I know that so many of us are more than ready to leave this strangest of years behind us, and have hope for a better, cleansed, redeemed, renewed world. I know I do. For myself, and my part, I decided to usher in the new year with a children’s book I wrote, because I believe it holds within it lessons that ring in this time of upheaval.
It’s a book that does not exist in print, but instead has taken on the medium of a videobook. Inspired, in part, by the children’s classic, Peter and the Wolf, I simply couldn’t envision this story without it being told aloud, in the beloved tradition of the bedtime stories from our own childhoods. It was first conceived and written nearly 40 years ago, and over the decades has finally become what it was meant to be. Featuring over a hundred colorful illustrations, I had a blast narrating this tale on the indwelling nature of friendship.
When a sage old man shows up in an enchanting village, he changes the life of a little girl forever, who changes his right back. Underscored with a whimsical music score by composer Chris Hardin, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD sets the stage for a timeless and quintessentially fable-istic tale. Lessons of empathy, gratitude, and seeing beauty everywhere are taught by the story’s two characters. In this new age where turning inward, self-examining, and soul-tending are no longer fringe flower-child ideas, but are in our everyday lexicon, and Namaste is a word everyone now knows, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is right on time to offer Kid Lit for a risen consciousness.
And it has arrived to YouTube on Christmas Day, because why not usher in 2021 with messages of love and peace?
For kids ages 8 to 108!
And if you’re interested in hearing more about this 40-year process, read on.
A 40-Year Journey (Just in Time for a Year in Need of Healing)
I wrote this children’s book nearly 40 years ago. My first, my only. It’s been tweaked and polished here and there over the years, and each time has been put back in the drawer (or on the computer, as the years went by). It’s even gone through a few titles. Then maybe 25 years ago I started, in earnest, looking for an artist to do the illustrations. An artist friend of mine, the astonishing René Norman, who would have made magic with her own hands doing this, gave me some beautiful direction, and encouraged me that I could do this myself, even though I have never been that kind of artist. But with her encouragement I spent the next few years drawing then painting each canvas. It was painstaking (and sometimes painful) and time-consuming, but I got it done. And yet, even the canvases just got stored away, never to be used, as I moved on to other creative projects that seemed more pressing.
So, more years passed, and the world of independent publishing came into vogue, and because I was always intimidated by the children’s book world and therefore never dared try to get a publishing deal for it, the idea of putting it out myself appealed to me. STILL, I now have seven books in print, and this children’s book is not one of them. Maybe it’s children themselves I’ve been intimidated by. In any case, who knows why the story felt safer at home with me, but it did.
Then just a couple of years ago, after making a handful of little mini-documentaries and some other fun, arty videos, and beginning to get a handle on video editing, I thought, instead of a book, it could make a very cool multi-media, spoken word thing. Think “Peter and the Wolf.” I sure did! It was my absolute favorite storytelling experience as a child. So I started looking at my story again and lining it up with the artwork, which had been collecting dust, and realized I actually still needed several more illustrations, which I hadn’t thought about, as I had added to the story over the years. By this time, I’d started doing digital graphic design, so I was able to add to the collection without needing any supplies except my software. So now the artwork is a hybrid of digital and organic, and I think this has made it even more interesting.
Then last year, with the help of my dear friend Craig Pilo, and his state-of-the-art recording studio, I set about the task of recording the narration. We had so much creative fun making this narration work with one narrator (me) yet several voices needed. Truly gifted, Craig is. We still needed one more session to get it polished, and then Covid hit. I mean, it might as well have been the next thing to stop this project in its tracks, since I guess I was determined to spend my entire life making this thing a reality. The good news is, in the span of 40 years, I think it’s a story that still holds up. But yes, I had to go with the narration as it was, which was already pretty cool.
I then set about creating the moviette, tweaking, and tweaking, and tweaking, like the obsessive/compulsive animal I am, over these past few months, until all the puzzle pieces were assembled into some sort of coherent narrative.
