By Jean-Bernard Hyppolite
Gary Bernard, 44, author of the children’s book, “Ollie and Tugg,” that was published last month (Odyssey Books, $15.95), is a very worldly person, but the impetus and motivation for Gary’s book came from a child’s simple question.
“Can T-Rex dinosaurs swim?” is the question that his 4-year-old son, Goran, asked of his father.
It was then that Gary did some research and discovered that, according to experts in the field, the T-Rex most likely could swim (although he probably did not win any Olympic medals). This information gave Bernard the idea for a children’s book he both wrote and illustrated that emphasizes the moral of believing in oneself in order to contribute to society in a positive way. (We’re really not sure if the T-Rex believed in himself or contributed much to dinosaur society, but that’s another story.)
“I wanted to consolidate all that and make it into a book that would have a message for not only my son, whom I was writing it for at the time, but also to children everywhere; you know? Being able to cross boundaries, there’s no racial issues, there’s nothing; it’s more like a story of human interaction, rather than the story of a dinosaur,” said Gary, who added that he would love for parents and children to read the story to each other.
“Ollie and Tugg” focuses on the relationship between Ollie, a dinosaur who can’t figure out how to swim, and Tugg, a pelican who meets Ollie through controversial circumstances. They develop a friendship out of adversity, and allow for each other to have a shot at redemption, another message that Gary aimed at his young audience.
“Everybody has that ability to at least try and correct their wrongs,” he said.
Ollie and Tugg’s notion of unity, companionship and openness is not only an extension of a message that Gary wants children to learn; it also represents what he has learned throughout his life thus far.
Gary has had the opportunity to travel to places such as Japan, France, Sweden, Yugoslavia and more. This exposure has allowed him to see other cultures and attitudes, which has directly and indirectly helped with his storytelling.
“In retrospect, I’m looking at it thinking people are people, regardless of what their culture and languages are. Most people I’ve come across in my travels, apart from cultural differences, have been pretty much the same,” said Gary.
Bernard’s journey to Philadelphia and “Ollie and Tugg” began after he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration. He traveled to California, where he met his wife, Sophie. Long story short, the North Ridge Earthquake occurred, impacting Sophie’s decision to move back to France, where she was born and raised.
“She said, ‘I’m leaving with or without you.’ She just said, ‘Do you want to come?’ Up until that time I’d never been abroad…” said Gary. For Bernard it was the perfect opportunity to leave, so he quit his job and moved to France with Sophie for three years, where the couple got married. French law made it difficult for Gary to find regular work, so they moved back to the U.S. by way of South Jersey, where Gary had relatives. They moved back during the internet boom of the mid-to-late ‘90s. The first job Gary got when moving back happened to be here in Philadelphia.
“We’ve been here since,” said Gary, who along with Sophie were site managers for the historic Grumblethorpe house in Germantown. They found solace in Mt. Airy, which Gary refers to as “quiet but not too quiet and a great place to live.”
“Ollie and Tugg” holds a special place among Gary’s other projects. “It has a lot of meaning to me because I was writing it to my son. It wasn’t until my daughter, who wasn’t born at the time, became 5 or 6 years old, and the publisher started to ask me to re-write certain parts that I felt as though I was speaking to my daughter as well as my son. I am sending a clear-cut message to my children and others: never quit.”
Gary’s influences include artist Frank Rozetta and classic children books such as “The Five Chinese Brothers,” “The Giving Tree” and “Where The Wild Things Are.” Examples of his works can be viewed at gbernard.com. A trailer for “Ollie and Tugg” can be seen on YouTube, which is also linked on his website. It can be purchased on Amazon.com. Gary, a fan of Jeff Buckley, was inspired to create a book of poems and oil paintings based on the late singer. His efforts were featured in the documentary film, “Jeff Buckley: Amazing Grace.” In addition to being an author and illustrator, Gary works as a freelance graphic designer.
Gary is actively looking for a publisher for his first children’s story, “The Moth and Sun,” written and illustrated 12 years ago. He is currently working on another book that will be influenced by his travels abroad. Gary illustrated “Pemba Sherpa,” which won the Junior Library Guild selection award for 2009, but “Ollie and Tugg” is Gary’s first published work as an author.
Gary and Sophie Bernard are parents to Goran, 12, and Nolwen, 7, both of whom speak fluent French. Bernard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about “Ollie and Tugg” can be found at email@example.com.