By Shelby Casey
Teresa Traver never imagined she’d find inspiration for a children’s book in a gargoyle. But as she watched her son hug their stone statue goodbye on the way to preschool, the English professor’s creative mind started spinning.
In 2016, she started writing her first draft, which told the story of a gargoyle who was friends with a little boy. She revised the story multiple times over the next two years, evolving the story to focus more on the gargoyle’s friendship with a new kitten.
“The major change came when I realized that making the kitten the main character was a better way to tell this story,” Traver said.
The finished story, Spooky and the Gargoyle, is Traver’s first published children’s book and targets children ages 4–8. A timid little kitten named Spooky is frightened by her new home, the old Maxwell place. She finds an unexpected companion in the gruff gargoyle who guards the gates . . . but can she turn this curmudgeon into a new friend?
Recently, Traver and Spooky the Gargoyle were honored with a 2020 Indie Reader’s Discovery Award in the Children’s (Board Books and Pre-Reading) category. The Indie Reader’s Discovery Award seeks to find the best of the best self-published books to increase a book’s chance for discoverability. Top winners are sent to Dystel, Goderich and Bourret Literary Management to be considered for representation.
“I was very happy to win this award, because I was so proud of the book,” Traver said. “It was such a special story to me that I chose to self-publish it, and winning the award seemed like confirmation that other people found it special, too.”
The final draft was finished in 2019, three years after she first started writing.
“The story changed a lot partly because when I began it, I was not really familiar with picture book writing,” Traver said. “It changed as I learned more about what made a good picture book.”
“In many ways, writing a picture book is like writing poetry,” Traver continued. “Since there are so few words, every word counts a lot, and like many poems, a picture book needs to sound right when read out loud. The music of the words matters.”
As someone who teaches “Literature of the Child” at Chico State, she drew on some of the picture books she read to teach her classes as models for her own writing. Additionally, her research in writing Spooky and the Gargoyle helped her to be a better teacher of children’s literature.
“I have a better idea of how books are produced and the kinds of relationship that may exist between the words and art,” said Traver.
After finalizing the story, Traver worked with illustrator Ariana Dahlenberg to finalize character designs and bring visual life to the story. And, she made sure to run it past her “editors,” making a mock-up of the book and reading it to her children, including her son who inspired the story. They, of course, loved it.
Reviewers on Amazon have enjoyed it too, praising it as a way to talk about courage and noting that it’s a book for those both young and old.
Spooky and the Gargoyle is one of the first children’s books Traver had ever drafted. Since then, she has written other manuscripts that have gone unpublished.
“Who knows? Maybe some of them will see their way into print too,” Traver said.
Traver enjoys writing children’s books because she loves reading them herself. She first aspired to write children’s books when she began reading books and poetry to her children.
“Reading the same book over and over again to a child helped me appreciate the artistry in the words,” said Traver.
She holds a BA in English and life sciences from Kansas State University and a PhD in English from the University of Notre Dame. Her scholarly work has appeared in journals such as Victorian Review, Victorians Institute Journal, and Women’s Writing. She wrote the academic monograph “Victorian Cosmopolitanism and English Catholicity in the Mid-Century Novel.” Additionally, one of her short stories is featured in the 2020 issue of the children’s magazine Highlights Hello.
“Dr. Traver started teaching [Literature of the Child] as a service to the English department,” said Tracy Butts, interim dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts. “This service has evolved into one of Dr. Traver’s areas of expertise and now the publication of an award-winning children’s book. What Dr. Traver has accomplished here is a perfect example of the teacher-scholar model.”
Spooky and the Gargoyle can be purchased on Amazon.
Shelby Casey is the publicity assistant for the School of the Arts. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders from Chico State in 2019, with minors in music and ethics, justice, and policy. She is currently working on her master’s degree in communication sciences and disorders.