Local artist pens book for children

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What do a pixie, a pollywog and a rooster have in common?

Nearly nothing, it seems. So how is it possible the mismatched trio, through adventures and perhaps a few misadventures, eventually become lifelong friends?

By learning to understand each other's differences, said local artist Ralph Freer who penned "Piper's Posse, A Children's Story of Friendship."

The idea, he said between sips of a steaming Café Cubano in the sunroom inspired by his former home in the Florida Keys, originated with a gang of interactive wooden figures he created and featured throughout the book.

"They were just so whimsical, I thought there had to be a story there," he said,

"Piper's Posse" begins when three new, unusual, students arrive late to their first day at Red Apple School. When they arrive, the teacher, Miss Letha, welcomes them warmly. They begin to mix well with the other, more traditional students, but for some reason are not taking kindly to one another.

Freer said he included a handful of nuances throughout the story to give it a personal touch.

"Miss Letha is modeled after my mother who taught in a one-room school house," he explained, and added that Red Apple School is also a one-room school house scheduled to close the very next year.

In the story, Piper Pixie thinks Billy Bob Bird smells like a barnyard and complains because everything Pierre Pollywog touches becomes wet and slimy. Billy Bob and Pierre think Piper is a snob.

According to Freer, Miss Letha does not like the students disregarding each others' feelings, so she devises a plan. She sends the gang on a hunt for the mythical Huckleberry-Persimmon Cactus. According to local lore, the cactus has the ability to create friendships, though no one has ever seen it.

"So, Miss Letha sends them out to find this Huckleberry-Persimmon Cactus, which doesn't exist," Freer explained with a smile.

The search for the cactus takes the trio to three very different locations, where each member is able to display their strength. Piper leads the way through the mall, Billy Bob through the farm, and Pierre through the swamp. By the end of the day, the students begin to realize, just maybe, their differences aren't so important.

"In today's world, understanding is everything," Freer said. "I felt like this story really applies to our current atmosphere and sends a positive message to the kids."

Freer has taken his story and interactive figures to several local spots to engage with youngsters. He's done a presentation for home schooled students at Poplar Bluff Municipal Library and at O'Neal Elementary School. He said the children always have lots of questions and engage well with the story.

This is Freer's first book, which he said was a learning experience. He chose self-publishing and said he had to learn about copy writing, obtaining an ISBN number and formatting, to name a few of the unfamiliar aspects.

Freer is a retired teacher and counselor whose lifetime passion for art thrives as much today as ever before. He said naturally, the book became a tool for teachers to use in the classroom. He added a comprehension quiz at the end, along with coloring pages and a Red Apple School yearbook complete with student biographies.

He also created a teacher's edition with tips and notes to guide the lesson and throughout the entire process, utilized creative input from his wife, Gaelle, who currently teaches for Poplar Bluff R-1 Schools.

The wooden figures of Piper, Pierre and Billy Bob reflect the style of Freer's art at this time in his life, he said, though he has explored many different styles and mediums through the years.

"My art is very stylized. I use a lot of geometric lines. Someone described it as being Steampunk, which I hadn't really intended, but that's fine" he said.

"Piper's Posse, A Children's Story of Friendship" is currently available for purchase at the Margaret Harwell Art Museum, The Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce, or through Freer directly at 573-778-0513. His art can be found online at flyingfgallery.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: