Release party for new children’s book series set for Thursday in Edwards
If you go ...
What: “Eli and Mort’s Epic Adventures: Beaver Creek” release party.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday.
More information: The release party features a meet-and-greet with authors Ken Nager and Elyssa Pallai, along with contributing artists from local schools. The event is open to the public. Copies of the book are available for $19.95. For more information on the book series, see eliandmort.com.
Meet Mort the moose.
Like your average moose, Mort loves the outdoors. (It beats the wall in a hunter’s den.) He especially loves wintertime, when the trails and meadows at Beaver Creek are covered in a fresh coat of spotless snow. It’s when he and Eli, his two-legged counterpart, spend hours and hours wandering through the wilderness in search of adventure.
But Mort’s not your average moose. For starters, he’s red, and everyone knows there’s no such thing as a red moose. He also has a taste for adrenaline: When Eli tries snowboarding, Mort carves right behind him. When Eli catches sick air, Mort bellows “booyah!” When Eli visits the Birds of Prey downhill course, Mort is by his side, ambling through a colorful crowd at the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships. The two are inseparable, and as the stars of a new children’s book series, “Eli and Mort’s Epic Adventures,” they channel all the joy and wonder that youngsters feel in the big, wild, white world of a ski resort.
Yet oddly enough, no one — not Vail, not Breck, not Copper — had brought that kind of childlike excitement to a book written about ski resorts. For series co-authors Elyssa Pallai and Ken Nager, two on-and-off locals of nearly 20 years, a moose like Mort was the “eureka” moment. He and Eli are rambunctious guides to a side of the resort most skiers never see: Beaver Creek through the eyes of a local kid.
A collection of burgeoning young artists drew all 26 scenes in the book, from skiers barreling down Birds of Prey to Jackrabbit Alley with actual jackrabbits. Eli’s imagination brings Mort to life, and on the pages of the duo’s first-ever book, students from a Colorado ski town do the same for kids across the globe.
“The book concept itself is appealing, but at the end of the day, the characters and drawings will make it shine,” Nager said. “The way we imagined it, this is like the Disney of ski resorts, with characters that can bring people into the world of a ski resort. This is a book kids will take home and keep forever.”
NOT YOUR AVERAGE SKI VACATION
Eli and Mort’s first trip to Beaver Creek couldn’t come at a better time. With the 2015 races less than three months away, Pallai and Nager saw a sterling opportunity to debut the series with a bang. The idea had been percolating since early last year, but when the authors noticed Carrie Fell’s promotional skier art on ECO buses this summer, they knew it was time to go from a juicy idea to a print-and-paper product.
The book is written as an A to Z guide — “C” for cookie time, “I” for ice rink — set during Eli’s family vacation to Beaver Creek.
As imagined by Pallai, a marketing professional by day and the series wordsmith by night, Eli is part of a thoroughly modern family. He travels with his dad, stepmom, little sister and, of course, Mort. Like any kid — or any good author — he’s a sponge, soaking up everything he sees and hears.
“It was so much fun to write,” said Pallai, who paired short paragraphs with the student-drawn scenes, written with the gleeful abandon of a 6-year-old kid. “The challenge was really to think like a kid, just listen to what they say and what they do and what they love. They can be so funny.”
For inspiration, Pallai looked no further than her children. She has written three long-form novels, but she wanted Eli’s voice to capture the excitement of a first-time skier. Take the Park 101 scene: Eli hears phrases like “sweet” and “crushed it” for the first time — the same ski-town lingo Pallai and Nager’s kids use on the mountain.
“Eli is cool, you know?” Pallai said. “Or at least he thinks he’s cool, like a Shaun White or a Mikaela Shiffrin. He’s just having a great time on the mountain.”
Mort is a bit like Hobbes, the stuffed tiger from the classic print cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes,” but he’s far from a partner-in-crime/conscience. He’s more like Eli’s partner in play, so to speak, and as a professional graphic designer, Nager knew both characters still needed the playful, expressive look of beloved ‘toons like Curious George and Winnie the Pooh.
Nager eventually tapped Mexico-born artist Eduardo Paj to create the two pals. The authors were blown away by his illustrations, which were drawn to match Pallai’s words and the local artist’s backgrounds.
“It was a lot of hard work, between the kids and us and Eduardo and everyone,” Nager said. “I’ve been in the design business forever, and you always cross your fingers that everything is correct, that it comes together well. But once you see it, the feeling is incredible.”
THE LOCAL’S TOUCH
As a collaborative effort, “Eli and Mort’s Epic Adventures” would fall flat if the pieces didn’t fit snugly. Pallai and Nager knew they wanted to feature young, local artists. Sure, the book features the official 2015 and Vail Resorts logos, but the hand-drawn images are much more than a glitzy seal of approval.
“A professional artist would’ve looked too slick,” Pallai said. “We wanted to define what ‘local’ means, and that means local ideas, a local’s point of view.”
Late this summer, the authors put out a call for aspiring artists. It was a true grassroots effort, with emails and Facebook blasts leading to a small corps of students. Each artist began with an iconic Beaver Creek image — and little more. In two weeks, they had to recreate the scene with paper, colored pencils and boundless imagination.
“That was really the biggest risk — they were the X factor,” Pallai said. “We weren’t sure how it would look, what they would do, and it really just came together incredibly.”
For Tommy Johnson, a sixth-grader at Berry Creek Middle School in Edwards, the chance to illustrate Jackrabbit Alley (complete with tiny jackrabbits) was a dream come true. It’s one of his favorite runs on the mountain, and drawing is one of his favorite hobbies.
“It’s cool to start with a blank piece of paper and see what I can imagine,” said Tommy, whose sister, Anabel, is the Battle Mountain High School junior who drew the book’s cover illustration. “It’s a lot of fun, like skiing. I’m excited for people to see how much effort we put into it. We worked hard and hard work really pays off.”
And the next round of hard work is already here. This November, Pallai and Nager again called on local artists for the next book in the series: Vail Mountain. From there, the sky’s the limit. The authors want Eli and Mort to visit other Colorado resorts like Aspen, then move beyond the state to Lake Tahoe, the East Coast and, if the two need a break from endless winter, perhaps a beachside oasis.
“There were so many things that were brilliant about the book we never expected,” Pallai said. “You had parents who were excited for it, and kids who thought this was really making their future. They’ll get published, and for the moment, it really changes their life.”