Former Oak Park teacher will sign her first book Saturday at Magic Tree
Author Ellie Alldredge-Bell taught in Oak Park schools for 33 years.
Who: Author Ellie Alldredge-Bell, a former elementary school teacher in Oak Park.
What: Reading and signing copies of her first book, “Sitting on a Zinnia and Other Sweet Dreams.”
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Magic Tree Bookstore, 141 N. Oak Park Ave.
Updated: February 25, 2013 12:07PM
OAK PARK — Ellie Alldredge-Bell’s formative years were filled with jump rope rhymes, poetry and Shakespeare.
“I had a very rich childhood, myself. My mother had a wonderful sense of play and imagination and literature,” the Kewanee, Ill., native said. “When you’ve had that experience, you really can hear the conversations and ideas, and imaginations floating around in your head.”
Those memories of her playful childhood infuse Alldredge-Bell’s first children’s book, “Sitting on a Zinnia and Other Sweet Dreams.”
The former Oak Park resident will return to sign copies and read the book aloud 1 p.m. Saturday Jan. 26 at Magic Tree Bookstore, 141 N. Oak Park Ave.
Though Alldredge-Bell had little time to write during her 33 years of teaching at Hatch, Holmes and Lincoln elementary schools, she certainly had a front-row seat to the lives and imaginations of children.
“When you’re around kids a lot, you really are privy to their stories, the things they talk about, the things that interest them,” the mother of six said. “I was listening to kids’ stories during that time . . . I was sort of gathering my tools in a lot of ways.”
Living in Oak Park, with its rich literary tradition, didn’t hurt. Alldredge-Bell also put her classroom literary experience to work as a member of the Illinois Writing Project.
“We did a lot with teaching teachers how to teach writing,” she said, laughing.
Following her retirement in 2003 and a move to Madison, Wis., where she had spent her childhood, Alldredge-Bell continued her involvement in writing groups. With their encouragement, she made the leap from writing and locking away her work to working with Little Creek Press.
“You know children always talked about having dreams, having good dreams and bad dreams,” she said. “I thought that’s true that some dreams are bad, but sometimes don’t you just enjoy your dreams? Don’t they just tickle you?”
It’s that happy, ticklish feeling Alldredge-Bell hoped to infuse into Sitting on a Zinnia.
Though she said it’s difficult to pinpoint just how long it took to write the book, Alldredge-Bell said the process of writing and rewriting took about a year.
“I didn’t just sit down and start writing it all at once,” she said. “It’s hard to know because I think all that stuff is kind of percolating in you. It’s not just like sitting a letter or writing an email to someone. It just comes from so many places, I think. It comes from your imaginings, your life experiences, your own sense of humor.”
Though publishers typically pair a writer and an illustrator themselves, Alldredge-Bell was shown the work of several illustrators, selecting Stacey Williams-Ng. It wasn’t until they met after the book was published that Alldredge-Bell learned Williams-Ng had lived in Oak Park and that their husbands had been acquainted.
“Sitting on a Zinnia” is Williams-Ng’s second print book project. Most of her career has been spent as an interactive graphic designer who has helped produce about a dozen books for iPad.
“Really, it’s the illustrator’s job to tell the story on a parallel with the words, to almost give the child a second book to read,” Williams-Ng said. “It was really fun for me to imagine this book through the eyes of a child and push those dreams through a another dimension.”
Alldredge-Bell and Williams-Ng already have embarked on a second project, “Luigi at the Opera.” That project, which is featured in a documentary that will be released in March, will be introduced first as an iPad app, with a printed version published later this year.