"You're very brave," children's book illustrator Will Hillenbrand said, joking with kindergartner Andrew Nycum after calling him up Tuesday afternoon from an audience of schoolchildren at Bellwood-Antis Public Library.
"I can draw whatever Andrew can see," and even what he can't, Hillenbrand said, explaining to a group of about 40 students from Tipton Baptist School and Laurel Academy Daycare, Bellwood, how his drawings go from ideas to the colorful books they find in their libraries and bookstores.
Hillenbrand's book "What a Treasure!" was chosen as this year's selection for the Pennsylvania One Book Every Young Child program.
Illustrator Will Hillenbrand reads “What a Treasure!” to children at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library Wednesday. (Mirror photo by Amanda Clegg)
He read the book his wife, Jane, wrote and he illustrated to children at the only Blair County library picked for a visit as part of the program in its fifth year, which supports early literacy and aims to put books into the homes of children across the state. Hillenbrand is scheduled to visit the State College area next.
Verizon provided a $40,000 grant for the program, getting a copy of the book to more than 15,000 Pennsylvania child care facilities, licensed preschools, Head Start programs and family literacy programs. The program affects yearly more than 500,000 children, ages 3 to 6 years old.
According to the program, 20 minutes of reading a day introduces 1 million words to a child in a year and expands their vocabulary by 1,000 words.
"What a Treasure!" -?about a mole that keeps on digging until he finds a friend - came about from the Hillenbrand's son, Ian, who wanted to live the life of the underground creature as a toddler.
Hillenbrand showed the audience photos of Ian digging in the snow and inside their home. He said when he was little he wanted to grow up to become a fire truck, so he understood how his son felt.
"Do you see a fire truck in front of you today?" he asked them.
He said he may not have had the ability to transform, but he did carry magic inside of him that came out through his drawings. He said that magic was in each of them, too.
"I really work in three worlds at once: the world of the imagination, the world of myth and the physical world. Children seem to live comfortably in all three," he wrote in a press release. "Successful illustrations link these worlds together and give a visual voice to the story."
Hillenbrand had made a paper-mache mole for the top of his son's birthday cake one year and drew a picture of his son as a mole.
"This was never intended to be a book," he said, but his publisher loved the drawing, so he brainstormed ideas. His wife, wanting to help, came up with the story that eventually accompanied his drawings of the mole.
He showed the kids the bag with drawing materials he carries with him.
"As I begin to draw, I try to keep the child's viewpoint foremost in my mind," he wrote. "For each book, I keep a journal of my sketches."
Hillenbrand showed the children that they too could grow up to write or illustrate a book, Bellwood-Antis Library Director Hazel Bilka said.
"He engaged the kids so much," she said. "He was just super."