By Jonathan Kleppinger
11:13 AM EST, December 6, 2012
A longtime Nicholasville resident and Centre College professor is the author of a one-of-a-kind children's book published last month.
Mike Norris first wrote the basic story for "Sonny the Monkey" about 10 years ago; he and renowned folk artist Minnie Adkins have worked feverishly over the past eight months to finish the book whose illustrations are photos of wood carvings.
"As far as we know, the book is unique," Norris said. "We don't know of another children's book that is illustrated with photography of folk-art carvings. To be illustrated by carvings specifically done for the book by a folk artist of her reputation, I would say with confidence that this is the only one out there like that."
Adkins, who lives in Isonville, has received national awards for her carvings and has work on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum among others. Norris, who lived in Nicholasville for 20 years until moving to Lexington about six months ago, retired a year and a half ago after 31 years in communications at Centre College.
Norris and Adkins had submitted the book to Acclaim Press in Missouri earlier this year with carvings only on some pages, and the publisher asked them to add the unique illustrations to all the pages.
"She illustrated it by doing carvings of characters that were photographed to illustrate some of the pages and simply paintings for others," Norris said. "When we submitted the rough layout, they said, 'Gosh, we really love the pages that are illustrated with carvings in 3D, and we'd like you to do 3D art for all the pages, so that's what we did."
The book was published by Joey Books, a division of Acclaim, and debuted Nov. 9-10 at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort.
The story is in an eastern-Kentucky setting — Norris and Adkins are both natives of Appalachia — and revolves around a hungry monkey's search for a banana.
Sonny encounters other characters in his quest, including a fox whom he learns not to trust. The book has some interesting real-life ties; the illustrator appears as a woman named Minnie with no money to spare, and Minnie makes a wood carving of a banana that fools several characters.
"Sonny" is not the first work from Norris and Adkins, and it won't be the last. They self-published a book titled "Bright Blue Rooster" in 1997, and they're currently working to add more carving-illustration pages to that book for Acclaim to publish it again in January. They are also working on "Mommy Goose," a collection of Appalachian nursery rhymes, and hope to produce four more books after that.
Norris and Adkins traveled to elementary schools with "Bright Blue Rooster" in the late '90s and hope to do the same kind of educational programs with "Sonny." Both books have a strong musical component; "Bright Blue Rooster" began as a song and became a book after Adkins heard the song.
"She heard it and contacted me and said, 'I just can't quit thinking about that song,'" Norris said. "She ended up carving me a bright-blue rooster, and when I saw it, I was so impressed I said, 'If you can carve all the other figures, I think we can make a book.'"
"Sonny" also has a song that goes with it, and the music is included in each book. A collector's edition of the book includes a CD of the song, narration of the story by Norris and Adkins and an extensive interview with Adkins.
"Sonny the Monkey" is available at major bookstores and online. The collector's edition is available at Morris Book Shop and at the Ann Tower Gallery in Lexington and can be ordered at firstname.lastname@example.org.