Children’s book has Park City ties
October 11, 2016
As Susan Johnston followed the news each day, the feeling of despair began to simmer. The world, it seemed to her, was consumed with hate and violence, and there was no end in sight to the negativity.
"It leaves a pit in your stomach," she said.
Instead of dwelling on the pessimism, though, Johnston decided to combat it. Inspired by the success of an advent calendar she'd made for her young son that encouraged him to engage in daily acts of kindness, she wrote a children's book that urges readers to do the same thing.
"I wanted to do something positive," she said. "I wanted the book to share for kids what the purpose of kindness is and the fact that small acts of kindness really can make a difference in the big scheme of things."
In August, Johnston released "The Gnome in Your Home," along with an accompanying plush gnome toy. The book tells the tale of a group of gnomes who question whether they can make a difference in the world only to discover the power of their kindness.
Included in the book is a perforated list of good deeds for children to perform. That, Johnston said, is the most important part.
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"Parents can tear them out the night before, select an act of kindness and put it in the gnome's lap," she said. "So when the kids wake up, wherever they see the gnome, that's the act of kindness that they think about for that day."
Johnston, a professor at the University of Utah, is scheduled to read the book to students in Park City during several events over the next few months. But the book's Summit County connection goes much deeper than that. Its illustrator, Alexa Kanarowski, is a junior at Park City High School.
When Johnston contacted Kanarowski, the daughter of one of her doctoral students, about doing the illustration, Kanarowski was immediately intrigued. She wants to become a professional artist after graduation, and she saw working on the book as a way to give her art a special purpose.
"I love the interactive part of the book," Kanarowski said. "It's not just a plain story, but you actually do something. … I think most artists want to make change with their art, but it can be hard to get from wanting to do that to actually do it. So it's really wonderful being actually able to do it."
Johnston said the illustrations impressed her. During brainstorming sessions, Johnston and Kanarowski shared ideas for how the book should look. But on the page, after Kanarowski had added her own visual taste and sense of flair, the art brought the book to life in a way Johnston hadn't imagined.
"Alexa is just exceptional in so many ways," Johnston said. "She's very talented and has great skills and great ideas."
Johnston added that collaborating with a teenager added another layer to the book that readers will appreciate.
"I think that, obviously, the way people from different generations view the world is really different," she said. "To combine my older view and Alexa's younger view was really fun."
"The Gnome in Your Home" can be purchased online at thegnomeinyourhome.com. It can also be bought at the Kimball Art Center.
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