The final touch, of course, was the music. Of course I wanted this story underscored. There is nothing that is a better emotional conduit than music. Dare I try to compose said music myself? I’m certainly no Prokofiev! And I’m always wary of “one-man-band” productions, anyway, yet here I was thinking about trying to do that very thing. Enter composer, pianist, and dear friend Chris Hardin, as there are most definitely better people for this task than I. I didn’t commission him to write a score for this; I asked him if he had any existing recordings of original music that he wouldn’t mind allowing me to use. He pointed me to his album “Reflections,” which had only come out a couple of years before, and said, “have at it, girlfriend!” Well….I don’t truly know how best to impress upon you just how made-for-each-other these beautiful piano pieces and my little story were. It took several weeks to painstakingly cull through every piece (12 tracks in total) to find just the right chunk, from just the right piece, for just the right scene, to emotionally enhance a moment. But when all was said and done, you would think this music was composed specifically for my moviette. Chris Hardin, as a talent, and as a friend, is a revelation.
And that was the final piece of the puzzle. So, you may be thinking, what on earth finally made me leap to the finish line, after 40 years vacillating? Cosmically, my own tendency is to look at this problematic and enigmatic year as the year I was always intended to share this message. Who knows if it all really works that way. What I do know for sure is that if living in a pandemic, with the burden of a stunning global death toll by this horrific virus, an alarming reemergence of racial strife in this country, and a collective global trauma the whole world is experiencing has taught me anything, it’s … don’t wait. Make it happen. Whatever IT is. Don’t second-guess if it’s good enough. Put it out there. It is valuable. So, that’s what I’ve done.
CREATING THE CHARACTERS
There are ostensibly only two characters in this story. They have lived with me a good 40 years now. And honestly, they’ve just gotten better with age. As with folktales and fables, I wanted to give these two a more archetypal existence, thus they are known simply as the Young Girl and the Old Man, instead of having Christian names.
The Young Girl actually began as a young boy, until I realized two things: I didn’t want this to be an all-male story, which it was becoming, where a little girl couldn’t readily identify with any character. And also, I realized she was me. A child who marched to her own drummer, and didn’t fit in most social circles. These are often the struggles of childhood, and our attempts to assert a voice and an identity in our very own way. I was such a tomboy as a kid, so that seemed a natural for this character, as well. And since she began as a boy, there wasn’t a whole lot, visually, that needed to be changed. The more I could infuse the character with dynamics from my own often awkward childhood, the more real she became.
Likewise, the Old Man is quintessentially fable-istic. The wise old seer, the elder, the one who has wisdom to impart, and an almost monastic centeredness that always draws others near. And like all lore, twists on that theme do happen, as the teacher also becomes the student. The Old Man was an instant and easy inspiration. He is an amalgam of my two fathers, at once artistic and a little bohemian, and grounded in sagacity. He is my grandfathers. He is the many teachers, mentors, ancestors, both male and female, whom I’ve learned from throughout my very blessed life.
With these two characters, I have represented old and young, male and female (and even the gender fluidity that has become part of our present-day consciousness), and a world of color, both in the visual-hued sense of the word AND regarding ethnic and racial diversity. And yet, none of this is anything that will likely dawn on a child watching this moviette, but is simply the world we do live in today. And so it was important to me that I create a story where inclusion was simply a given and a power.
Beyond that, these two characters have helped me to create a world where endless are the possibilities, and where the virtues of gratitude, compassion, and being present are paramount to existence. It’s an idyllic world, and at the same time there is a worldliness and a timelessness to it.
I think young children will be drawn to these two characters. They’re playful, but at the same time they’re thoughtful. They teach lessons about empathy, and seeing beauty everywhere. And here’s the rub; I think adults will be drawn in by these two as well. As, here we are, in an age—one might call it a New Age—where turning inward, self-examining, and soul-tending are no longer fringe, flower child ideas, but are in everyone’s everyday lexicon. “Namaste” is now a word everyone knows. And here is a story, delivered by these two characters, that is all about risen consciousness, and perhaps a shifting of our ideas about what’s important in life…..told in a simple tale of friendship.
I have loved these two characters for a long time. And now they’re ready to tell this little tale for me. THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD. For kids ages 8 to 108, I like to say. Now available to watch absolutely free on YouTube. Because … let’s just spread love.