Chickadee books take flight far and large, to helping organizations and Sandy Hook families | News
TRAVERSE CITY – As much as her feathered beauty and orchestrated singing conquer your senses, it is her friendly expressions that conquer your heart.
“They have always been my favorite bird,” says author Bill O. Smith, who has written four quick-read and beautifully illustrated children’s books about tits. “They seem to be the friendliest, and if you are very patient they will get very close – people tell stories about how they actually land on their hands or shoulders.
“If you are in the north, you are out in winter. They are at the feeding stations all the time. Every single state has a variety of chickadee, so they are everywhere. The word alone, only the sound – ‘chickadee’ – is uplifting and poetic. “
Smith said the idea for his first book, Chickadees At Night, came about when he was retiring to care for his former mother-in-law, Faith Lewis, “… as she began her journey into the challenging world of dementia. ”
“This whole thing was inspired by this lady with dementia,” he said. “You know, they can’t capture memories, but they can capture beautiful moments – a beautiful moment is laughter – I’ve watched birds fly away.”
But for the last few years he lived with her at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Smith said he “… watched her memory fade and she gracefully transform into someone who lived in the moment. However, she kept her sparkling mind and a keen eye for beauty. Birds, especially tits, pleased them. When I think of tits in winter, I think of my ex-mother-in-law – her strength and outlook on life. It was a way to honor her memory. “
His mother-in-law died in 2014 and her obituary partially stated that she was “an expression of warmth, vitality and unconditional love” and that she “would be remembered most for her remarkable childlike spirit – the pixie smile, the curiosity with great Eyes, complete freedom from the ego. “
A graduate of Michigan State University, where he received a BA in English and a Masters in Education, Smith taught and later served as principal in Illinois and Oregon before taking positions in Suttons Bay and later Traverse City.
A trained yoga teacher, environmentalist, outdoor enthusiast and of course an avid bird watcher, Smith will be signing copies of his books on December 11th from 1:00 pm to 1:00 pm at Horizon Books, 243 E Front Street.
The proceeds of his first three books were donated to a variety of local nonprofits including the Historic Sleeping Bear Preservation, Groundworks, the Grand Traverse Regional Conservancy, FLOW, and nationally to the National Parks Foundation.
The proceeds from “Chickadees in December” will be donated to the Father Fred Foundation and the Salvation Army. “It’s selling well,” and he’s already donated more than $ 1,000, he said.
The profits from a fifth book, “Four on December 25” (2016), were donated to various veteran organizations, in particular to VFW 2790.
“You know, I’ve been very blessed in my life that I don’t need an income in retirement,” said Smith. “I’ll just dedicate every book (to a worthy organization).”
Not only did Smith dedicate his Chickadee writings to his ex-mother-in-law and donate proceeds from sales to various organizations, his first book would also play an embracing and compassionate role for the families of the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, where a 20 year old armed man stormed the school and killed 26 people including 20 children aged 6 and 7.
“When ‘Chickadees at Night’ came out it was the same year as Sandy Hook and the book was in the market for a while and I said, ‘You know, I’ll just send a copy for their library because I thought’ it was one very sweet, warm, nourishing story. ‘ I later found out that they had to rent a warehouse because they were getting thousands of teddy bears and all these other things that were donated by people who wanted to support.
“But somehow this book found its way into the hands of an assistant librarian (Janice Bernard) and she read it and said, ‘Yes, we would like copies of it.’ That tragedy happened in early December, and the day after Christmas I got in my car and took 300 copies of this book and left them at the library. I thought I’ll only post it for people who feel they need it, and a week later she called and all the copies were gone. “
A year later, Newton’s Hamlethub online newsletter reported, “Janice Bernard will read ‘The Chickadee Spirit’ by Bill O. Smith (December 28, 2013, in the CH Booth Library boardroom). Children learn interesting facts about tits and make a bird feeder to take away. Each participating child will receive a free copy of “Chickadee Spirit”, donated by the author. For 5-8 years. “
Smith’s book sales have hit 25,000, which is considered a notable feat given that it was self-published, with “Chickadees at Night” accounting for about half of that.
“Usually when you run off your friends and family with self-published books, you’re kind of finished,” said Smith, laughing. “So to sell so many copies through word of mouth, the story must have grabbed people’s hearts and imaginations.”
Smith’s books include Chickadees at Night (2012); “The Chickadee Spirit” (2013); “Meisenland” (2018); and his latest, released just a few months ago, “Chickadees in December” (2021).
The books were illustrated by Traverse City artist Charles Murphy while Jenifer Thomas provided the graphic design.
“Because there are only a few hundred words in a book … its abilities capture both mood and beauty, and that’s exactly what my books needed,” said Smith of Murphy’s artwork.
Murphy graduated from Minnesota State University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Arts. Although he also paints in acrylics and oils, he says that his illustration work is done in watercolor.
“In the first, leaner years, I supplemented my income by pursuing another passion for woodworking, designing and making furniture and furnishings,” said Murphy. “Then I did graphic design for commercial clients. At the same time, I began teaching adult education painting classes for Leelanau School in Glen Arbor and Community Art Centers in the states of Michigan and Florida. The teaching of these classes has been expanded over the years to include travel workshops abroad to Spain, France and Italy. “
That pursuit, Murphy said, earned him Arts Educator of the Year in 2003. He continues to teach intensive course workshops for adult education in painting in various locations. To date, he has collaborated and exhibited with over 50 galleries and shown his work at the American Watercolor Society and the International Society of Experimental Artists.
“My illustration work has appeared in numerous magazines, but mostly in children’s books by various authors, most of whom are Michigan,” said Murphy. “The book that got me into illustration work was ‘Reach For The Moon’ by Samantha Abeel of Traverse City. This book, which was last published by Scholastic, has received several awards and is primarily concerned with the topic of dyslexia. The latest books to do with illustration work are the four Chickadee books by Bill and my own book of rhyming verse called “The Waking Hour”.
“While my artwork is sold in a number of frame stores and galleries, my main northern Michigan gallery is the Twisted Fish Gallery in Elk Rapids. My artwork has also been published on greeting cards, calendars, and CD covers, as well as non-fiction and textbook covers. “
Commenting on Smith’s Chickadee stories, Murphy said, “I find them resourceful and entertaining. As an illustrator, you have certainly presented me with a quick visual language. “
Smith said while he plans to continue writing, no schedule is set in stone.
“There are a lot of ideas that I have – I have a lot of options – but there is nothing at its point that got me so gripped that I say, ‘Yes, this is what I am going to strive for,'” he said.