Steeped in Summit County history
"Every historian writes an interpretation of history based on the time, their own experiences, and who’s going to read it," Lola Beatlebrox said. "My interpretation might be different than someone else’s, but I just hope that this book presents an accurate account."
Beatlebrox is the author of a new children’s history book, "Your History Your County," which tells the tale of Summit County from the days of mammoths and mastodons to the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The book has been purchased by Park City School District for every fourth-grade student, as well as by the North and South Summit school districts for its second- through fourth-grade classes. It is also available in every county library, and each library in Summit County.
"Your History Your County," is the collaboration of four women "who are creative and passionate about what they do," Beatlebrox said. It took about one-and-a-half years to create. The book was the brainchild of Summit County historian NaVee Vernon.
"I didn’t get to learn about the place where I lived growing up. I think you need to know who you are and where you come from," Vernon said.
Vernon and Beatlebrox went to teachers throughout the area to see if a Summit County history book written for children would be something they’d want as a tool in the classroom. "They were especially interested to know about how each town got its name," Beatlebrox said.
"I loved the concept of teaching it in schools and not just having it sit on the shelves in a library," Vernon said. "Educating the children of Summit County is one of my highest priorities in order to preserve our history and culture."
Vernon and Beatlebrox got the go-ahead from the teachers, and so the pair began gathering information. "It’s the selection of materials that’s the important thing," Beatlebrox said. "You can’t just look at secondary sources. I always used at as many primary sources as I could. For everything I can say, ‘this is the resource I found this fact in.’"
Being the Summit County historian, Vernon was able to gather a lot of research about each period from old manuscripts like diaries from the Daughter of Utah Pioneers.
These manuscripts are where all "the rich stories came from," Beatlebrox said. "The stories are what bring history alive for kids, it dramatizes things for them. You tend not to see that in adult history books."
For Beatlebrox, the hardest part about writing the book was deciding what to leave out "I just thought, ‘OK, what am I trying to teach here?’" She made a list of what she thought every child should know about history to help her prioritize. "I used my artistic sense in knowing what children love; plus I also wanted to address the themes and learning objectives of the core curriculum," she said.
After Beatlebrox’s initial research, she and Vernon took an outline to the teachers for reactions and suggestions. While writing it, Beatlebrox checked on the grade level of words. If it was a word that a fourth grader wouldn’t necessarily know, she would define it within the context of what the book was talking about.
Beatlebrox collaborated with the book’s illustrator, Camille Vernon, NaVee’s daughter, to figure out how to present these words with their definition. Camille is a free-lance artist in Summit County who specializes in murals. Together they created "Checkers," a ground squirrel, which is indigenous to the county, who pops up on pages to help out with "Words to Know."
Camille did pencil illustrations throughout the book. The choice to use pencil was two-fold: The book was going to be printed in just two colors, so pencil could add a lot of dimension and shading in a black and white drawing. Also, she wanted to duplicate how historic illustrations would have looked.
More illustrations were needed in the earlier years of the book because they had fewer photographs available for those time periods. Camille researched on the style of clothing and types of tools used. "It was important that we try and be as accurate as we could," she said.
Beatlebrox said she wanted to find an illustrator who was steeped in Summit County and had a marvelous imagination. She found that in Camille. "It was remarkable," she said. "Camille understands children, having two of her own, and she was very generous with her time."
Beatlebrox and Vernon also asked local graphic designer Janet Thimmes to design the book. Thimmes was the one to suggest printing in two-color to keep costs down. Plus, it kept things simple, she said, which is important in creating a children’s book.
"I wanted to keep the spread as open as possible, so that the eye could move through it easily," Thimmes said. "You can’t give young kids too much information. They need to be able to look at the page and have some white background so they can read better."
Each woman contributed extra time to the project and cost-effective ideas, in order to make this nonprofit endeavor happen. The book was being produced on a tight budget, even after Beatlebrox’s mom, to whom the book is dedicated, donated money to keep it going.
"We met with the districts early on to ensure we had customers," Beatlebrox said. "Money was always a concern because we knew my mother’s donation was not going to be enough."
But as the book was composed, it evolved into something more. "We were looking at it on a child’s level, but it went to an adult level," NaVee said. "I think history does that. As you look into it and study, it becomes bigger and more interesting for you."
"When I read the book, I learned things, and I’ve lived here my whole life," Camille said. "This was well above what we set out to do."
Beatlebrox went to the Park City Lodging Association to talk with them about how their employees would read the book so they could know something about the county and pass that knowledge on to guests. She also went to the Park City Rotary Club to introduce the book as a gift idea for Christmas.
"From a child’s perspective, it’s a great book," she said. "And from an adult’s perspective, it’s an even greater book because most adults don’t have the attention span or the time to sit down to an in-depth history book.
"History is not about dates and memorizing facts, it’s about people and building infrastructures."
Beatlebrox continued to say that while the stories in this book are very attractive to children, stories are also what make history so human for everyone kids and adults alike.
"When people came here it was just land," she said. "As the community grew, people built relationships, and through those relationships, they began building infrastructure, but that is only a byproduct of those relationships."
She said the eastern and western sides of the county are a great example of how a community is built by relationships. "Park City could not have developed without the farmers on the east side," Beatlebrox said. "We mined silver and lead. We didn’t grow food. If not for the farmers, we wouldn’t have survived. Economically speaking, we all needed each other.
"These were two very different populations that needed to collaborate in order to grow and prosper. That’s why it’s important to understand where each other come from."
NaVee said this book accomplished one of her goals as a historian, which was to do something for everybody in the county, not just the east side or the west side.
"When you really combine history, you see we’re all connected," she said. "It surprises you. History is wonderful, especially when you honor the people that lived here. It makes you respect the people who came before us and appreciate what we have today."
Thimmes said she would have appreciated having a book like this about her town or county when she was growing up. "I hope this book will inspire kids and adults to learn about where they live," she said.
"Your History Your County" was published by the Summit County Historical Society. It went to print in August 2007 and was made available to the public in November. The book is being sold at all Summit County libraries for $20. (The Park City Library on Park Avenue is the only library not selling the book, but you can check out a copy there.)
"It was a wonderful team effort," Beatlebrox said. "This book is very much a creation by Summit County people, for Summit County people."
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