by Len Lear
It is probably not unusual for an author to make changes in a manuscript based on comments by friends, family members and/or professional colleagues, but I would be surprised if Mt. Airy author Gary Bernard, 48, was not the only one who changed a manuscript because of comments from hundreds of children in many cities.
Last year Bernard’s third children’s book, “The Moth and the Sun,” about a moth’s flight around Paris, was published by way of funding through Kickstarter. Over $10,000 was raised in 30 days, which enabled the book to be self published. Bernard’s first two books were published through Odyssey Books, and one of the two, “Pemba Sherpa,” won two awards and is now being used as an educational tool through Boston College.
Bernard actually began working on his latest published book, “The Moth and the Sun,” 25 years ago. During a visit to the Los Angeles school district years later, he began listening to children’s stories around his images. After speaking to over 1000 children in seven cities in two countries, “The Moth and the Sun” took a different turn.
“I was presenting it in one of the poorest school districts in the country which was in Los Angeles County,” he told us last week. “With a majority of Hispanic enrollment and some not understanding English that well, I asked if it would be acceptable to present a work in progress.
“Projecting just the images of my new book (‘The Moth and the Sun’), I asked the students to write their own stories around my images. What stories I received from this first group were incredibly different from what I had written. They subtly incorporated elements of home, school and personal lives.
“This pushed me to see the story in a different light, and it inspired the back story found on the first two pages of ‘The Moth and the Sun.’ So over 1000 students in France and the U.S. changed the story by changing me. There was now a deeper understanding about how art transcends language, borders and cultures, and this was the beginning of that turn. How could I not use this valuable feedback to enrich my story?”
Bernard began the book a few weeks after graduation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. He had an idea for a book that mirrored the story of Icarus, so he brought his sketches and a rough draft with him to Los Angeles when he moved there later that year and for the next three years worked on it on and off. In 1993 he moved to France, where the architecture inspired the look and feel of the book, taking it into another direction.
After coming back to the U.S. in 1996 Bernard began looking for a publisher. With a decent amount of positive feedback from literary agents over several years, a publisher was found who “fell in love with ‘The Moth,’” which is beautifully illustrated, but a publishing agreement was never consummated.
After many years of refusing to give up, Bernard decided to take matters into his own hands and publish the book himself. And just last month he was notified that “The Moth and the Sun” is now a finalist in the “Children’s Picture Book: Hardcover Fiction” category of the 2015 International Book Awards.
In addition to his work as an author, Bernard has taken on many freelance assignments for illustration and design, and he has just accepted a job as a full-time designer. He has also designed numerous websites ranging from pharmaceuticals to non-profits and illustrations for many magazines and newspapers. He lives in Mt. Airy, “which we love,” with his wife, Sophie, who was born and raised in France, and two children, Goran, 16, and Nolwen, 11.
Regarding “The Moth and the Sun,” its message is simple, according to the author: “Never quit on a dream. I have learned, especially through this project, that it is more painful to let a dream go unfulfilled than to keep pushing forward until it is realized. This book was a sketch and just an idea for over 20 years. I never threw it out because it was an important message, and as a writer/illustrator, it was in my voice. Not saying that it is ego-driven, but I think that one message can be said and heard in so many ways. If that message is important, it can always use more voices to speak it … I have recordings of the book being read in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Serbian, Dutch and Chinese, accompanied with music.”
More information about “The Moth and the Sun” at firstname.lastname@example.org or amazon.com.