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Tucson is rich with children’s book authors, illustrators
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Tucson is rich with children’s book authors, illustrators

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Because they are a savvy bunch, even the youngest of children quickly sense the approach of the year-end holidays. They hear the music in the car. An elf appears on the shelf. A pine tree sprouts mysteriously in the front room.

As they get older, some may even see that the display of children’s books – usually located at the back of the store – is now right up front at Target.

It is definitely a great time of the year for children. ’Tis a pretty good season for children’s literature, too, and no one appreciates it more than the authors and illustrators of the books themselves.

“It feels good to walk in a bookstore and see one of your books on a table near the front door,” author-illustrator Chris Gall admitted. “The rest of the year we’re in the back someplace. To hear parents talking about books for their kids, to know they might be talking about yours, that’s pretty great.”

Gall is among many Tucsonans involved in the publication of children’s books. Since they only see sales summaries twice a year, it is hard for an author to measure just how much the holidays help their bottom lines. But retail analysts say 20-25% of all annual book sales come in the six weeks before Christmas, and kids’ books traditionally lead the charge.

Educators say there are five genres across children’s literature: Most of us cut our teeth, literally, on board books as toddlers. Picture books are stories relying on words and illustrations for kids 4-8. Chapter books, or easy readers, help 8-to-10-year-olds grasp stories without pictures. Middle grade readers take the next step, and young adult books cover a wide range of topics appealing to adolescents.

While Phoenix is home to a number of well-known authors writing for young adults, Tucson is surprisingly rich with authors and illustrators focused on kids ages 4-10.

One of them is Lori Alexander, an Oro Valley author now earning high marks for recently released projects in nonfiction. “A Sporting Chance,” published in April, explores the history of the Paralympic Games. “All in a Drop,” released last year, details the history of the microscope.

Both books grew from conversations at home. Alexander’s daughter had medical challenges when young. Her husband is a scientist.

“I had done board books, but nonfiction picture books seem like a good place for me now,” Alexander said. “The biggest thing is that I love researching them. I pick topics that are interesting to me and learn all I can.”

Alexander is a Lori-come-lately to publishing. She was a human-relations specialist at Ventana Medical Systems.

“When my daughter was young,” she remembers, “we went to the Oro Valley Library every day after school. The children’s books were little lifesavers. We loved those books. I started wondering if I could do that.”

Alexander learned about the publishing business online. She developed a business and writing plan that incorporated national age-group curriculum standards. She cold-called agents. It worked. “All in a Drop” was listed as one of New York Public Library’s books of the year in 2019.

Gall and Adam Rex, both author-illustrators of popular picture books, took more conventional routes.

Gall was a gifted illustrator who studied writing at the UA.

“I thought I’d make more money as an author,” he explained. “Then I realized they don’t make any money, either.”

Like Alexander, Gall is edging toward nonfiction. His latest entry, published in August, is “Jumbo,” marking the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747. Last year, he released “Go for the Moon,” a story about Apollo 11 and the lunar landing.

Rex’s love for children’s books blossomed in high school while working for a Waldenbooks store in Phoenix.

“I hung out in the children’s book section,” he said. “I fell in love with the picture books.” Now he produces them. His latest is “On Account of the Gum,” published in October.

Alexander, Gall and Rex have one thing in common: none of them has written a Christmas-specific book. “I’d rather focus on books people will buy all year long,” Rex explained, but the three local authors all know this: It’s good to have a new one on the kids table when the table is right up front at the bookstore.

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