Giving Thanks

aunt/niece duo team up for children’s book

Cassandra Kyser, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

FAMILY FEAST. Vivian Riley, right, and her niece, Mary Elworthy, collaborated in to illustrate and write a new book, The Day After Thanksgiving.
FAMILY FEAST. Vivian Riley, right, and her niece, Mary Elworthy, collaborated in to illustrate and write a new book, The Day After Thanksgiving.

Two years ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, Vivian Riley paused to reflect on her life and all the things she was grateful for.This moment inspired the aptly named children’s book, The Day After Thanksgiving. The book is a poem, written in the style of the iconic The Night Before Christmas, in which the narrator shares Thanksgiving leftovers with a homeless family.

Riley, of Menomonie, reached out to her niece, Mary Elworthy, to do the illustrations. Elworthy lives in Eau Claire and is an accomplished painter, with four watercolors currently on display at the Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa Falls. “Working with my aunt was a real joy,” Elworthy said. “She just radiates.” The two are close, and Elworthy lovingly refers to Riley as her “sister-aunt.”

Both women spent their professional careers in education. Elworthy taught music and English in Chippewa Valley schools for 40 years. Riley taught kindergarten and special education in Stillwater, Minnesota. It was only in retirement that Elworthy discovered painting and Riley began writing.

Elworthy, who had never painted, accompanied her mother to a watercolor painting class. “I was along for the ride,” Elworthy joked. Elworthy went on to fall in love with the hobby herself. Riley, who is 89 years young, published her first children’s book, Beanie: The Cat, in 2007. For Beanie, Riley used photographs to illustrate her book. But when it came to her next endeavor, The Day After Thanksgiving, Riley knew she wanted to use Elworthy’s watercolors, and their collaboration was born.

The Day After Thanksgiving is currently for sale at several local venues, including The Local Store and the Heyde Center. In Menomonie, the book is sold at La Dee Dah, a downtown gift shop, and Stepping Stones, which operates a food pantry and shelters. A portion of the book’s profit is being donated to Stepping Stones. At this time, the book does not have an ISBN number, so that limits where and how the book can be sold. Elworthy is working on securing a number so the book can have a broader reach.