Forty years ago, Winfrey Blackburn told his children stories about patience and listening through the tales of imagined characters Putney the Pumpkin and Rodney the Lightning Bug. Today these characters have come to life through Sylvia Berger’s illustrations, and their stories are sitting on the shelves of local bookstores.
“Rodney the Lightning Bug and the Golden Medallion,” published by Acclaim Press on June 1, 2012, tells a tale about how not listening can get you in trouble. The Voice-Tribune caught up with the newly-published children’s author to learn a little more about his creative process, and the message he hopes to share with kids.
What inspired you to write Rodney the Lightning Bug?
These are stories I told my own children when they were three and five years old, 40 years ago. I met the illustrator (Sylvia Berger) who was a neighbor… and asked her if she would illustrate one of the stories, and that led her to get a degree at the University of Louisville (in Fine Arts). … We hadn’t really intended to publish it, initially. We just did it for fun for our children.
You recently held a reading at Barnes and Noble. What was that like?
We (showed) the children about six or eight versions of Rodney that other artists submitted to me when I was trying to develop the way Rodney looked so they can see that it’s a process. … We (shared) some pages that were illustrated and then redone. The point of that is to show them “try, try again.” You don’t always get everything the first time.
What theme do you want to resonate with readers?
In my mind, all children are underdogs. They can’t talk as well, they can’t run as fast, they’re not as tall. You just kind of come into life behind the eight ball, having to learn all these things. I think children relate to an underdog that wins in the end.
“Rodney the Lightning Bug and the Golden Medallion” is available at Barnes and Noble, Carmichael’s Bookstores and the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts.
Winfrey Blackburn grew up in Frankfort, Kentucky in a family that never hesitated to embellish a tall tale. He has practiced law in Louisville since 1965 and has authored “Putney: A Little Pumpkin With Big Ideas” and co-authored “The Kentucky Houses of Stratton Hammond” and “Country Houses of Louisville 1899 to 1939” with R. Scott Gill.
Sylvia Berger is a constant doodler. She received her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the University of Louisville in 1983 and received the Winthrop Allen award for outstanding work as a graduating senior. Her paintings are shown in the Louisville area, but she now has turned her hand to illustrating children’s books. She illustrated “Putney: A Little Pumpkin With Big Ideas” and is currently working on her third book.