MY TURN - With an unusual past as a senior defense analyst for the US government, EG Ryan (her pen name) never thought she'd give up her post -- a job where she was able to "fly all over the world."
Even when she learned she was pregnant with twins, Elisabeth Ryan kept working.
"Here were these helpless creatures and I couldn't bear to be without them."
The arrival of Nick and Maximillian (Max), now 8, and the later arrival of 4-year-old Alexa Rose all with the last name Ryan-Shirley, sparked her imagination and brought back her old flame she carried for years -- writing and drawing. At the age of six, she wrote and illustrated her first book.
Now six books later with a boatload of ideas percolating, the incessant doodler--with a crazy- fun San Pedro household spinning in peacock blues and furious fuchsia colors-- the author-illustrator says she had no idea her children would change her path. They gave her endless, adventurous antics -- a bounty of material for her books.
"They are my books," Ryan explained. "Without them, I would not have had any children's stories. Without them, I'd still be working for the government. They are so close to my heart."
Her wild, bright tales include Spunky the Dog and Foxy the Cat --characters that appear in all her books. The books often feature animals at their home such as frogs and ants and each has a charming tale even parents will greatly appreciate.
Most have a gentle message without boxing kids on the head -- and gives parents another way to teach children to get out and play, clean up their rooms and enjoy life.
In Spunky the Dog, Spunky gets mad and mean and the more mean he gets, the more green spots show up on his body. He deserts his family and continues on his own mean journey -- until he realizes he doesn't like being mean anymore. He returns home to see if his family still wants him.
Ideas often materialize in Ryan's daily life. Her first book, Moon Balloons-- spun from a day when the two-year-old blond, curly-top boys at the time, clutched balloons their mom had given them.
Nick accidentally let go of a balloon and as he watched it float to the sky he began "flipping out." He began screaming and crying with Max immediately following suit with shared "pangs of sympathy," the author said.
To quiet them, she had to think quickly.
"I said: 'Don't worry. Don't worry. It's going up to help hold up the moon.' "
The twins immediately calmed down.
One of my favorites is the Collect-Its about "a good, but messy little girl" named Alexa Rose who never cleans her room or puts anything away. But when things like her toothbrush begin to vanish she soon learns two mysterious, but good creatures live in a room beneath her.
Their job: to collect things not wanted or used. (My own mother would have loved this book for me!) "
"We collect things we find on the floor," the Collect-Its explain to Alexa Rose. "Things you do not want, need, or things you just plain ignore."
The author's ambling into the publishing industry hit some rock hard objections. Some told her she shouldn't write and illustrate her own books. She needed to pick one or the other and of course, there were no promises of publication.
Refusing to give up, the harried and busy mother of three, decided to publish the first set on her own and at one of her first events at the Corner Store in San Pedro, Ryan sold 200 books in one day. Foxy the Cat, Spunky the Dog, The Dreamies, Moon Balloons and the Collect-Its jumped out the door. The Good Foodies is available now too.
"I see (they like the books) from the response I get from the children, from the parents, from the educators," Ryan explained, who added she does the work because "I want more niceness in the world. I want kindness."
What she knew, Ryan said, was what publishers didn't; children loved her stories. She began going to read in classes across the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Los Angeles Unified schools and could tell by the "looks on their faces," that the children were riveted.
"I love your stories," Luke Nunez, 10, wrote to the author. "The colors, animals, the drawings. I like your imagination."
Her untamed illustrations -- that suck up cloaks of staggering color -- likely is one of the biggest attractions to her books. The combustion of colors welded with intense detail immediately snag the children's attention. All six books are drenched in shades such as mustard yellows, streaks of lime greens, splatters of ruby-reds and teal blues.
A seventh and eighth book, The Green Thumb, and Bully-Bites are scheduled to come out later this year.
Ryan uses her own childhood as well. Intrigued by her tall height, other students razzed her asking her the same question over and over again.
"They'd say: "You are so tall. Do you play basketball?"
With a sharp retort, Ryan would say: "You are so small. Do you play miniature golf?"
Wanting to see for myself if kids really enjoyed her work, Ryan kindly came to Gulf Street Elementary School in Wilmington and read to first graders who stared at the storyteller with big eyes and sat as though frozen. They didn't make a peep, they were so fascinated.
The author then moved to a group of 4th graders who -- even though were older -- passionately loved her stories. I picked this class since I'd been conducting writer's workshops there and wanted to see what the students thought.
They were asked to write about Ryan's work.
"I like how she writes about her family in her book and her animals," wrote 4th grader, Johnathan Benavidez. "I couldn't believe when she said she had frogs. That is very cool. I like how she wrote about her daughter and how her room was dirty."
Wrote Hannah Marie Martinez, 10: "I liked her books because she uses a lot of color and designs. I liked all her books and I want to read the others. I think she will write a lot more books. I love Spunky."
The author also has written three novels: SOS 999, Letter 16 and Irish Eyes, two of which will be published by the end of the year.
"I just love it," Ryan said of writing. "I have a zillion ideas. I have whole stories in my head. My life is like a purse. It doesn't matter how big it is. It's always full."
Working on her illustrations often doesn't start until her kids are in bed, the house is straightened up and then she writes and draws often not going to bed not until 2:30 in the morning. Each illustration takes about 14 hours to complete.
Her children are also given ample opportunities to doodle and draw. Ryan wants to give them the creative freedom she had as a young girl.
Mostly she recalls her childhood days as glorious. Ryan (the daughter of one of Rancho Palos Verdes' founding fathers, Robert Ryan) lived in Europe for several years of her young life.
But she also spent many wondrous years growing up in the golden brush areas of Abalone Cove. There was no doubt where her family was going to land. They moved to San Pedro.
"I love this whole area," she said. "It's a hidden gem."
In her ongoing journey to pump out books and visit schools, Ryan generously leaves behind a set of her books for the school library.
Niels Goerrissen , a father of three and the fourth grade teacher at Gulf Elementary who hosted the author's visit, said he too was enticed by Ryan's work.
"She read three of her books and the students very much enjoyed them," he said."Each book had a strong theme that I identified with. Meeting real authors is awesome. Students (are now) asking their teacher to write? Are you kidding? Absolutely awesome."
E.G. Ryan's books can be purchased at Amazon.com, The Corner Store and Rok'n' Ell Boutique, both in San Pedro, and through http://www.EGRyan.com.
(Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw
Tags: Diana Chapman, My Turn, EG Ryan, author, San Pedro
Vol 10 Issue 48
Pub: June 15, 2012