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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Brattleboro Duo Pens New Kids' Book That Embraces 'Otherness'

Artist, Ellen Tumavicus
This illustration shows the main character from the new book, 'Ralph Flies The Coop: A Tail Of Transformation,' written and illustrated by Brattleboro-area teachers Jaimie Scanlon and Ellen Tumavicus. The story follows Ralph as travels the world.

A writer and an illustrator from Brattleboro have written a new picture book aimed at kids that asks them to put aside fears of our differences and embrace them instead.

The book is Ralph Flies The Coop: A Tail Of Transformation, written by Jaimie Scanlon and illustrated by Ellen Tumavicus.

Both are educators in the Brattleboro area and drew upon their own travels experiencing different cultures to inform their book.

The book is written in rhyming verse and follows Ralph Rooster from his barnyard home where he is known to the other animals as a bit self-centered. He decides to leave and hitches a ride on a migrating goose. The pair fly off to far-flung locales where Ralph learns to say, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" in several languages and joins in cultural activities and rituals.

Credit Morris Kimura
Writer Jaimie Scanlon and illustrator Ellen Tumavicus pose with their new book in front of pages of illustrations in Tumavicus' studio.

Along the way, Ralph learns how to crow in French, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese as he makes new friends.

When he returns to his farm, he is a changed rooster -- in effect, a global citizen -- and his barnyard mates notice and appreciate his new-found openness.

Scanlon's rhyming verse makes language learning fun as we pick up new phrases along with Ralph.

"I really wanted to write something that would give (kids) exposure to the idea that speaking another language and experiencing another culture can help them make friends and expand their horizons for their entire lives," Scanlon said.

Tumavicus' bright and lively illustrations show Ralph's transformation from standard barnyard banty to a much more colorful version of himself as he gains worldly experience.

She said her experiences as a young person and traveling to Europe and Central American played a huge part in her illustrations in this book.

"In Guatamala, I studied backstrap weaving and I fell in love with the bright colors and the intricate patterns," Tumavicus said. "I would go to the markets ... and then I would go home to rest in the little cabin where I was sleeping where the avocados would fall on the tin roof and I would close my eyes and I would see all the bright patterns. So I'm definitely inspired by places that I've traveled to."

"We really hope that people will pick up the book and find a really fun story that exposes children to the idea of travel, language learning and being open to diversity and other cultures," Scanlon said.

Tumavicus said she hopes the book can introduce kids, parents and educators to being open to "otherness" and that it "will make them a brighter and more beautiful person like it did for Ralph."

The book launch for Ralph Flies The Coop: A Tail Of Transformation is Friday,  Oct. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m., at Restless Rooster Cafe on Elliot Street in Brattleboro. The event includes both author and illustrator, international food and activities.

An exhibit about the creation titled, "The Making of a Children's Book" will be on display during the month of October at Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe in Brattleboro. The show features original sketches, illustrations, and draft manuscripts and chronicles the creative conversation between author and illustrator.


Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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