Avondale couple's book illustrates value lessons
An Avondale couple who created a book that retells a fairy tale with pictures say parents will read between the lines to find a story that helps them get closer to their young children while promoting values and literacy.
Storyteller Sean Buvala, 51, and his wife, artist Michelle Buvala, 50, teamed up to produce the book Apples for the Princess.
The story of three brothers and their encounters with a wizard along their journey to deliver apples that will cure an ailing princess has a “very clear moral concept to it,” Sean said.
“It has a lot of comments about being honest and being kind,” Michelle said.
Sean said he adapted the story from the first part of the Grimms’ fairytale The Griffin. Sean’s version originally appeared with other stories in his 2009 book DaddyTeller, a manual for fathers about using stories as a parenting tool.
The idea is for parents to read the book to their young children, then have the youngsters use the book’s illustrations to tell the story, Sean said.
If it works, he said parents will “put the book down and look at their child and engage.”
That could include working together to find the rest of The Griffin story, Sean said.
“Parents can use books as tools to build relationships with their kids and build literacy,” he said. “Nothing is more interesting to a small child than their parents. We’re heroes to our kids.”
The book can be read to children of any age, but by third or fourth grade, a child could read it independently, Sean said.
What Sean called the book’s “elegant language” — including words such as banish — and sentences that are longer than those in most books for children can challenge youngsters. They may gain understanding with questions or just by letting the story sink in, Sean said.
Sean said he selected Apples for the Princess as a project because the story is so visual, offering Michelle opportunities to illustrate many characters, including frogs and pigs.
“All of those images are so big and broad,” he said.
The full-page illustrations attract the youngest children to the book, Sean said.
Michelle, a self-taught artist and former elementary school teacher, said she used a storyboard as she hand-illustrated the book using watercolors that she cut to make collages.
“This is real artwork,” Sean said.
The book’s most striking illustration is perhaps that of an old man central to the story’s lesson.
“I knew we needed to have a wizardy-type face,” Michelle said of the image of the man with green eyes and flowing gray hair and beard.
The wizard’s repeated admonition to the brothers, “Well as you say, so it is,” is a key phrase in the story that Sean said needed to be as simple as possible to make an impact.
“These types of taglines are a real tool in storytelling,” he said.
The tagline can also be used as a reference or shorthand that parents can use to remind children of the lesson as they get older, Sean said.
Working with parents — especially fathers — has been a big part of Sean’s career over the past 30 years, which has included theater locally and storytelling, teaching and training nationally.
Michelle’s background includes creating a series of craft activity books tied to holidays.
Sean said the success of Apples for the Princess won’t be measured so much on how many copies are sold, but by its impact on families.
“I’m a big believer that books are tools,” he said. “I need to see this work in front of families.”
The Buvalas dedicated their book to their own family — a son, 25, and three daughters, 21, 19 and 17 — who they said have grown up in the family business.
“Our kids are surrounded by stories and books,” Sean said, crediting Michelle for creating a home library with an emphasis on the classics. “These kids have heard a lot of stories.”
They also work at Sean’s parenting and storytelling conferences, taking photos, assembling sets and collecting admission fees, he said.
While Sean and Michelle have teamed up on projects for other authors published through their Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group, Apples for the Princess is the first book of their own where they’ve worked together.
“This is the first project of this scope that we could use both of our art forms together,” Sean said.
Working with a spouse didn’t create conflict, the couple said.
“We’re very comfortable with each other when we have things to talk about,” Michelle said. “It’s easy to do.”
The Buvalas said they are looking forward to doing more work together — perhaps more books based on Sean’s adaptations of the Grimms and Aesop fables in the DaddyTeller book.
“I have more stories in mind than we have time to do them,” Sean said.
Apples for the Princess is available from Amazon.com for $9.99.
For information about the book, including free coloring pages, visit applesfortheprincess.com.
Glenn Gullickson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.