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Writing is ‘like play’ to visiting author

California-based author Steven Riley gave a presentation to students at New Life Academy on Oct. 9. Riley’s presentation included games and a drawing demonstration. (Staff photos by Amber Kispert-Smith)

New Life Academy had a not-so-typical author visit last week.

NLA kindergarten through sixth graders participated in a presentation from California-based author and illustrator Steven Riley on Oct. 9.

During the visit, students participated in several games including a “Name that Tune” type game and “guess the story” game.

Additionally, Riley gave away several of his drawings and even danced around the stage.

However, Riley talked very little about his books – “Ty Cooney and the Big Yosemite Race,” “Little Ty Cooney and the Big Yellowstone Mystery and “Little Ty Cooney and the Grand Canyon Tour Company.”

“I hardly ever talk about my books because I want to make sure the kids are having fun,” Riley said. “I want the kids to be excited about reading, writing and drawing. If they can equate the fun with reading and writing, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

Riley came to NLA thanks to elementary Principal Brian Goodbar, who previously knew Riley when he lived in California.

“Having authors come in connects students to the person,” he said. “This isn’t just some nameless faceless person.”

Illustrating nature

Riley released his first book, “Ty Cooney and the Big Yosemite Race,” in 2003 while he was living just outside Yosemite National Park in California.

“I wanted to think of a way to highlight all the different areas of Yosemite in one story,” he said. “The grandness of the park is something that people don’t understand.”

The inspiration for Ty Cooney came from a little raccoon living under his porch.

“There was a family of raccoons living under my porch and one of them had a cut on his ear, so I always knew that was the same one,” he said. “My first book was about that raccoon with the little cut in his ear.”

Riley, who majored in art during college, said children’s books just came naturally to him because it fit well with his style.

“I wanted to do writing that required illustrating,” he said. “I wanted to make art a part of how I made my living.

“If you write a novel, you really don’t need illustrations, but if you write a kids book, illustrations are half the book.”

Additionally, Riley said the writing style also fit well into his personality.

“It feels like play,” he said. “They’re all just silly poems.”

Riley’s first book did so well that he decided to release his next two books, which revolved around Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon.

“You see all the stops you’ll make along the way as you go through these parks,” he said.

When it comes to writing books, Riley said a lot of the time his illustrations dictate the story.

“The illustrations start to create the story,” he said.

Riley is currently working on five more books, three of which he is illustrating for other authors and two that he is writing and illustrating himself.

“I just think of whatever ideas make me smile,” he said. “If it’s fun to me, other people will usually think it’s fun.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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