My First Children's Book, Grabbling

Austin L. Church
November 30, 2016
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Some dreams are boomerangs. They come back around. One of mine is a story, a children’s book.Back in the March or April of 2009, I mentioned the book idea to a friend from high school, Rachel Hillin Fanning. She challenged me to commit it to paper, and that was the genesis of Grabbling. The original version happened sixty or seventy years ago on a farm in Fayetteville, Tennessee, eleven miles north of the Alabama state line.

fayetteville, tennessee

The story belongs to my grandmother, Elizabeth Martha Jean Waggoner, and it’s a story about fishing. The Waggoners were farmers, and they were nothing if not practical. The idea of catch-and-release fishing must have been puzzling to people whose every meal came from the land, their land.So they practiced catch-to-eat fishing, and they caught fish from Mulberry creek every way you can imagine—with poles, with seine nets, and with their hands. That’s what grabbling is, fishing with one’s hands.My two sisters and I grew up listening to Grandmother tell one particular tale.One day, Martha Jean and her father, Julian Waggoner, walked down to the creek to catch dinner. The trip began like most: slip into the water, wade over to the large rock half-submerged very slowly, grab handfuls of mud off the bottom, swirl the mud to make the water murky, and sneak one’s hands inch by inch into the nook where the rock met the creekbed. That’s where the fish would hide out.

Elizabeth Martha Jean Waggoner

But what Julian and Martha Jean—or Jeannie, in my version—brought home that day wasn’t a bass, bream, or catfish. No, they grabbled something else that gave Martha Jean the shivers.Children don’t tire of stories, and my two sisters and I must have felt a particular love for this one because I have carried it with me intact into adulthood.The story is a relic of a bygone era when living off the land was a necessity and resourcefulness was a birthright. It is an heirloom too, a precious artifact that my grandmother bequeathed to me and one that I, in turn, want to preserve for my children and for theirs.And the story is a boomerang. It keeps coming back around, and as any writer can tell you about certain stories, it won’t let me alone. It insists to exist, and it has pestered me enough that I must push it out into the world.Back in 2014, I hired an extraordinary illustrator by the name of Nik, and the two of us worked on initial concepts for the artwork. At that time I had to call my grandmother to request the details that time erases: What color was my great-grandfather’s hair when he was a young man?Julian Waggoner was exactly what you would want in a Tennessee farmer. Before a major stroke planted him in a hospital bed, he was tall with huge hands and sunburned cheeks. He always wore overalls.

julian waggoner

Other questions followed:From what fabric did she and her mother Edene sew her dresses?What animals did they keep?What crops did they grow?I remember walking with my own father down a small hill and through rows of corn with fishing rod in hand. The stalks and leaves possessed a surprising scratchy roughness like the stubble on a man’s chin.

grabbling book

Did the Waggoners always grow corn in the bottomland?I am not a historian, but I have experienced the satisfaction of real colors and sensations fitting into their places in the puzzle of authentic memory.A story well-told must have enough of that realness, those hard facts, but not so much that our imaginations, young and old, don’t have spaces to fill. Good stories must have holes, and the skill of the storyteller shines through them.So Nik the illustrator and I took our rightful liberties.Then, life happened, and we both left the project to chase other rabbits. I got married. Megan and I welcomed our daughter Salem into the world. I co-founded a startup. Megan and I welcomed our son Theo into the world. Time flowed by slowly and quickly like creekwater, and a couple of months ago, I realized with a start that my babies won’t be babies for long.For his part, Nik went off to worked on a nationally syndicated television cartoon for awhile. He then earned a Master’s degree in Fine Art and got married too.But this story-dream is a boomerang. I feel a new urgency. My grandmother won’t live forever. My children won’t enjoy stories like Grabbling forever. Nik won’t have availability forever.

Will you help me?

I want to pay Nik handsomely to finish all of the illustrations this time. I want to print a hardcover children’s book at the highest level of quality currently available.At the same time I’d like to inspire you to stick a hand up in the air. What boomerang of yours might be returning? Is some half-finished or forgotten dream burning on your heart even now?Maybe we all need to waste more time on childish whimsies that make us happy. Maybe the happy wasting is what truly defines wise adults who become the best version of themselves.

Pre-order a copy or five of Grabbling, and you will make me very happy indeed.

At just over 1000 words and 20 full-color illustrations, Grabbling would make the perfect addition to your children's book collection. I look forward to sharing it with you and your children. My goal is to finish the writing by the end of 2016 while also working with Nik to finish the illustrations by the end of January. I’ll print the books in February, and I’ll mail the books to everyone in time for Salem’s fourth birthday on March 8.Click one of the Buy Now buttons below to share your mailing address and pay securely online.Single Copy of Grabbling – $30

Two Copies – $50

Five Copies – $100

In the meantime…

May you have small shivers of good fortune.May you catch fish and not-fish with your hands.May your dreams like boomerangs come back around and insist to exist.May you grow wise with happy wasting.