Local artist to debut children's book

Kids at storytime will get a special thrill this morning.

Books & Company always has a 10 a.m. reading for children on Saturdays, but this time the reader and the author are the same person.

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Local artist Madeline Kloepper is the VIP guest. The children who attend will be the first in the world to experience her new book The Not-So Great Outdoors.

Of course it is an ironic title. Kloepper tells a tale of kids who complain about all the modern conveniences they will have to do without, should they go on their family camping trip. Those sacrifices end up being the best joys of the great outside.

Kloepper was already a national award winner as an illustrator of books, but in this case she also wrote the story. That dual touch made for a deeply personal finished project.

"The locations in the book are not specified, but when you study the illustrations where they are camping you can see a loose interpretation of a northern place, but it is open to interpretation," said Kloepper.

She was raised in Surrey and moved to Prince George in recent years, where she has cheerfully embraced the endless trails and waterways of the area.

"My boyfriend and I went to Jasper a few years ago," she said, explaining the process of inspiration. "I already had some of these ideas forming, but Jasper is such a quintessential park that it really got me going on more of the work that led to the book."

She credits a lot of hikes with establishing her love of the super natural - from the Holliday Creek stone arch near McBride to the cathedral of old-growth trees at The Ancient Forest to summiting Mount Terry Fox. From the Robson Valley to the Bulkley Valley, she has earned every letter and brush stroke inside The Not-So Great Outdoors.

She still loves to visit the city and maintains close ties to her Lower Mainland circle of family and friends, but "I really couldn't imagine going back south again." Urbanity is not vilified in her book, but nature is described as a happy balance.

She found a kindred spirit in a book printer located in big-city Canada but named Tundra. That relationship started when the publisher needed an illustrator for Cary Fagan's children's book Little Blue Chair. Recent Emily Carr University graduate Kloepper got the job, won awards for it, and the momentum was rolling.

She has now worked on more projects for other authors, but The Not-So Great Outdoors was her personal debut.

"You need an idea that's strong enough to stand as your own book, and after a few other ideas I had, this was the one that stood out," said Kloepper. "You start with the general concept. I did up some rough sketches and the text, and then there was a lot of back and forth. Eventually I came up with a dummy book and sent that to the publisher and they came back with an offer. Once that was done, we could really get working at refining things."

She said she found the staff at Tundra to be challenging and professional, to get the project just right. Any compromises were made in a positive spirit and "it really felt collaborative, like we were all working together on the same side. I definitely had a lot of help."

She did the initial work as sketches but after concepts hardened into firm plans she solidified the process on watercolour paper and then got transferred to Photoshop software for easier editing. The drafts were honed, back and forth with Tundra staff, using note-writing capabilities in the PDF document format.

The cover's design and the binding style was inspired by Rocky Mountain writer Ben Gadd's books.

"Once I got the green light after all the back-and-forth with the text and rough sketches, it took me two to three months of working on final pieces plus redo some bits and pieces. It was a lot of work, pretty intense," she said.

"We're over the moon to be able to debut this story about a reluctant camper who discovers that the (not-so) great outdoors can be just as exciting as screens and skyscrapers in this playful picture book celebration of the pleasures of unplugging and embracing nature," said a statement from the staff at Books & Company.

"Join us solo, with your kidlets, or let your kidlets join us so that you can browse or sip actual hot coffee, if your children are able to sit solo for the better part of an hour. If not, please be on hand to supervise."

The book will be officially released on Tuesday, but Prince George gets an early opportunity starting today. Copies of the hardcover book will be on sale at her 10 a.m. reading.

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