When Dr. Laurie Zum Hofe was a student at Concordia, she took an independent study course with Dr. Jenny Mueller-Roebke where she wrote a handful of children’s stories that Mueller-Roebke would read to her son. From that time on, Zum Hofe wanted to write her own children’s book, but couldn’t find the time.
As a freelance artist, Seth Boggs, a 2003 Concordia graduate and associate professor of art, has illustrated multiple children’s books, but since the stories were already finished, he didn’t have an opportunity to collaborate on the direction of the narrative, something he wished he could do.
Then, nearly three years ago, while Zum Hofe, a 1997 Concordia graduate and an associate professor of English, and Boggs served together on a committee, Boggs asked Zum Hofe to help him write a children’s book.
“I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book,” Boggs said. “But the part I get stuck on is the story. I start down a path and it feels like I’m telling a story that’s already been told, so I felt like Laurie could help me through this. She said ‘maybe we should just write one together.’”
Two and a half years later, Zum Hofe and Boggs published “…On A Tilt!” about the adventures of Gus, a sparrow that leaves his cramped home he shared with a bunch of his annoying friends in search of his own safe, sturdy and quiet space. Along the way, he learns lessons about what it means to have meaningful friendships. Zum Hofe’s inspiration for the story came from a birdhouse attached to the apartment building on Highway 15 in Seward next door to Dairy Queen.
“Creative non-fiction is my genre of choice,” Zum Hofe said. “So much of my inspiration I draw from everyday existence.”
Boggs’ wife, Megan, a 2002 Concordia graduate, used her experience working at the Seward Memorial Library to help with the publishing logistics of the book. Megan also helps coordinate the online orders and the business side of the operation.
“Megan has been the captain of the ship,” Zum Hofe said. “She takes on a lot of the details that I don’t even think of.”
Zum Hofe and Boggs presented about their experience at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival last month, where they hosted a workshop, with the goal of encouraging students to think about their own stories and what they can do with storytelling, Boggs said.
“Part of our mission is that we want to foster creativity elsewhere,” Zum Hofe said. “I see us moving in that direction now because we saw how students responded to how we were inspired to write the story and the stuff they came up with was fantastic.”
For Boggs, illustrating a book like this is quite different than previous projects he’s worked on.
“To get the author’s copies in the mail and to have the print and the smell of the ink and those things, it’s been great,” he said. “This is a different experience. It has the potential of reaching a wider audience and that’s awesome to think about. When I create fine art work, I don’t think about it lasting longer than me, but I think something like this can. It’s a little bit of a legacy project.”
Initially, the book was designed for students in third through fifth grades, Zum Hofe said, but they’re finding out quickly there’s a much larger audience range.
“We just had somebody ask us if we wanted to present at an art design school on the east coast,” she said. “We could talk to them about the experience of our creativity, as people in higher education and how everything we’ve done has brought us to this in unexpected ways. The audience just keeps opening up and surprising us.”
Now that the first book is published, the team is looking at doing another two books that connect to Gus’ story, and then another series of three books. The books, like “…On a Tilt!” will be published by Tilted Press, a publishing company the duo is starting to provide a service to other inspiring authors who want to publish their own books.
“We realized this is something we can offer to other authors and illustrators that would align with what we’re doing with our mission to inspire other people to be creative,” Zum Hofe said.
Up next for the pair is “…On a Wire,” about a hawk named Milo, based on a hawk Zum Hofe sees every day while driving on the Matzke Highway.
Copies of “…On a Tilt!” can be purchased through the Tilted Press website, with an option for signed copies.