If it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced it, try picking up the children’s picture book “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson,” by author/illustrator Kenneth Kraegel.
It’s Henry Alfred Grummorson’s 6th birthday and what he wakes up wanting more than anything is an adventure. So pulling on the knight’s armor and sword that he receives for his birthday, he mounts his trusty donkey, Knuckles, to go out and find one.
In his search he encounters a dragon, cyclops, griffin and leviathan. None provide the experience he’s expecting, but in the end he finds something far better that he didn’t even know he had wanted.
Kraegel, who will be the featured guest at the annual Family Reading Night next Friday, March 1, at Washington Middle School, said wonder is the emotion he wanted to convey with “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson.”
“It’s one of those great states of being, for kids especially,” he told The Missourian. “Seeing my 2-year-old grow up ... everything is new to him.”
Like automatic sliding doors at retail stores. Step up to them and they whoosh open — a moment of wonder to someone who’s never seen it before.
“It’s such a beautiful thing, as kids get older and as adults, we’re always encountering new things,” said Kraegel. “We can encounter them with fear or with wonder. Fear can be appropriate sometimes, but wonder is best.”
Surprisingly, Kraegel wrote “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson” before his son was born. It began, he said, with an illustration.
Wanting to break into the publishing industry, he was developing his portfolio and drew a picture of a boy dressed as a knight staring at a dragon.
“That was the germ of the story,” Kraegel noted.
Seeing potential, he drew the same boy staring at a cyclops. The story evolved from there.
Kraegel said for him, as a child, “Picture books were windows into other worlds. I was experiencing wonder and possibility.
“I want to convey that sense of possibility and wonder so every kid who can’t read can still wander around in the illustrations and go places without needing to think about the story.”
A self-taught artist, Kraegel said he started drawing almost as an afterthought.
“I was into music — I liked to listen to music — but I’m a fidgety person and I needed something to do with my hands,” he said. So he would draw.
It wasn’t until after college that Kraegel considered art as something he could do as a career.
“When people saw my work, they were very affirming, but I was so sheepish, I didn’t show it a lot,” said Kraegel, noting vocational assessment tests he took often came back suggesting he work as an artist, “I just didn’t believe it.”
Before writing and illustrating children’s books, Kraegel had a variety of work experiences. He volunteered at an agriculture school in Honduras, helped refugees find jobs in Chicago, volunteered with an indigenous NGO in Uganda, was a general laborer on a construction site in Wyoming, and worked on organic vegetable farms in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.
Kraegel explained that he and his wife, who is a psychologist, used to travel a lot for her work and research, and that presented him with these opportunities.
“I wanted to be a farmer, so I read about it . . . worked on a farm . . . then we bought 10 acres in Indiana,” he said.
“I always had a creative impulse as well, and I had this unattainable dream to farm during the day and work on books at night.
“But to farm, you have to love it, because it’s your whole life.”
So Kraegel traded his 10-acre farm for a backyard garden.
Success Has Been a Surprise
Kraegel had just three finished illustrations of what eventually would become “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson” when he signed with a literary agent to market his work. But he also had sketches for the other pages made into a “mini book.”
“I got the agent by showing her the mini book,” said Kraegel, noting once he signed with her, “things moved quickly.”
Kraegel said he enjoys writing the story to go with his illustrations as much as creating the illustrations by themselves.
“It’s fun to be able to play with the words and images together,” he said.
He’s already working on a new book for Candlewick Press, which published “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson,” where he does both.
Kraegel said the success of “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson” has taken him by surprise a little.
“When you’re trying to get published, that’s the focus,” he said. “The big celebration is when you get a contract.
“I didn’t think about the reviews.”
Kraegel said he’s been “blown away” by the positive feedback the book has received from prestigious publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which described the story as having a “modern ending.” It also was included on a few “Best of 2012” lists at the end of the year.
“It took me a few days to comprehend the success of that,” Kraegel remarked.
Family Reading Night
Children, parents, grandparents and volunteers will gather to “Share a Dragon’s Tale” at the 13th annual Family Reading Night, a free community event to be held Friday, March 1, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Washington Middle School.
The evening will begin with a new main stage presentation by the Washington Police Department. The police reading room has long been a favorite at Family Reading Night so the planning committee decided to bring their readers’ theater version of reading to the main stage, said Dawn Kitchell, event coordinator.
“We’re giving our guest author this year an official police escort into the program,” she said.
Not to be outdone, Kitchell said the Washington Fire Department will present its own readers’ theater on the main stage at the end of the night, just before the prize drawings.
Kraegel’s presentation on his book, “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson,” a Missourian February Book Buzz Pick will follow the police skit at 6:15.
Also new this year, the official Cat in the Hat will visit Family Reading Night. Missouri NEA President Chris Guinther is bringing the Cat to Washington as part of Missouri NEA’s Read Across America Cat Tracks Tour.
Following the opening events, families can choose to visit a number of reading rooms where community leaders, high school athletes and other volunteers will be reading books.
Children who attend and listen to stories are eligible to win book baskets donated by local organizations, schools and businesses.
Children can pick up a bookmark at the event and receive a punch for each story they listen to before dropping it in the basket drawing bucket.
Families who read together this coming week and document their reading on the Family Reading Log (which were printed in previous issues of The Missourian and sent home from school with many children) are eligible to win gift cards to purchase books for their home library. The reading log also is available on the Missourian In Education page at www.emissourian.com.
Craft tables with projects connected to children’s books will be set in the cafeteria area of the school. They are hosted and staffed by eight area school parent-teacher organizations — Fifth Street, Campbellton, Labadie, Clearview, Augusta elementary schools, St. Francis Borgia Grade School, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. John the Baptist schools and the Washington NEA chapter
Throughout the night, Book Fair Bucks to the Scholastic Book Fair will be given away in the reading rooms. The book fair will be open in the library throughout the event.
Parking for Family Reading Night is available in the lower level of Washington High School, between the high school building and Washington Middle School. In 2011, the school district installed a path between the two parking lots. Washington High FFA members will be on hand to help direct parking.
Posters created by children in kindergarten through eighth grade for the first Family Reading Night poster contest will be displayed at the event. The theme was “Fired Up About Reading!”
Originally, posters were due by Friday, Feb. 22, but since a snowstorm caused area schools to be canceled for a couple of days, the deadline has been extended to Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m.
The winner of the poster contest will receive a visit from Kraegel to his or her school on Friday, March 1, along with a copy of Kraegel’s book. The winner also will be photographed with the author/illustrator for The Missourian.
This year’s Family Reading Night is sponsored by the Washington Optimist Club, School District of Washington and The Missourian, with support from the Washington Public Library, Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of New Haven, Washington High School football team, and Washington NEA.