Nothing to sneeze at
When you look at the illustrations in the 2006 children's book, Keegan Kelly Discovers Allergies, the bright colors and crayon-rough edges might make you think they'd been drawn by the book's seven-year-old, fictional protagonist.
But if you look closely, you'll see the artful illusion behind those drawings -- which were really the creation of 25-year-old graphic artist Jodi Buermann, a Detroit Lakes native who now makes her home in Fargo.
And that's not the only local connection to be found in the pages of this book, which was authored by Frazee-area native Tami Sublette. In fact, it was a longtime connection between their families that led to the collaboration between author and illustrator.
Though Tami and her husband, David, have lived in Vail, Ariz., for many years, when it came to finding an illustrator, they decided to call on an old friend from back home.
David had been such close friends with Jodi's brother, Jeremy, that the Buermanns had considered him "part of the family" (and vice versa). He remembered that his friend's little sister was an artist.
"I was going to have my husband do it (the illustrations), but he's not into drawing kids'-style," Sublette said in a telephone interview from her home in Vail.
"Kids'-style" drawings were, however, part of the concept that Sublette had for her book, based on an incident that had occurred when her son Keegan was getting ready to celebrate his seventh birthday (he's now eight).
"The book is about this kid who is going to turn seven the next week," she said. "He tells his mom that he wants a cat for his birthday, and she tells him, 'No, your dad's allergic (to cats, as her husband is in real life). He doesn't understand what that means.
"So his mom takes him over to see his grandma, who is a pharmacist, at the drug store. He asks what 'allergic' means, and she tries to explain it in terms of what a six-year-old can understand --that it'll make his dad really ill."
So when Keegan's birthday comes around, "he's kind of bummed, because he can't think of anything else he wants," Sublette said. "But his mom comes through -- she ends up getting him a dog, because his dad isn't allergic to those."
The idea for the book came from a real conversation that Sublette had had with her son Keegan, as a six-year-old who was about to turn seven.
"I wrote it out on Santa Claus note paper, jotting down the details of the conversation," she said. "Once I did that, I thought, well, if I polish it up and give it some structure, it shouldn't be too bad. I played around with it (the story) for three or four months, then once it was finished, I read it to my son. He thought it was cool... though it's not too hard to impress a seven-year-old. My husband said I should think about making a book out of it, and I thought, 'Why not?' So I did."
Buermann came into the picture a few months later. At the time, she was working at SJE Rhombus in Detroit Lakes, trying to decide what she ultimately wanted to do with the bachelor of fine arts degree that she had just earned from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
"Art is pretty much the only thing I really know how to do," Buermann said of her reasons for pursuing a degree in the arts. "In high school, I was the girl who draws a lot. I know art is kind of a hard thing to earn a living with, but there wasn't really anything else I was interested in."
Fortunately, her work on Sublette's book provided at least part of the creative outlet she had been seeking.
"It was really weird to see my work in a book like that," she said of her first glimpse at the finished tome. But "weird" isn't necessarily bad in this case -- Buermann said she would definitely be open to illustrating another book if the opportunity came along.
As for Sublette, she's still trying to decide whether she wants to create a series of books based on the Keegan Kelly character. A licensed pharmacist with a degree from the University of Arizona-Tucson, Sublette said she has a lot of ideas for writing a medically-themed series.
"I had it in the back of my mind that if this works and I sell more than five copies, I could potentially make a series out of it," Sublette said. "I haven't quite put it all together yet. Doing more books is a definitely possibility, although I probably wouldn't do another one until the end of next year at least."
Keegan Kelly Discovers Allergies is available online from Author House, either at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or from the official web site, www.keegankelly.com. You can also check with your local bookstore to see if they can order it.