by Lou Mancinelli
Years ago when he was a young man, Mt. Airy children’s author, award-winning illustrator and painter Gary Bernard wandered through Paris making sketches of landmarks like the Cathedral of Notre Dame and other famous sights. The way he formed the scenes of the city was with small series of dots. It’s a technique called stippling that you might not notice if you didn’t know that’s how it was done.
“The Moth and the Sun,” Bernard’s third book, will be self-published this month. It is the second book Bernard, 47, has both written and illustrated himself. “Pemba Sherpa” (Odyssey Books) was the first book he illustrated. Written by award-winning Philadelphia author Olga Cossi and published in 2009, it won a Junior Library Guild Award.
“Ollie and Tugg” (Odyssey Books) is the first book Bernard wrote and illustrated himself. It was published in 2010 and was inspired by a question Bernard’s son asked him: “Can T-rex dinosaurs swim?” Bernard’s picture and short story book, “Salted Water,” was featured in “Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley,” a 2004 documentary about the musician.
“The Moth and the Sun” is a picture book Bernard started over 20 years ago and features drawings he created while he lived in Paris with his wife, Sophie, in his late 20s and early 30s.
Bernard launched a Kickstarter campaign Sept. 1 so that he can self-publish the book. (Kickstarter is an American-based private for-profit company founded in 2009 that provides tools to raise funds for creative projects via crowd funding through its website.) He says it will give him more control over releasing the story the way he thinks it is supposed to be presented. In the past, he has experienced publishers and literary agents who tend to direct an author’s work to fit into a certain niche. By self-publishing, he thinks he can avoid that.
To accompany the drawings, Bernard has included stories written by children he has met over the past two decades while sharing the images with students in classrooms in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, South Jersey and Paris. When he visits classrooms, Bernard asks children to write stories based on the pictures.
Each page of the story is written in English, French and Spanish and follows a moth’s flight around Paris. As it flies, it struggles to realize its dreams. It questions and doubts itself. The story appears to have been written in 1860 by an illustrator who traveled extensively.
While Bernard traveled, he showed children everywhere the delicately drawn images in his book and asked children to complete the stories. The second part of the book includes stories the traveler gleaned from the children. The last few pages of the book are blank, so that readers can fill in their own stories.
Based on his experiences in the classrooms, Bernard wrote the back-story for “The Moth in the Sun” about the flight of the moth 20 years after he first conceived of the idea for the picture book. Looking back, he realized the story was in some ways a reflection of himself. “I kind of equate all of us to the moth,” Bernard said. “There’s a certain fragility there.”
There’s also a bond that Bernard found in his travels. that the adults and children he met were largely the same, aside from some of their experiences.
“I’m trying to offer up something to people with more depth,” Bernard said. “Especially in the digital age, that would encourage kids to dream.”
Children’s dreams and aspirations today concern Bernard, a father of two children, Goran, 14, and Nolwen, 9, both of whom are fluent in French. He is worried technology might replace the hopes and dreams kids have always had.
Depending on the Kickstarter campaign, “Moth” should be available in five languages. It was translated by Bernard’s wife, who is also a yoga teacher.
Bernard, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has made a living in graphic design. After graduation he moved to California, where he met his wife.
The North Ridge earthquake in 1994 prompted the two to return to France, where Sophie had been born and raised. They stayed for three years, but French law made it difficult for Bernard to find work. So during the internet boom in the mid-90s, the two moved to South Jersey and later to Mt. Airy.
Bernard currently works for Chase Bank and is designing an app to work in conjunction with the Bloomberg business apps. “I would love for people to join me on this,” he said about possible community support for his most recent book.
For more information on the Kickstarter campaign for “The Moth in the Sun,” visit kickstarter.com/projects/658699367/the-moth-and-the-sun. More information at themothinthesun.blogspot.com. Both “Pemba Sherpa” and “Ollie and Tugg” are available online at Amazon.com.