Brimming with cats in hats, tooth fairies and green dinosaurs, Abilene was crowned the official Storybook Capital of Texas in June.
Now that it’s the law of the land, Abilene, Texas — located west of Dallas — can officially celebrate its storybook characters that dot the town, along with a museum dedicated solely to children’s illustrated literature.
“Abilene is well known for its history and its frontier spirit, but it is also an enchanting family friendly destination that brings storybooks and their beloved characters to life,” says Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The designation – our first ever from the state of Texas – speaks to the journey of the imagination that visitors young and young-at-heart can experience in Abilene.”
The designation of Storybook Capital of Texas is fitting for Abilene. It’s home to several literary attractions, including the Storybook Sculpture Project, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) and the Children’s Art and Literary Festival (CALF).
Scattered around downtown, the Storybook Sculpture Project makes strolling through the streets an exciting experience. Seventeen sculptures created in partnership with CALF include six bronze Dr. Seuss characters in Everman Park. (Abilene is one of a few cities in the U.S. to permanently show all six sculptures.)
In addition to Dr. Seuss, the park is also home to a statue of “Childhood’s Great Adventure” and “Man in the Moon,” both based on books written by William Joyce, responsible for the bestselling “Guardians of Childhood” books. Five more sculptures based on his series can also be found downtown, characters like Jack Frost and E. Aster Bunnymund recognizable from the 2012 animated movie “Rise of the Guardians.”
Then there’s Dino Bob, a gentle green dinosaur created by legendary Texas artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade as one of Abilene’s original sculptures. He peers down from a perch on Cedar Street, playing with an orange Volkswagen.
The Storybook Project’s most recent additions are two lovable characters created by author and illustrator David Shannon. To locate all of the sculptures, a brochure and walking map of the project are available online.
After perusing Abilene’s whimsical sculptures, stop by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. The idea for the center occurred to former Abilene Mayor Gary McCaleb in late 1993 after he read Joyce’s book Santa Calls to a group of students. He was surprised to find the book was set in Abilene, and he invited Joyce to the city in the spring of 1994. From that meeting, the idea of the NCCIL took shape.
Founded in 1997, the center has featured the works of award-winning children’s book illustrators and authors. Most notable are Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears authors Stan, Jan, and Michael Berenstain. Right now, the center is showing original artwork by David Shannon.
And if you’re visiting Abilene during the month of June, don’t miss the Children’s Art and Literacy Festival. Almost 4,000 people come from across Texas and the South to participate in readings, costume contests, a themed parade, workshops and search for Walter Wick’s storybook character Seymour hidden around town.
All festival readings, events and crafts are based on the work of that year’s featured illustrator. In 2016, CALF will celebrate its fifth anniversary along with the work of Mark Teague, known for his popular “How Do Dinosaurs” series and “Dear Mrs. LaRue” books.
All photos by Jennifer Nichols.