Greg Ruth Illustrates “Our Enduring Spirit: President Barack Obama’s First Address to the Nation.”

Back on November 5th, the day after the election, I acted quickly and purchased this remarkable, evocative piece of art from my friend, illustrator Greg Ruth. For the story on that, and where to find other art by Greg, click here and follow the links.

As it turns out, I was not at all alone in my appreciation of Greg’s work. Another old friend, publisher Brenda Bowen of the Bowen Press imprint at HarperCollins, was so inspired by Greg’s work that she signed him up for a wonderful project. Here’s a clip from an article by John A. Sellers in PW’s Children’s Bookshelf:

This October, HarperCollins’s new Bowen Press imprint will release Our Enduring Spirit: President Barack Obama’s First Address to the Nation, a 40-page picture book with illustrations by Greg Ruth.

The book will consist of the President’s speech (adapted for young readers—the entire speech will also be included, in the back matter), biographical notes about Obama, as well as an overview of his first 100 days in office. Graphic novelist/illustrator Ruth (Freaks of the Heartland; Sudden Gravity) had been sketching Obama throughout the Presidential campaign, and when Bowen Press publisher Brenda Bowen, who was on Ruth’s mailing list, saw additional Obama artwork that he had created on election night, she called Ruth and signed him up for this project, in anticipation of Obama’s inauguration.

This pleases me in so many ways I can’t begin to express it. I first met Greg when he signed up to illustrate my upcoming picture book, A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade (Feiwel & Friends, 2010). We’ve exchanged emails, bonded over Magic Realism and Kelly Link, our children and books, our love for Liz Szabla and our fear of Facebook, and many other things. He’s just so incredibly talented — a true artist — and a nice guy, too.

There’s a lesson in this for creative people. Greg was inspired by Obama, filled with hope and excitement, so being an artist he began to sketch. There was no master plan. He wasn’t thinking about books, or sales, or furthering his career. He was simply following his enthusiasms, expressing what was inside, what had to come out, his bursting joy. That it led to a book — and such an important book — came to Greg as a complete surprise. Good things happen when you follow your enthusiasms.

For me, personally, the story deepens because Brenda is an old friend, from back in our days at Scholastic together. We were friends inside the office and out, even belonging to a small, happy reading group together. We’ve laughed a lot. Time passed and these days we rarely have much contact, but those old affections never die; I’ll always be crazy about Brenda. So now all those loose threads come together with this book that celebrates Obama, and the renewed hope that so many of us have for our country.

Lastly, just to add one more thread, I wanted to post a photo that was taken on October 25, 1986, at Brenda’s parents’ beach house on the Jersey shore. A whole gang of us went there for a madcap weekend. It’s a shot of me and Craig Walker, one of the greatest friends I’ve ever known. That night we drank beer and watched Game Six of the World Series together — one of the most stirring, improbable, momentous comebacks in baseball history.

I was always proud and pleased that Craig kept this photo on his office wall. After he died, I visited his office. It was a terrible feeling, walking into that room. I looked around, lost, wanting something to keep. And I took this photo off the wall . . .

2 comments

  1. Brenda says:

    Dear, dear Jimmy — I didn’t know of your book with Greg, but it all makes sense, doesn’t it? It feels as if there’s an invisible web that keeps us connected, despite changes and age and years of being apart.

    It’s wonderful working on this book with Greg Ruth — getting to know the speech and seeing his first ideas for images. I will post more about it on our blog as it takes shape.

    If I were at home now (instead of at ALA Midwinter, which is where I am) I would scan some more photos of us at the Jersey shore in 1986 (Mookie Wilson! Dwight Gooden! Lenny Dykstra! Ray Knight! Gary Carter! KEITH HERNANDEZ!). There’s no memory like a baseball memory. xB

  2. Ellen says:

    Funny, I was just going through old pictures and was reminded of that most excellent weekend at the shore. The book sounds wonderful, Brenda! Love to you and to Jimmy, and a toast to Craig.

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