The day has finally arrived! If you follow @downintheham or @missabbylittle on Instagram, you know we’ve had a project to announce. Well, today’s the day!
While family and friends have known for several months that a children’s book is the type of project we have in the works, the illustrator and I have kept the subject of the book under wraps. Until now. Because the title of the book is…Down in the Ham: A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham!
While Down in the Ham will educate children (and adults) about Birmingham’s past and present, I also hope that it will inspire its readers to visit downtown Birmingham and to see the sites mentioned in its pages. What happened to turn a pride and enthusiasm for our city into a children’s book? Well…
The Story Behind the Story
For me (Ashley Chesnut), this whole endeavor began in the summer of 2015 with a question and prayer: what can I do to get more involved and to serve in this city? A book wasn’t exactly what I had in mind at that point. I was thinking more along the lines of volunteering somewhere, and actually, an opportunity came along that fall for me to serve with Sav-A-Life Vestavia, which is how I met Down in the Ham’s talented illustrator…
Meet Abby Little. Y’all, what makes this book truly special is Abby’s illustrations. Born and raised in Birmingham, Abby creates and equips others with the skills to do the same. You can see more of her work on her Reflect Visual Arts website or on her Instagram (@missabbylittle). She’s truly talented, and you’ll enjoy seeing her illustrations. We’re both having a hard time picking our favorite pages.
But before I actually met Abby, I went and visited my best friends in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, we went to eat downtown by the river, and their kids spent our entire walk downtown on the hunt for mice…Mice statues, to be exact. Downtown Greenville has nine of them along their Main Street, and because of a book they’d read called Mice on Main, these kids were ecstatic about going downtown.
I wanted to capture the enthusiasm that these kids had about their downtown and do something that would stimulate similar excitement about Birmingham’s downtown. Hence, the idea for a children’s book. But I wasn’t ready to take next steps with the idea until I had found an illustrator who shared a love for Birmingham and whose style could capture our city in a kid-friendly, beautiful way.
A month later at a Sav-A-Life fundraiser where I was volunteering, I happened upon a silent auction item that was a print of our city called “Lovingham,” and when I saw it, I just knew. This was it! This was exactly the style and depiction of Birmingham that I had envisioned, so I found out the name of the artist. At this point, I still hadn’t written the book yet…Minor details!
For the author, a lot more work goes into a book than simply writing it. That’s actually the easy part (or, at least, for me it was). I knew that if I pressed play on this project, it would involve blogging, marketing, selling, etc. It would be time-consuming, and I already work a full-time job and am back in school getting a counseling certification. So I spent some time praying about whether or not God wanted me to move forward with this book idea. That was Memorial Day, and while I was praying, ideas and phrases started filling my mind. So I grabbed the sticky note beside my chair to jot them down, then quickly moved to my computer where I ended up typing half of the book that day! After some research, a trip downtown to eyeball a few landmarks, and several more sticky notes, I finished the first draft two weeks later.
Now, I was ready to contact and pitch the idea to Abby, so I reached out and asked if she would like to meet about collaborating on a project together. On July 1, Abby and I spent several hours at a window table at Feast & Forest discussing my book idea, and while there, I read her the manuscript. By mid-July, Abby had committed, and while writing and illustrating a book is a first for both of us, God has directed us with each step and with every detail. Speaking of which…
You’ll be able to purchase your copy of Down in the Ham this summer. While we don’t have an exact release date yet, we’ll keep you posted as it gets closer to time. The best way to stay up on news about the book is to follow @downintheham on Instagram and to like Down in the Ham on Facebook.
Also, back in October, I created a website – downintheham.com – where I blog about the people, places, things, and food that’s local to Birmingham. Because of the book, we needed an online presence, and because I enjoy telling others about our city, this website gives me the opportunity to tell you about the Magic City’s many great restaurants, local treasures, and happenings.
Another important detail to know is that part of the proceeds from every book will go to support WorkFaith Birmingham, which is a local non-profit that empowers “adults facing employment barriers with the skills, competencies, and ethics they need to enjoy transformed lives through work and faith.” This is important to me because I want to do more than simply write a children’s book about our city, I want to use this book to give back to our community by empowering the people in it, particularly those who want to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. So if you purchase a copy of Down in the Ham: A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham, you will be contributing to this wonderful cause.
I hope you will join Abby and me in celebrating our city and our project about this city.
To God Be the Glory,