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Quincy author develops third installment of children's stories

By Matt Dutton Herald-Whig

Posted: Aug. 23, 2017 10:05 am Updated: Aug. 24, 2017 8:26 am

Author Tracy Schlepphorst works with her illustrator Charlie Martin at Grown-N-Gathered on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The duo are collaborating on a new book in the Emotional Belly children's book series. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane

QUINCY -- The third installment in the Emotion Belly book series is still little more than a dozen or so sketches.

Author Tracy Schlepphorst and illustrator Charlie Martin spent Tuesday afternoon shuffling through the depictions, each in varying stages of completion and spread across a long wooden table at Grown N' Gathered in the District.

Both Quincy residents, the duo makes a point of meeting in locally owned establishments to work on the upcoming book "Eden and Her Joy." The last two Emotion Belly books -- "Eden and Her Happy" and "Henry and His Manners" -- are written for young children and meant to convey emotional understanding and positive behavioral traits in a simple way. "Eden and Her Joy" will follow the themes of its predecessors as the protagonist tries to grasp the nature of death.

The collaboration begins once Schlepphorst has written a manuscript. Feeding off her suggestions, Martin, who designs headstones for a living, intertwines traditional sketching with technology, often bouncing between a screen and a sheet of paper.

"There are callbacks to earlier books," Martin said. "Each book is its own story, but you can read them in the order they're written and tie them together."

They embed recurring characters and hidden symbols in the pages of the books to create a sense of continuity between the three installations and to keep the younger reader engaged. The first half of the upcoming book is drawn entirely in grayscale -- the only color elements in the early pages being the series' emotion bellies -- to depict the main character's loss of her father.

The protagonist, Eden, begins to work through her grief when her horse, Sandy, whisks her away on a magical flight. Schlepphorst keeps a small figurine of a horse, after which Sandy is modeled, in her line of sight as she writes. The figurine was a gift from her late father, who died when she was 6.

"My dad was a great storyteller," Schlepphorst said. "This was one of the only things I had from him when he passed away."

Schlepphorst can still remember her father's bedtime tales, all made up on the spot and often including a horse named Sandy.

"Sandy is the foundation for this book," she said, noting that the horse has always traveled with her wherever she's gone.

"Eden and Her Joy" has taken on a deeper meaning for Schlepphorst than her two previous works. It's meant to open a dialogue between children and their parents when they lose a loved one.

"It has been therapeutic writing this. I've included a lot of memories of how I processed death at an early age," she said. "The point is to give parents and teachers words to kids to express their feelings."

At the climatic point in the book, Eden rides Sandy up through the clouds, where she spots her father, and her attitude takes a positive turn.

"I used to always think I saw my dad in the clouds," Schlepphorst said. "We left it open for interpretation. For younger kids, it may feel real. For others, it may be an adventure or a dream."

The partners hope to have the book finished by the end of the month and on shelves sometime in mid-September.

"'Henry' was lighthearted and whimsical," Martin said. "'Eden' is not. There's a darkness to it, but I love the idea of hope in the story."

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