Meet the Author:
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Meet our February Author of the Month, Casey Rislov. Casey is an award-winning children’s author, and her book, the Rowdy Randy Wild West Show, is featured in Elephant Books subscriptions this month. We loved speaking with Casey about the inspiration for her book’s small but mighty protagonist, the fascinating wildlife of the West, and the significance of reading to our kids.
The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show tells the exciting legend behind the legend of Buffalo Bill Cody. A tale of talented animals, big and small, the original wild west show is organized by a fearless leader named Rowdy Randy. Full of humor, suspense, and stunning illustrations of western wildlife, this story is an entertaining read for all.
Not only are you an award-winning children’s author, but you have extensive experience teaching kids, traveling, and you know a thing or two about the Wild West as a native of Wyoming! How have these experiences influenced your work as a writer and the stories you share?
I was born in Nebraska, but I have lived here since I was 2 years old, so almost a native!
I think living a well-rounded life of traveling through books and on trips has helped open my eyes from different angles. For example, I can see through my eyes of growing up in Wyoming, the western ways and wildlife that surrounds us, and from an outsider’s view, of how different life can be on a ranch or in an isolated area of the country.
I was raised by teachers before becoming one myself, so I think I’ve always taken the approach of learning about many things in life to understand our world more. I’ve always appreciated the arts as much as the sports, science as much as writing, and listening to a storyteller as much as being a part of a story.
Trying new things is a part of being an everyday learner and explorer, and writing should be fearless in the same way. To not being afraid to try the story from different angles or adding in new creative elements to bring depth to the story or taking someone’s suggestions and trying them out.
Rowdy Randy Wild West Show is your second book about the fearless legend, Rowdy Randy–a tough bug, brave cowgirl, and natural leader with a knack for adventure. What inspired you to create stories about this character?
The story started from wanting to showcase the very animals that people from around the world come to see in Yellowstone National Park. And these animals can be found all over the state of Wyoming, but they are in abundance in the National Park. When I was ready to add a character to the story, I knew I wanted a small but mighty character.
Small to add to the humor and the idea that little things can cause large things to happen. In the animal world, we all know that chaos can happen easily. You understand this if you have a pet. However, something tiny brings interesting action to the scene.
This character needed to be mighty in order to live in the tough elements of the West, from the weather and terrain to the animals the character would be encountering. The bold character needed to be remembered in a world that is already tough.
Rowdy Randy the horsefly draws in a crowd of all different critters to watch as the animals of the West tackle impressive feats, from hummingbird obstacles courses to spiderweb tight ropes. Can you describe your creative process when developing this unique story?
This was first tackled by lists and research. I wrote down the many animals I knew in the Rocky Mountain region first, realizing I needed different critter lists- from bugs to birds to small/medium/large animals. Then I highlighted the ones to consider for my book from each category to represent a variety of creatures. From there, I researched the top contenders and wrote down their real skills that would be perfect for a Wild West Show. I learned that hummingbirds are unique in flight as they can fly upside down and backwards. So I knew instantly that they would be perfect for a show starter. The bison is featured last, as it is one of the toughest creatures that have roamed the West. No creature could get a ride from a bison without it turning into a headline tragic story, but a horsefly could!
Speaking of critters, we love the detailed and captivating illustrations that complement the wit and wonder of Randy’s one-of-a-kind show. What was it like collaborating with Zachary Pullen to bring this story to life on the pages?
Zachary Pullen exudes creativity. If you ask him for ideas, he’ll start rattling off many different scenarios. When I presented this idea of a book of western US wildlife, along with the humor that something small can cause a lot of energy and commotion, he quickly came back with the idea that a horsefly could easily be the critter needed for this story. So, he came up with who should be the main character and the story went from there.
Since we live in the same city, once the book was written, he would invite me over through different stages of the illustrations. It was an honor to enter his studio and see the detail unfolding. I enjoyed the pencil sketches as much as the final book illustrations. He believes that it all starts from great pencil drawings to create amazing painted art pieces. Zak sells the original art from the books he creates.
Lurking in the shadows of Rowdy Randy’s show is a familiar figure of the Wild West, a subtle and clever nod to a well known legend which introduces themes of boldness, originality, and trusting your gut. What motivated you to share this “legend behind the legend”?
Some people in history captivate the imagination, whether or not you are a history buff. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) is one of these characters. He lived life large. He started at a young age being a part of the gold rush in Colorado to reportedly riding for the Pony Express. Then as an adult, he created his Wild West Show that traveled to Europe, was the most popular event at the Chicago World Fair and became such an enormous production that he needed to partner with Barnum and Bailey Circus trains to help move his show around the US. His name and Wild West Show early on symbolized the American Frontier. A person as captivating in history as this seemed natural to showcase in our book next, but not leaving out the interesting wildlife.
What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
Being in the creative process on a regular basis is a great perk, from coming up with ideas, to team-working and editing new ideas within the story, to watching the story unfold from an editor’s and artist’s point of view, to the actual book in my hands, to sharing the story with children and families. All of the love and creativity that goes into a book shows up. The teacher in me, as this was my first career, enjoys passing on the message that writing and reading are fun and imaginative.
The books that held my attention repeatedly as a child were the Dr. Seuss and Disney collection. Dr. Seuss for the wacky and outrageous rhyming and creatures. Disney for their sense of adventure and wonder. There was always a lot of imagination to take in–both in illustrations and in the story itself. My Mom bought these collections through the mail order subscriptions.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
I feel like the message has really gotten out to the community to read to our children in our lives. I think many organizations, local and national, have been amazing about spreading the importance of literature. Not just for knowledge, but for quality time with children.
I think the biggest interference of quality reading time is the technology. There need to be more messages that time limits should be put on screen time. Children need to experience real life by spending quality time in other areas. Everyone’s story starts young and real experiences are where it’s at. This includes outdoor time, friend and family time, trying new things, arts, sports and of course storytelling.
Do you have any upcoming books or creative projects we can look forward to reading?
Yes, my first nonfiction picture book came out this month. I collaborated with an acclaimed wildlife photographer, Ron Hayes, and our book is titled, “Let Me Tell You About My Mom.” It introduces young readers to mama animals (and babies) that are found in the US West.
The book is told from an animal baby’s point of view of why their Mom is so great. Then for the readers wanting to learn more about the animal, they can read real facts about each animal. It includes swift foxes, loons, and mountain goats.
We can’t wait to check it out! Thanks to Casey for taking the time to speak with us about the Rowdy Randy Wild West Show. Visit her website to learn more about her new book, and look for the Rowdy Randy Wild West Show in your Elephant Books subscription!
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