Shaping ShapesvilleGAMBIER, Ohio (August 7, 2003) The latest literary success at Kenyon involves three students, five professors, a serious need, an idea that in retrospect seems delightfully simple, and months of work that was anything but simple.
The success in question is Shapesville, a whimsical, affirming book about body image for young children, written by three recent graduates who never dreamed that what began as an unusual independent-study project would result not only in publication but in an initial press run of 10,000 copies and extensive promotion to schools, libraries, book stores, families, and eating-disorder specialists.
"It's kind of surreal," says Andy Mills, Class of 2002, who wrote the book with fellow psychology major Becky Osborn, Class of 2002, in the spring of their senior year. The two found the perfect illustrator in Erica Neitz, Class of 2001, a studio-art graduate and builder of "fun, funky" furniture who had stayed in Gambier to work as a technician in the art department.
Shapesville, about a happy, colorful world where Daisy the orange diamond and Sam the blue square revel in their individuality, unbothered by their size or shape, will be available in book stores this fall. "Every kid who has seen it has loved it," says Leigh Cohn, who with his wife Lindsey Hall runs Gürze Books, a California-based publishing house that specializes in literature on eating disorders. Gürze had never published a children's book before, but Shapesville, with its simple rhymes and playful drawings, captured their imagination. And the publishers felt confident that the material was educationally appropriate because they knew and trusted two of the authors' mentors, Kenyon psychology professors (and eating-disorder experts) Linda Smolak and Michael Levine.
To call Osborne and Mills neophytes would be to exaggerate their experience. Both of them had worked with kids and done research in schools, but they knew virtually nothing about creating children's literature. "It's not easy to write children's books," says Osborn. "It's a totally different feeling, a totally different culture, a totally different flow. Every book has its own rhythm and mind-set." "But we got great encouragement from our professors," adds Osborn. "They said, 'Go for it.' They had total confidence in us. That's why we had confidence in ourselves."
One of the nation's leading liberal arts and sciences colleges and home to the Kenyon Review, Kenyon College offers 1,550 students a challenging educational experience enriched by a culture of friendship. Graduates of the college have included actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and Pulitzer-prize winning author E. L. Doctorow.