It all began on the beach at Sandbridge, Va., during a family vacation 15 years ago. I was sitting in one of those low-slung beach chairs contentedly gazing out to sea as the remnants of waves gently lapped against my feet. When I glanced over at my wife, who was sitting next to me, I was surprised to see that instead of sharing the hypnotic view of the horizon with me, she was holding a notepad on which she was furiously scribbling with a pen.
“What are you doing, Jane?” I asked.
“I’m writing a book,” she replied casually.
Because she never had mentioned anything about this before, it came as a complete surprise, and so I asked the next obvious question.
“What’s it about?”
“It’s a children’s story about the proper manners to use at birthday party, and all of the characters in it are going to be apples.”
Anyone overhearing this conversation could have concluded that a woman talking about writing a book in which all the characters were apples might have been sitting in the sun a bit too long. But the idea made perfect sense to me.
Jane taught second grade at Wheeling Country Day School for 28 years, and among the many innovations she brought to her students were Apple Week and a Manners Club. The former comprised a week in which the students compared various kinds of apples for looks, taste, and size. Parents brought a different apple treat to the classroom each day, and the students visited the Ebbert Farm in St. Clairsville, where they observed the making of cider. They also went to an apple orchard, and in science class they studied how apple trees grow. One of the most memorable things the students learned was how to cut an apple so that a star appeared in it.
The Manners Club met once a week after school and was not limited to just second graders. During these meetings the club members learned such things how to set the table properly, how to fold a fancy napkin, how to introduce people to each other, the importance of a firm handshake, and the practice of standing up when an adult walks into a room.
Even before she retired, Jane talked about a book titled “Something to Remember Me By” that she often read to her classes, and she said that someday she would like to write a children’s book that would be both entertaining and educational.
And so during a hot summer day on Sandbridge Beach, the idea for a book about Jonathan Goodapple, Granny Smith, Keith Crabapple, and a number of other apple characters was born. However, it took quite some time before they actually came to life on the printed page.
After she finished the manuscript for “The Magic List: A Story About Manners and a Surprise,” Jane began the tedious and often discouraging process of trying to find a publisher. She sent manuscripts to at least eight publishing houses and received rejections from all of them. When the last place turned her down, she decided she wasn’t going to land on the New York Times Bestseller List, and she tucked her manuscript in a desk drawer where it stayed for at least three years or perhaps even longer.
One day several years after Jane had retired, I walked into the living room to find her making posters with apple figures on them. When I inquired what she was doing, she said she was bored and had decided to put together a traveling manners program for any schools or organizations that may be interested. She actually found an audience for her presentation in several Girl Scout troops and one private school.
After I brought her home from one of these trips, she told me she was tired of lugging posters all over the Ohio Valley and she now was once again going to see about getting her book published. This time, however, she approached the process in an entirely different manner.
Jane had decided that instead of sending out more manuscripts to various publishers, she was going to investigate the possibility of self-publishing it. To that end she set up a meeting at TaylorMade Printing in Wheeling and learned that this local company would indeed print the book for her.
The next problem facing her was finding someone to illustrate the book. In the years after she had first written it, she had considered a number of possibilities to solve this conundrum, but suddenly she realized the perfect choice for an illustrator had been right in front of her all the time.
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From a very young age, Katie Holt, the oldest of Jane’s six grandchildren, had exhibited both an interest in and a talent for art. At this time Katie was an eighth-grade honor student at The Linsly School, and she already had won several awards for her artistic efforts including first place in the 7th and 8th grade art show at Linsly and Best of Show in the Student Art Show of Excellence for Artworks Around Town in Wheeling.
Katie was immediately enthusiastic when Jane pitched the idea of illustrating the book to her, and shortly thereafter author and illustrator, aka grandmother and granddaughter, began working to make Jane’s dream a reality. Watching the two of them share in the creative process was at once a wonderful and fascinating experience because they both were so excited about the project and because Jane and I watched our granddaughter’s creativity blossom before our eyes.
During the entire process Jane never really told Katie what to draw or howto draw it. She just gave her a copy of the manuscript, and Katie drew the pictures to fit the text. Her preliminary rough pencil sketches soon evolved into full-color drawings of apple people with incredible expressions on their faces. While Katie was working her magic with colored pencils, Jane constantly read and revised the text.
When they finally had a complete rough copy of the book put together, they made the first of numerous trips to TaylorMade Printing, where they met with a graphic designer who ultimately produced the first galley proofs for them to view. Because I served as their chauffeur for these sojourns, I had the privilege of seeing years of work ultimately come to fruition on the day we finally went to TaylorMade for the unveiling of the finished product. And it surpassed all of our expectations.
As I leafed through my copy, I smiled broadly as the characters who had been part of our lives for so long came alive on the page in brilliant colors. Here were Jonathan Goodapple and his Granny Smith working on a list of manners to use at a birthday party, and here were our six grandchildren each represented by an apple character. I saw Debbie McIntosh, whose birthday occasioned the party, and then, of course, we had Keith Crabapple, rotten to the core because he completely disrupted the party by managing to violate every rule for good manners that Jonathan and Granny had listed.
Katie’s drawings depicted Jonathan and his friends engaging in a number of activities at the party including a soccer game and a dip in Debbie’s swimming pool, and as I continued to page through the book, I was filled with pride by what my wife and granddaughter had accomplished. They had actually written, illustrated, and published a book together. How many grandmothers and granddaughters can attest to that?
Then I came to the final page on which Jonathan and Granny are holding the magic list between them and where Jane included an interactive list of the manners for parents to share and discuss with their children. As I gazed at the last picture, I thought back to that hot day on the beach 15 years ago, and the image quickly faded through a sudden blur of tears as I muttered, “Happy birthday, Jonathan and Granny.”
Author’s Note: Thanks to generous support from Ohio Valley residents and to a book-signing at Alan Lestini’s lovely Words & Music store, Jane’s book was so successful that she decided to write a sequel titled “The Magic List II: A Book About Manners and Trouble at the Theater,” which was published in March. In this story Jonathan and his friends learn how not to behave at a theater, and once again Katie did all the illustrations. Both books are on sale at Words & Music and the Wheeling Artisan Center, or they can be purchased by calling Jane at 304-277-2514 or by sending an email to email@example.com.