By Liz Premo
Hampton Union , January 18, 2013
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Writer Lauren Levine and illustrator Eric Ebbeson look at "Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents."
[Photo credit Deb Cram]
HAMPTON — It's an engaging children's story that comes alive with a pair of cartoony siblings who take a playful journey to visit some favorite relatives.
But what's best about "Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents" is that it is a highly interactive paperback that draws both reader and listener straight into its 30 colorful pages.
Written by Lauren Levine of Exeter and illustrated by Eric Ebbeson of Hampton, this story of a red spotted dog (Luna) and a speckled yellow cat (Floyd) is intended to be read to a child who is sitting on the lap of the reader.
Each vibrantly illustrated page follows Luna and Floyd on their travels, while text on the bottom of each page suggests an action that fits with what's happening at that point in the story.
For example, the page that shows them walking up a hill suggests the reader "walk" their fingers up the child's back, while the next action — going down the hill — has the reader doing the finger-walk across the child's shoulder and down their arm.
Other actions include playing peek-a-boo, holding hands, giving a wave when the pair arrives at their destination, and sharing hugs and kisses when the grandparents greet them.
"Bouncing on the knee, doing a high-five — it's all actions that can be done while the child is on your lap," said Levine, who teaches seventh and eighth grade math at Sparhawk Middle School in Amesbury, Mass.
There are also suggested questions the reader can ask the child to keep them further engaged, such as "Where is the red bird?" and "Can you find a shadow?" Levine said her cousin, an educator in kindergarten classrooms for 30 years, encouraged her to add that feature to enhance the overall experience of sharing a book with a child.
This interactive opportunity helps strengthen vocabulary and reading comprehension, and "is valuable on many levels educationally," said Levine, adding it benefits very young children as well as those who are learning to read, and those with learning disabilities.
"I thought it was a really, really cool concept," said Ebbeson, who prior to illustrating the book visited libraries "to see what is out there. I couldn't find anything else that was like it. It's a whole new idea."
Published last year, "Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents" is "meant to be really playful and fun," said Levine. "I tested all these actions on my son when he was a year and a half. He loved it."
Adding those actions helped keep her son's attention while she read to him, so much so that his absolute favorite story was narrowed down to where Levine "tossed him back and forth on my lap when the wolf huffed and puffed" and it became the only part of the story he wanted her to read.
"That was when the light bulb went on," said Levine. "I knew I needed a whole book like this, where you're able to have a story and an action for it on every page of the book."
Believing "it was such an obvious thing that was needed," Levine said she "looked for a book like that but I couldn't find it." So, she wrote one of her own and "sent it out to a few places" trying to get it published in the late 1990s. At that time, though, she was busy raising three children under the age of six and, after finding no publisher for her story, she ended up putting it aside for the next 10 years.
In the meantime she earned her master's degree in math education in 2008 through Western Governors University and became certified for teaching Grade 7-12 math in New Hampshire. She is currently in her second year of teaching at Sparhawk.
It was a through a selection read by her book group a couple of years ago (the self-published New York Times Bestseller "Still Alice") that Levine was inspired to try putting her own story out there again, this time going the self-publishing route.
She connected with Jabberwocky Books for that part of the project, and with Ebbeson for the illustrations after seeing his vibrant and varied work on display at the Blue Moon in Exeter and in Jeff Volk's book of poetry, "The Ambiguity of Autumn."
"There was one painting I did in cartoony style," said Ebbeson. "She liked it and got in touch with me."
Noting that publishers "usually have their own in-house artist or lease freelancers" and that "an author doesn't usually get to pick an artist," Ebbeson said that "Lauren wanted to present the whole thing (her story and his artwork) to the publisher. I couldn't be more thrilled about it."
Ebbeson, who earned his degree in studio art at Dartmouth College in 1968, taught at the Darrow School in upstate New York before taking on his 36-year tenure as an art teacher at Hampton Academy from 1970 until his retirement in 2006.
Referring to himself as a "strictly old-school" artist who "was trained way before computers" and who believes "it's all about the drawing," Ebbeson spent six months working on the simple line-drawn illustrations for "Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents."
"These are almost like cartoons (and) one of the challenges of cartooning is to be able to take a character and draw it from different points of view so you can tell it's the same character," he said. "The challenge is to draw them simply. I don't usually do simple. I usually do very complicated."
Ebbeson was up to the challenge, though, initially taking a couple of large sheets of paper and doing "a lot of little sketches, about 30 sketches on two sheets."
He presented his preliminary sketches to Levine, who "didn't have any preconceived ideas about what she wanted the characters to look like," said Ebbeson. To his delight, "She immediately picked out my two favorites."
Ebbeson created the cover and inside illustrations about 30 to 40 percent larger than the book's actual size, using watercolors and Sharpie markers on high quality heavy paper. He used effects that included sprinkling salt on wet paint (for Luna's distinctive spots) and a "wet-on-wet" painting technique (to create Floyd's multi-color splotches).
As he worked on the illustrations, he found that "some of them were more complicated, some of them zipped by, and some I had to do over again."
Overall, "it was a whole lot of fun. It's something I have always wanted to do," said Ebbeson. "A children's book is all about the pictures. I was so thrilled that somebody asked me to do that."
Levine was also thrilled. "When I saw his pictures, it was better than anything I ever hoped for," she said. "He is a very talented person."
Now that the book has been published, Levine said she has "several more stories in mind, all in the interactive vein. I'm hoping for a series with the same characters, and (I have) another story forming with different characters."
For now, "Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents" can be found at the Lane Memorial Library in Hampton and the Exeter Public Library, as well as at Barnes and Noble, Water Street and River Run bookstores, and online at both amazon.com and lunaandfloyd.com.