In September 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting not only the author of the children’s book Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year but the illustrator as well. They took some time out of their busy schedules to talk to me about the evolution of this amazing little rabbit and his adventures, as well as what’s coming next.
Kyrja Withers says she first found inspiration for Rupert and his adventures when she was working at, of all places, her job at a construction site. “I just had this verse in my head, of Rupert the rabbit sitting on top of the hill,” she says. It wasn’t the first time she’d been inspired to write something down – at a gathering some years ago, family members encouraged her to write down the story “The Monster Got Mom.”
Gradually the stories of Rupert, a curious young rabbit, began to take form, and Kyrja posted them online so she could share them with friends. After a while, people began expressing interest in buying them. Although the stories are written in rhyming verse, Kyrja says they’re not poetry. “Everyone was asking me where they could buy Rupert books, and that was when I started thinking I might have something valuable here.”
Although she tried contacting a few publishers with her ideas, it was Pete Schiffer of Schiffer Publishing who took a personal interest in Rupert and his adventures. Originally, the book was planned to be a series of eight stories, but that changed quickly. Now, the first Rupert book covers four of the Pagan holidays, and a second volume will cover the remaining four Sabbats in the Wheel of the Year.
“I was worried at first,” Kyrja confesses. “I actually wanted it to be eight separate books, to keep the costs low. I was afraid people wouldn’t want to buy a hardcover book because of the price, but Pete [Schiffer] insisted that it was better to do a larger book. And he was right.”
Tonia Bennington Osborn has a background in fine art – and never imagined she’d be illustrating a commercial children’s book. In fact, when she first was first contacted by Kyrja back in 2009, she was a little skeptical. “There are a lot of scams in the art world, so I’m pretty cautious about committing to something when I don’t know the person,” she says. However, her brother – who worked construction with Kyrja – suggested Tonia take a look at the story of Rupert. So, she agreed to take a peek.
“I’m not a typical artist,” Osborn says. While some artists may take weeks and even months to create a single work, Osborn says that if the inspiration is there, she can work fairly quickly. She created Rupert in soft pastels on suede, and when the date for the first book approached, Tonia found herself putting things together on a three-week deadline.
Both Kyrja and Tonia were committed to making Rupert happen. In fact, when Schiffer Publishing asked for original artwork to be shipped to them overnight – which would have cost about $400 – Tonia loaded her work into the car and drove six hours to drop it off in person at the publishing house.