By Bob Jackson
Some 800 children and their parents were expected to visit the third annual event to promote literacy.
YOUNGSTOWN — Doodling pictures of Woody Woodpecker might not seem like such a great career move, but it’s working out pretty well for Tim Bowers.
“That’s what got me started,” said Bowers, a noted children’s book illustrator. “It’s how I developed my interest in drawing.”
Bowers, who has illustrated some 25 children’s books over the past 20-plus years, was the featured guest Saturday at the third annual Book Fair of Youngstown.
The event, which was themed “Plant the Seed to Read,” was at the Davis Center in Mill Creek MetroParks Fellows Riverside Gardens near downtown.
Marti Tyrrell of Youngstown, volunteer coordinator, said some 750 children and their parents visited the event last year, and even more were expected this year.
“It’s pretty awesome,” she said of the response.
Indeed, every nook and cranny of every hallway inside the Davis Education and Visitor Center seemed packed with people of all ages, shapes and sizes Saturday as children raced from one station to another, taking in as many activities as possible.
Some wanted their picture to be taken with PBS children’s characters Sid the Science Kid and Word Girl, while others wanted to hear a story read to them, and still others waited in line to make a snack out of fresh strawberries and marshmallows.
Every child also got to select a free book to take home, Tyrrell said.
“The goal here is to promote reading and literacy,” she said.
Bowers, who lives near Columbus, said he travels to about 20 such shows and events each year, where he displays his illustrations and talks about his career path.
“My strength is the artwork, and it’s been that way since I was a little boy,” he said.
He developed an interest in drawing as a child, fascinated mainly by drawing the shapes of animals. In grade school, Bowers bought a book by famed cartoonist Walter Lantz, who drew the Woody Woodpecker cartoon, and he began honing his art by drawing Woody Woodpecker and other cartoon characters.
After graduating from high school, he studied at the Columbus College of Art & Design, receiving a bachelor of fine arts degree. He then spent a few years working for Hallmark Cards, helping to launch its popular Shoebox Greetings card line.
The first children’s book he illustrated was published in 1986, and he has received numerous awards for his work since then.
Bowers said he tries to stress to children that things they are interested in as children might just end up being parlayed into a career when they become adults, as was the case with him.
“When I was a little boy, I had no idea that I would be doing this,” he said. “I think kids can relate to that.”
And while he doesn’t actually pen the words to books, his illustrations can still promote reading.
“If they see the illustrations and get interested in that, then they might decide they want to read the book,” he said. “They go hand-in-hand.”
Bowers’ latest project is for a book called “First Dog,” which is about the Obama family’s dog and is scheduled for release later this month. Tyrrell said it was recently featured in USA Today.
Tyrrell said it took about 75 volunteers to staff Saturday’s event, which was sponsored by the Altrusa Club of Youngstown, Mill Creek MetroParks, Western Reserve PBS and the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.
Other participants included The Vindicator, the Audubon Society, Bread for the Brain, Barnes & Noble, Children’s Center for Science and Technology, First Book Mahoning Valley, Mahoning Valley Parent Magazine, M. Sanko Photography, Ohio Early Education “Help Me Grow” and Child Care Connection.
Among the visitors were 40-year-old Wretha Rice and her 5-year-old daughter, Alexandria, from Youngstown.
“I’m a former preschool teacher, so, you know, books are a big attraction for me, “ Wretha said, explaining why they came.
Alexandria, although still a preschooler, is an avid reader and wanted to come check out the books, she said.
Alexandria said her favorite part was hearing author Amanda Blanda telling the story of her visits with her grandmother as a little girl, which is the basis of her book “My Days with Nonna.”