Abilene – It all starts at a young age. Hearing stories of some of the greatest characters in children’s books turns into lifelong memories. When mice, wolf, pigs and even dinosaurs get themselves into life lessons that resonate throughout time. Those characters come to life in the Story Book Capital of America, which happens to be Abilene. “I think that Abilene is the Texas you don’t expect, because you don’t expect to find the Storybook Capital of America right here in West Texas,” said Sidney Levesque.
Levesque works for the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and she showed us around the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature or NICCL for short. “This was the first museum of its kind in the nation to exclusively exhibit children’s picture book art. It didn’t cost a nickel to come in and tour the museum. It is free,” said Sidney.
Not only will you find some of the great children’s books of all time here, you’ll also find some of the original art from these storied stories. “Mark Teague is an award-winning artist. People might recognize him from the “How Do Dinosaurs Say” series, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague. I mean, you could just see… The colors just pop off the palette,” explained Sidney.
Now the NCCL Tour doesn’t just include the colorful creations on display, you’ll also find all your favorite storybook staples, showcased with their own unique story. “We have commissioned nearly 40 storybook sculptures. I mean, basically these are characters that have leaped off the pages of beloved storybooks. We work with the artists and the book publishers to make all of these storybooks come to life. That’s what Abilene’s all about is making storybooks come to life,” said Sidney.
Over in Everman Park, just a block away from the NCCIL, you’ll find a stunning amount of statues dedicated to Dr. Suess. “The Seuss books are classics, and they never grow old. Even as an adult, I enjoy them. Today’s children enjoy them, and it’s fun to walk through the garden, and to see all those characters, and you actually give the cat in the hat a high five,” joked Sidney.
Maybe that’s why the park is a popular place for proposals and nuptials. “Our sculptures are here to last. They’re loved. They’re just magical for so many people,” expressed Sidney.
All of this came to be here in Abilene thanks to the story that started in this spot. “‘Santa’s Calls’ this is the book that started it all,” stated Sidney. “‘Santa Calls’ is a story, it’s set in West Texas in 1908, and it’s this little orphaned boy and his sister, and his sister writes a letter to Santa Claus himself, and says, ‘All I want for Christmas is my brother to be my friend.’ Santa sends this mysterious package to their Abilene ranch. They open it, and it’s this giant flying machine. They get in the flying machine, and it takes them up to the North Pole, and they meet Santa Claus. Anyway, the brother and sister bond. At the end of the journey, they’re friends, and her Christmas wish comes true,” explained Sidney.
The unique connection of having Abilene in a book started this whole thing. “That very first visit with William Joyce, that started us on a 20-year journey to becoming the Storybook Capital of America,” said Sidney. William Joyce wrote and illustrated Santa Calls and the sculpture dedicated to his story was the one that started it all. “It’s called Childhood’s Great Adventure. It was created in 1996 by artists, Rick Jackson,” said Sidney.
No matter your favorite be it Jack Frost, Dino Bob or Duck on a Bike you’ll feel like a kid again around the sculptures thanks to the fact that someone read to you when you were young. “I think storybook reading is a special time with your children. At night, right before bed, when you cuddle up in a lap, and you open that book, and you read together you’re not only sharing a love of reading with that child. You’re just making precious memories,” expressed Sidney.
Precious memories that will last the test of time and take you away to faraway places and in some cases, Abilene to see the story book capital of America. “The storybook sculptures, and the books, that all ties into art, and reading, and creativity. That’s the message we want to get out about Abilene. Start your own childhood adventure right here,” stated Sidney.