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Dream a Little Book

November 18, 2018

By Cheryl A. Cuddahy

When a song whispers in Khalida’s ear late at night, she is determined to catch it. But the next day, no matter how hard she tries, bad timing and a busy schedule get in the way of her creative pursuit.

This is a short description of “Khalida and the Beautiful Song,” written and illustrated by local author/illustrator, Amanda Moeckel.

“Khalida longs for time to sit at the piano and make her own music and refuses to give up on her quest,” Amanda says. “When she finally succeeds, we discover the power of a captivating melody.”

Amanda was born in Fitchburg and moved to Lunenburg at age 5. There, she went through Lunenburg Public Schools and says she felt very supported in the arts there.

“I drew all the time growing up -- in school, after school, in church, wherever I was,” Amanda says. “I spent a lot of time at the Ritter Memorial Library in Lunenburg with my grandmother as a young child. Both of my parents worked, and I was blessed with an incredible grandmother who was a teacher at heart, and I spent my days with her. I’m sure these days, combined with a love of drawing, led me to wanting to make books as an adult.”

Amanda knew she needed to do something art-related in college, so she studied painting. However, like most artists, after college she got a regular job while painting on the side.

“My paintings were always illustrative, as opposed to abstract or decorative,” she says. “I said to myself that if there was anything I’d go back to school for, it would be children’s book illustration. It took a good 10 years to build up the courage. However, once I was in my 30s, that little voice that said, ‘It’s too competitive,’ and, ‘I’d never make it,’ had dissipated.”

And there suddenly seemed no other path forward for Amanda.

“I began researching, listening to podcasts, taking home stacks of picture books from the library, and applied to school where I lived at the time in San Francisco,” Amanda says. “Then I saw the beautiful books coming from students in School of Visual Arts’ Illustration as Visual Essay Program, so I set my sights on that program. I applied, was accepted, moved to New York City and graduated in 2015 with a master’s degree.”

The idea for “Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song” came to Amanda the same way the song comes to Khalida in the book. “I went to bed with a prayer every night for about three weeks that a story would come to me in my dreams -- one that was for only me to tell,” Amanda says.

Once the idea came to Amanda, she sketched out some of the main scenes. Then she wrote the story, with some help from a writing class and some critique groups.

She compiled a “book dummy,” a sketched version of the book with a couple final illustrations, “and was ready to share the story with publishers.”

“I didn’t have an agent, but I was lucky enough to meet my publisher, Kristen Nobles at Page Street Kids, at a conference in New York City in February of 2017.”

Amanda had six months to complete the book -- using pencil, watercolor, gouache and Photoshop -- and finished all the illustrations in November 2017. It takes about a year to print a book and get it onto shelves. It was released on Sept. 18.

“It feels like a story my soul wants to tell,” Amanda says. “And it sets the standard for future books in that way. The more I share it with kids and parents, the more it means to me.”

Amanda hopes parents read her book and are encouraged to give their children more time to daydream and be creative. “I’ve been reading articles lately from occupational therapists and other creators, saying how vitally important boredom is,” Amanda says. “That is where creativity lies. And humanity can’t progress without creativity.”

Amanda believes that instead of putting a tablet in kids’ hands every time they say they’re bored, let them be bored. Let them daydream. Send them outside to make up games. Give them some paper and crayons. Give them a notebook to write their own stories.

″‘Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song’ is for little creators of anything from music to games to inventions to ways of helping people,” Amanda says. “Khalida’s song is the metaphor for all of those things. We desperately need more creative innovators in this world, and children desperately need more creative time to become those innovators.”

This Thanksgiving, Amanda reflects on the gifts for which she is grateful.

“I am thankful for all the people who helped me put this book together and the children and parents I have read it to so far,” she says. “It’s very special once a book is out in the world. It takes on a life of its own, like it was always there, in the same way a baby does.”

Amanda’s book can be found wherever books are sold. Support your local bookstores.

Got a column subject or item for Community Conversations? Email ccuddahy@sentinelandenterprise. Read her blog at blogs.sentinelandenterprise.com/communityconversations .

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