The Magic of Childhood Captured on the Page

best friends tag-team on their first kids’ book: Magic in the Leaves

Marie Anthony, photos by Andrea Paulseth

It happens in the brittle snap of fiery autumn leaves, the glistening kiss of winter’s first blanket of snow, or the warm chuckles of forever friends. Magic happens in small ways, and best friends of 40 years Jayne Fleming and Betsy Gerdes partnered together to bring a little bit of that magic into children’s lives with their new book, Magic in the Leaves.

“I had the story rolling around in my head for quite a while,” Fleming said. “I thought it would be so fun to turn it into a book.” Magic in the Leaves tells the story of a clever young boy, Adrian, who visits his grammy and grandpa’s farm in Wisconsin. One autumn afternoon, Adrian’s grandpa tells him about a fun and exciting game he can play in the yard ... raking the leaves. While raking the yard, the simple piles of leaves transformed into the walls of a magnificent clubhouse, complete with hidden treasures of gold and candy. There are even special living quarters for the cats, Maurice and Buddy.

“My idea for this book was really centered around the magic clubhouse made of leaves,” Fleming said. “My grandson, Adrian, helped me write the entire first half.” It was her grandson’s idea to tell the story of his parents vacationing in Paris while he flew to Wisconsin to spend time on his grandparents’ farm because “they needed him.”

Fleming’s words carry a youthful wit and charm, which she said she derived from conversations with Adrian. But as much as Fleming’s words came alive on the page, she says her book would not have been the same without the help of her best friend, Betsy Gerdes.
Gerdes adds another element of magic to Fleming’s story through her art of pen, ink, and watercolor. Gerdes remembers spending hours at the library as a child, poring over the children’s books and admiring the illustrations.

“My parents had to come looking for me,” she chuckles. “Illustrating children’s books was always something I’ve wanted to do. I’m just very lucky to have the opportunity to partner with Fleming on this project and am honored that she chose me.”

The soft hashes of the pen and the delicate touches of color open doors into other worlds for the main character, Adrian. Readers can really enter the story with Adrian and his cats through the pictures alone.

“I think we sell children short by making things overly simplistic,” Fleming says. “They’re capable of taking in so much more. That’s why I think Betsy’s art is perfect for my story. It’s the perfect balance of beauty and complexity.”

This, the pair’s first entry into publishing, will not be their last. The two giggled together as they recounted how much fun they had throughout this process and were giddy as they uncovered small bits and pieces of their next venture. Their second book will tell the story of a girl who hates to go to sleep at night and the adventures that await her in the night. Together, the two hope to create stories that will be enjoyed in years to come.

“We also want to share stories that parents will enjoy; because – as any parent knows – if a child enjoys a book, they’ll be reading it together many times over.” More important than the story itself is the chance to give kids of all ages an outlet to imagine fantastical things; to turn a pile of leaves into a mansion or a mound of snow into a magical, marshmallow castle. As the old Proverb goes, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Magic in the Leaves is available at The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., Eau Claire, and through the author’s website at magicintheleaves.com.

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