In Kids & Family

Illustrator Charlie Christman and author Jamie Vacho Knisbeck.

In Kids & Family

"We're going to exhaust every opportunity to move this forward," says Christman.

In Kids & Family

Christman holding up a thank you letter from an elementary school student.

In Kids & Family

Says Knisbeck, "I wanted a certain vibe, and (Charlie) would come up with it."

In Kids & Family

The book's illustrations are hand-painted. No Photoshopping at all.

In Kids & Family

The book is available at and at several local bookshops.

Milwaukee author, illustrator team up to pen their first children's book

Jamie Vacho Knisbeck hadn't written a book before, so she was surprised when the idea for a children's story came to her while journaling in her garden several years ago. It was only through a friend of a friend that she met illustrator Charlie Christman and her idea came to life.

A year and a half later, "Ivy Grace and the Birthday Monster" was born.

Both Knisbeck and Christman are natives of the area; Knisbeck lives in Pewaukee, and Christman lives in Bay View. Christman, who is a preschool teacher by day, had contributed to books before. But Knisbeck, a mother of two and professional dog groomer, admits she was "very green" when she sent the manuscript to publishers.

Because publishers didn't jump on Knisbeck's book, it sat for six and a half years. But in 2011, the author and the illustrator met. "I knew in my head that the illustrator would have to love the story," says Knisbeck.

"I immediately fell in love with it," says Christman. "I thought, this is brilliant. This is entertaining. I know this story. I deal with this every day at work."

The book is about a child's birthday party and how she throws a tempter tantrum over her preconceived notion of what it would be like, and how she learns a lesson about humility.

The artwork is completely hand-painted. In other words, Christman, who has a degree in illustration, didn't touch Photoshop for this project.

"We would meet monthly with Pantone books, and sometimes I would pose," says Knisbeck. "I wanted a certain vibe, and (Charlie) would come up with it."

"But Jamie would tell me to take a look and run with it," he says. "She's been the best person to work with creatively."

Upon completion, Knisbeck and Christman worked with a self-publishing company, but they weren't happy with the results. The colors weren't right and the quality wasn't where they wanted it to be.

So the two took the project back under their wings and truly self-published, managing the entire printing process by themselves. "I said, 'We can do this,'" Christman recalls. Ultimately, they selected Quad Graphics, and the book is now in its second run.

The book is available for $10 on the "Ivy Grace and the Birthday Monster" website, and also at The Little Red Bookstore in Wauwatosa. The version at is the original version the pair didn't like. "Don't buy it there," says Knisbeck.

If the book continues to sell, Knisbeck and Christman will again pitch it to publishers. But if it doesn't, at least the duo took an idea and made it happen.

"For me, I knew that (Jamie) was serious, and once I read it, I was immediately sold. This is an illustrator's dream," says Christman. "And we had a really good support system."

Knsibeck and Christman are already thinking about their second book, but the thank you letters from school children "are the highest compliment," says Christman.

Next time around, the pair won't make the same mistakes that slowed them down, and they have more adventures planned for Ivy Grace.

Meantime, they're doing as many book reading at elementary schools and libraries and counting their blessings.

"We're going to exhaust every opportunity to move this forward," says Christman.

"It's exciting," says Knisbeck. "Anything we can get, we're going to take and run with it."


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