Calling All Legendary Characters
Calling All Legendary Characters
A family explores Abilene, the Storybook Capital of Texas
By Amy Becker Williams
I love bringing my whole family: husband and kiddos—Sarah, 5, and Jack, 11—back to the Lone Star treasure of West Texas every year. The venture brings back good memories of my childhood, my grandparents and all the interesting characters I met on their farm. As we head toward Abilene, I feel a sense of comfort as I pass the familiar sleepy cattle and Texas-sized pickups.
The silence in our car is interrupted by Jack, who stares down at his phone as he shouts: “Did you know that Abilene is the Storybook Capital of Texas?”
“What’s that mean?” Sarah says.
“Well, I was Googling Abilene and it looks like there are a several reasons—like the National Center for Children’s Literature, and an arts and books festival, and 23 sculptures from books that we’ve read. Even ones from Dr. Seuss!” he said.
“Do you think Horton will be there, mom?” Sarah asks.
“Let’s find out!” I reply.
Maybe my crazy characters could create a story of our own.
Searching for sculptures
I’ve heard all the comments there are to make about West Texas—people make assumptions, so I’m always quick to correct. Truth is, I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in quaint Abilene. I spent my days outside, or inside daydreaming and letting my imagination run wild—I love that Abilene continues to embrace cultivating imagination in children in big ways. There’s a reason I bring my kids back to the region year after year. I wonder if I would have become as much of a dreamer if I had the technology my kids have today.
Jack’s already geared up for the tech-savvy storybook sculpture scavenger hunt on his phone.
“Sarah,” Jack says. “Horton’s right here!”
Her eyes twinkle. The car’s barely come to a stop at Everman Park and Sarah’s already bounding out. Jack scampers after her in a competition to see who can be the first to reach the bronze sculptures. “It’s The Grinch!” Sarah squeals. My husband and I smile as we snap pictures of the kids being kids, scattering about and posing silly poses with each statue. They laugh, and loudly declare, “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”
Abilene is one of a handful of places in the world to have all six commemorative bronze sculptures from the Seuss Foundation—I’m so proud of my hometown.
I must say we’re all impressed with the detail in each of Seuss’ six beloved characters, such as sweet Horton’s characteristic big, quizzical eyes. From the successful smile of Yertle the Turtle to the bold stance of the trouble-making Cat in the Hat, to the protective glare of The Lorax, the sculptor has nailed every character perfectly. Even The Grinch’s long pointy fingers are perfectly depicted, as is the expression of his faithful pooch, Max, donning a set of crooked antlers.
As the kids continue running though Everman Park I hear Jack holler out, “Mom, Dad! There’s more!” They had discovered Childhood’s Great Adventure—from William Joyce’s book, Santa Calls—which depicts the storybook characters’ sailing excursion to the North Pole. “I want to go to the North Pole with them!” says Sarah. “Speaking of the North Pole,” Jack says. “Santa’s on the tour—keep your eye out!”
After an eager Everman Park search and checking out the Man in the Moon, we follow Jack’s lead toward Pine Street to find Toothiana, a character from Rise of the Guardians. Since Sarah is experiencing her first loose tooth, we hear more squeals of success as she listens to her brother explain that Toothiana is Queen of the Tooth Fairies and how she guards all the teeth she collects. Sarah insists on taking a special photo with Toothiana, while pointing to her loose tooth, so she can leave it under her pillow as a gift for the tooth fairy.
In our quest to find Santa, Jack leads us through downtown for more discoveries, including the huge, colorful sculpture of Dinosaur Bob—from Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo, by William Joyce—atop the Grace Museum.
We pass Jack Frost and I listen to my Jack tell Sarah that he’s the one in charge of snow and ice—Jack’s read Guardians of Childhood. “Then we must be near Santa!” Sarah says as she jumps up and down, grabbing her brother’s hand trying to pull him along. For a parent, there’s not much better than watching your kiddos having fun together. Happy kids. Happy parents.
We all practically jog along Cedar Street, toward the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, with our eyes peeled. “Hey Jack, didn’t you say something about this earlier?” I pant.
Just then, Sarah spots him. “Santa!” His outfit looks differently than the traditional Santa—this being the Guardians of Childhood version—but his belly is huge and Sarah recognizes his signature beard right away. We snap more pictures and even pose for a group celebratory selfie as we end our statue search with the discovery of Nicholas St. North, a.k.a. Santa.
A museum for all book lovers
We head inside the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL, pronounced “nickel” for short) and immediately purchase a book, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King by William Joyce, to learn more about St. Nick’s journey to becoming Santa Claus.
This specialty museum is dedicated to children’s illustrated literature and was inspired by William Joyce and his story Santa Calls, which was set in Abilene. The kids scoot back and forth across the gallery floor eyeballing the framed images from award-winning children’s picture-book artists, and both wear ear-to-ear grins. I wonder if we should come back for the 5th Annual Children’s Art and Literacy Festival in June.
“Hey, it’s art day!” Jack hollers out as he and Sarah dart over to tables filled with colorful supplies. We all dig in cutting, painting, gluing, and creating our own masterpiece of a story. We spot a fitting quote displayed from Mike Wimmer: “Words are the wings of our imagination, but pictures are the final destination.”
As Jack concentrates on cutting a shape out of green paper—is that a dinosaur?—he wonders aloud.
“Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book one day,” he says.
“Maybe it’ll become a sculpture in Abilene,” Sarah replies.
Looks like I don’t have to worry about my kids dreaming.
Request a free visitor guide and plan a getaway to Abilene, Storybook Capital of Texas.