MOUNT VERNON – This week, one local illustrator received his industry's highest honor. It wasn’t the first time.
Mount Vernon’s Tim Bowers, an artist and children’s book illustrator, made the New York Times Best Sellers list. He and author Christina Geist’s latest creation, ‘Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!’, cracked the list at No. 4 this week in the Children's Picture Books category.
It’s Bowers’ third New York Times bestseller, as two of his previous books, ‘Dream Big, Little Pig!’ with Kristi Yamaguchi (2011) and ‘Dinosaur Pet’ with Marc and Neil Sedaka (2012), also made the list.
“It’s exciting. It’s really exciting because it just means a lot more people see your book,” said Bowers, who moved to Mount Vernon with his wife, Keryn, last year.
“I hope it translates into a few more bucks in royalties – you know, that’s always nice. And it’s just something you can put on your resumé. It helps define who you are. Now, instead of a book illustrator I’m a New-York-Times-bestselling book illustrator. So that makes a difference in perception.”
‘Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!’ is the sequel to Bowers and Geist’s first book together, ‘Buddy’s Bedtime Battery,’ which came out in 2016. The book centers around a boy named Buddy and his sister, Lady. As they get ready for their first day of school, their parents, grandparents, and even their dog, Bow-Wow, want to join them.
School is painted as an exclusive club, just for kids, and the siblings frequently return to the line, "Sorry, grown-ups, you can’t go to school! Sorry, grown-ups, you can’t go to school! It’s just for kids and teachers, just and kids for teachers."
The book is meant for kids who may feel reluctant to start school soon, Bowers said, as it tries to paint the experience in a positive light.
“You know, there could be some stress and some anxiety associated with going back to school,” Bower said. “So this kind of lightens that and kind of eases the stress of kids that deal with those feelings.”
Since it hit bookshelves three weeks ago, Bowers said the series’ latest addition has received tremendous feedback.
“Parents are reading it several times to their kids, they want to hear it over and over,” he said. “You know, with school starting, it’s a perfect time to release a book like this.”
Bowers will be at Paragraphs Bookstore in downtown Mount Vernon on Friday night, during First Friday, signing his new bestseller from 6:30-8 p.m. He’ll also feature two of his other recent projects, ‘Rappy and His Favorite Things’ with author Dan Gutman and ‘Back Roads, Country Toads’ with Devin Scillian. All three books are currently being sold at Paragraphs.
MAKING THE LIST: This may have been Bowers’ third appearance on the NYT Best Sellers list, but the Troy, Ohio native says it never gets old.
“Every one’s really exciting,” he said giddily on Tuesday.
Bowers became aware of his latest bout with fame when his publisher sent him a screenshot last weekend of the list. Given Geist’s marketing efforts, Bowers said he thought this book had a shot. The New York author has been doing countless print and TV interviews in recent weeks to promote the book. She has built a career as a brand strategist and entrepreneur, and her family has deep national media connections; her husband, Willie Geist, is an NBC and MSNBC anchor.
“Christina has a background in marketing, so she jumps on things quickly and she shot it out,” Bowers said. “She’s really good at that… She’s everywhere.”
Making – and staying on – the NYT Best Sellers list is about selling well at certain stores. According to the New York Times’ website, “rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles published in the United States.
"Every week, thousands of diverse selling locations report their actual sales on hundreds of thousands of individual titles. The panel of reporting retailers is comprehensive and reflects sales in tens of thousands of stores of all sizes and demographics across the United States.”
National, regional and local vendors from across the country report their unit sales to the Times. Storefronts, independent book retailers, online and multimedia entertainment retailers, supermarkets, university, gift and big-box department stores, and newsstands are all a part of the equation. Paragraphs, for example, is a NYT reporting retailer.
The final list each week is compiled by the Best-Seller Lists Desk of the New York Times News Department, the Times’ website says.
It’s hard to tell whether or not a book will make the list, Bowers said. Perhaps his most famous children’s book, ‘Footloose’ with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins (2016), never made the cut. Loggins marketed the book aggressively, and with all his connections, Bowers figured it had a good shot. It didn’t pan out.
“I was surprised, because he was kind of like Christina, he was playing his guitar and singing at the conferences and doing events and things like that. He’s a real go-getter, too,” Bowers said. “A lot of it is marketing, if they market to certain venues and certain outlets and certain people. Those tend to get the numbers up quicker, so that it has a chance to get on that list.”
Given how hard it is to make the NYT’s list, Paragraphs manager Lois Hanson seemed thrilled for Bowers. Locally, the feat is extremely rare. Hanson, a longtime member of the local literary scene, said the only other Knox County illustrator to make the cut in recent memory was Richard Cowdrey, who illustrated Marley & Me (2010).
“The New York Times Best Seller list is the apex. That’s what authors and illustrators want to reach. And so to have an illustrator who’s worked on a book that makes it, that’s wonderful,” Hanson said. “In a town Mount Vernon’s size, it is huge.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Bowers assumes Geist is not done with this series just yet.
As a mother of two children who are nearing adulthood, Geist is writing books for families who are just now going through the process, Bowers said.
“She has a lot of these stories… She has a lot of experience to draw from. She’s in that age range where new moms and young moms kind of all share similar issues and situations,” Bowers said. “So she’s writing to capture those, to address those, and I think she’s really hitting a sweet spot with the parenting.”
The first book, ‘Buddy’s Bedtime Battery,’ is about a boy’s nighttime routine. It’s meant to calm down young ones as the evening nears; Bowers used much more subdued tones and said he “really relied on lighting” to make the book work. The most recent book, ‘Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!’, has a completely different feel. It’s meant to portray excitement and is filled with action, which led Bowers to use more jubilant color schemes.
“I tried to keep the characters similar,” Bowers said. “The color is a little brighter – quite a bit brighter than the first book. But they were both done in oil paint on board, so they tie together as a series.”
Bowers said he’s enjoyed working with Geist, whom he met a few years back at a signing for their first book, and he believes she’ll have more story ideas down the road.
“I’m excited to see what she comes up with for the next one because I’ll be you she has a whole list of stories, and I think they’re just choosing the ones that are best, that make the most sense at the time,” Bowers said.
Bowers is currently working on a separate book called ‘Memoirs of a Tortoise,’ the latest in a series of memoirs that has already featured a goldfish, a hamster and an elf. He’s constantly working on side projects, and he also recently founded the Knox County Ukelele Club, which meets on the first and third Thursday of every month at the Woodward Opera House.
He’s also trying something new, three decades into his career. Bowers is currently wrapping up two books that he’s written and illustrated; one is at the publisher’s office being reviewed, the next is almost ready to be sent out.
He’s not sure whether they’ll gain any traction. A book can sit on a publisher’s desk for months without any feedback, he said. And even if they like it, it could end up on a wait list that could last for years, depending on what other books come down the pipeline and when.
Still, writing and illustrating a book has always been something Bowers has wanted to try. Why not now? With three NYT bestsellers to his name, what else does he have left to prove?
“I’m trying to cross that veil into the author world, so we’ll see how that goes,” said Bowers, who has illustrated over 50 children's books. “I’ve worked on it for years and I think the biggest challenge is taking an idea and turning it into a story. Because I have a lot of good ideas, I think – a lot of creative ideas, really fun ideas – but is there a story there? Is there a good story?
“I think I’m getting closer. Whether or not I hit the mark yet, we’ll see.”