Lafayette author Gayle Webery and her “Cajuniese Curious Child” Head to the National Book Festival | Entertainment / Life

Gail Webery, author of Lafayette’s Book, is using her first children’s book, When I Was An Alligator, and Curious Cajun Boy to bring a taste of Louisiana’s wetlands to a national audience at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.

Webery was one of two authors selected by the State Library’s Louisiana Book Center to represent Louisiana at the September 3 event.

The National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress, is an annual literary celebration that brings together authors, poets, illustrators, and readers for a day filled with book signings, talks, and readings. The festival began in 2001, according to the Library of Congress website.

Webre said she was “honored and amazed” to be representing the country on the national stage.

“Surrealism is the best word,” said the author. “The whole thing was nothing but fun.”

Webre’s first book follows “A Curious Cajun Boy” as she transforms into a series of animals, including a crocodile and a heron, and learns about creatures and wetlands. Published October 2020 by UL Press.

While Webre is still new to the world of writing, he is no stranger to reading. Her paternal grandfather, Sam Greenough, was a teacher from Marksville and instilled in Webre a love of reading that would last her whole life.

The author spent 25 years as a teacher in the Lafayette Parish school system, primarily working on the Gifted Program creating and teaching enrichment curricula. Webre said she has seen the transformation as a child develops a love of reading early and reads a lot.

“[Reading] It gives kids experiences they wouldn’t have. It captures their imagination, builds their vocabulary and helps them communicate with other children.”

Towards the end of her teaching career, Webery said she was looking for a new way to pass the time, as well as spoiling her five grandchildren. Various pieces from “When I Was an Alligator” have been running around in her brain for years, and after she stumbled upon a local association painting of children’s writers and illustrators in the fall of 2018, she decided to take the lead.

She said “When I Was A Crocodile” had three primary sources of inspiration.

The first was “The Little Rabbit Who Wants Red Wings” by Caroline Sherwin Bailey, a favorite book that her grandfather kept in his house.

The second was a field trip that Webre took with her talented students to the National Wetland Research Center in Lafayette. Even if she’s been a Louisiana her whole life, Webery said she’s amazed at the complexity of the wetland ecosystem and the complexity of studying it.

The third inspiration came, fittingly, from a child in Webre’s life. One day during a visit, Webery’s 4-year-old nephew Sawyer said, “Aunt Jill, when I was an alligator…” and enjoyed stories of his imagined adventures. His dream became the basis for the magical transformations of its main character.

From concept to publication, Webre’s book journey has taken about two years. She said she “loved the challenge” of learning the industry, from how to write to getting a publishing contract.

Webre went through round after round of manuscript modifications as she searched for the exact right words to sum up the whimsy of her character’s magical transformations and accurately reflect the life of the creatures in our local wetlands. She said everything was backed by hours of research and examined by a local research biologist.

“[The Acadiana Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators] He has a critique collection… I also have a book club and my husband and I have heard repeat of this story after story. It was too complicated to write. People believe 480 words – how hard is that? But every word must count. “Every word counts,” she said.

Webery hired a fellow Louisiana girl, Drew Beech of Houma, now residing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to illustrate the book. She said children’s picture books are about the synergy between art and text — the two together creating a complete experience.

“Do you see onomatopoeia on every page? Drew and I went back and forth for three days on which font to pick for that—that’s how detailed this is,” she said.

Her book is sold throughout the state and the Gulf Coast at children’s stores, independent bookstores, museums, and businesses adjacent to wetlands, such as tour services.

In-person events have been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Webre said whether through Zoom reading with a school or small personal events, seeing the children’s eyes sparkle as they embrace her book was exciting. She said it was the same feeling she used to get as a teacher when a student finally named a concept.

Always a teacher at heart, Webre said she has included questions for readers at the back of the book and additional learning materials on her website to give parents and teachers more opportunities to talk about wetlands and their creatures with younger readers.

A second book about Webre’s character “The Curious Cajun Boy”, “When I Was a Swan” is already in the works. The book is due for publication by UL Press this spring.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: