulthood through hunger, bombings, and deprivation, she made the best of every situation. She was resilient and accepted the challenges that she had to face.”
Those challenges included the women of the family having to pull together to run the restaurant they owned after Helene’s father was drafted into the German Army. The war required her to quit school and give up her dream to become a teacher, “but (she) never voiced a complaint about it.” Long shared.
Long said her book can be enjoyed by adults and children of all ages. “Helene” offers a real-life perspective of World War II survival from a German citizen’s perspective. Long will offer a free public program on her book and German life in the period, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. in the West Salem Public Library.