Smile Politely

Small oak tree, big story

Appropriately born in Oakwood, IL, Marjie Mullaney ardently took on the role as illustrator for Ross Sorensen‘s new children’s book. The humble story revolves around a singular oak tree and emphatically highlights its isolated existence. Quickly, the reader comes to a realization that everything around the tree will and does change. Seasons, animals, all is ephemeral; everything comes and everything goes. However, in the midst of all of this transience, the tree remains stable, its life, ongoing. At this point, it becomes apparent that beauty manifests itself in the hushed and stable tones of the tree’s growth. The dependability exhibited by the quiet tree teaches readers that a modest life – such as that of an oak tree – can very well elicit more wonder and awe than one may initially believe.

Sorensen stated that he has “always had a great appreciation for nature,” and that preexisting respect had prompted him to go ahead and write his story. Once I met Ross and learned about the premise of the story, his love for the inherent magnificence within nature became wholly apparent and understated. Granted, Ross’ persona tended towards one that paralleled the oak tree in his story. Soft spoken, yet nonchalant, Ross emanated an easy-going air about him. A lawyer by day, he told SP that he “had always wanted to write a children’s book.” Fortunately, he followed through on his desire; a lovely story such as his should be shared with all ages.

In the past year, he and Marjie Mullaney, the adroit illustrator, met in a leadership development class. According to Mullaney, their class focused on generating personal and professional objectives, while also keeping individuals accountable for the persual of said goals. She mentioned how “Ross has always challenged members of the group to face their fears and is never afraid to address the elephant in the room […] when it comes to personal setbacks,” and it was that attitude that guided his approach to Marjie in asking her to illustrate his book.

Mullaney’s work runs the gamut from freelance design to working as a digital media specialist for the University of Illinois. Currently, her attention has locked onto forging her own business. In the meantime, she may be seen as a bartender at Big Grove Tavern in the hub of downtown Champaign. When I sat down with her, she described her style as one that uses “simple patterned forms and muted color patterns.” These design choices bode well for the mild characterization of the tree paired with the charming storyline that follows. Seeing the drafted illustrations in person is the only way to do Mullaney’s work justice. Each sample page an epitomized embodiment of flat fluidity. Ross specifically pictured a bit of an undemanding design in order for it to warrant the reader’s imagination as she read the story. Quite arguably, this speaks to a broader commentary on how we tend to rely too much on others dictating our thoughts. We oftentimes fail to acknowledge the worth in exercising our imaginations and indulging in our fancies.

Conclusively speaking, the sections that I was able to read and see were absolutely gorgeous. The themes acted as a subtle reminder of the significance that something so seemingly insignificant – like a tree – can hold.  Even an extraordinary oak tree can be something extraordinary so long as we are able to shift our perspective and be open to a newfound understanding of life. Without question, this is a book for parents and children alike and once more, a timeless narrative with charming visuals.

The partners are currently looking into publishing options, beginning with some personal contacts they have within the industry. With any luck, this pair will soon bring a beautiful and inspirational story to fruition. 

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