Just in time for Mardi Gras, Candice Marley Conner and Julie Allen have teamed up to write and illustrate Mobile’s first Mardi Gras ABCs children’s book, M is for Moon Pie. This is Candice’s third children’s picture book, and the third book for Julie, a professional illustrator.
Candice works at The Haunted Book Shop on Joachim Street in Mobile. The inspiration for M is for Moon Pie came after several customers asked for an ABC book about Mobile’s Mardi Gras. There wasn’t one. So, Candice, whose passion is writing children’s books, decided to take on this project to resolve the problem once and for all.
Candice wrote the manuscript (that sounds so adult) and then contacted Julie, whom she knew was a gifted illustrator. “Do you have a book designer?’ Julie asked before accepting to do the project. “Book designers are an important element to enhancing the appeal and readability of any book,” she says. She learned the hard way.
When Candice said yes, a partnership was formed. Julie loved the manuscript and set about doing all the illustrations, which are an extremely important element in creating a successful children’s book. As all Mobilians will quickly tell you with pride that Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras, the subtitle of M is for Moon Pie is ABCs in the Birthplace of Mardi Gras. A significant distinction!
The book is printed in a font that is Dyslexic Inclusive. (Something I never knew existed). Each letter is given its own identity which makes it easier for people with dyslexia to be more successful at reading. There is more information about the designer, Christian Boer, and how he created the dyslexic-friendly font. A dyslexic himself, the book is designed for adults with dyslexia who want the experience of reading to the children in their lives.
M is for Moon Pie is a fun way to introduce children to the ABCs while learning about a unique Gulf Coast event full of history and revelry. I think it’s brilliant and long overdue. Move over New Orleans! There are plenty of ways for kids to “customize” the book with a few blank pages at the end so that they can create their own images. So much fun!
Candice dedicated the book to The City of Mobile and Josh, Marley, and Gabel with a personal note: “My favorite people to eat Moon Pies with.” Sweet. Julie simply says, “For Doug.”
I sat with Julie at Provision in Fairhope to talk about the book and learn more about an illustrator's life. Julie grew up in Andalusia, Alabama, and majored in Art at the College of Charleston. As a child, she always loved art, and “doodled” her way into junior college her first year after high school. And she always colored outside the lines!
After graduating from the College of Charleston, she headed straight to New York to attend art school at the School of Visual Arts to study animation. Julie lived 8 years in New York City, working in the animation field, and met Doug, an investment analyst in the insurance industry. Doug’s career took them to Houston where Julie worked as a graphic designer and had their children, a son, Riley, and a daughter, Pippa.
Julie’s sister, Marion, married Craig Dyas from Fairhope. The Dyas’ convinced Doug and Julie to move to Fairhope in 1993. After two years, they moved back to Houston and Julie started a stationery company. Then in 2003, Chicago called Doug to a new position at Allstate Investment Group, and Julie began taking Children’s Illustration classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I spent a lot of time learning that craft and really got into it.”
Her instructors encouraged her to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization. She attended large conferences held each year in New York and Los Angeles. All the major children's book publishers, authors, and illustrators attended, and Julie began to understand how the children’s book industry worked. Every state has local chapters with conferences for anyone interested in writing and illustrating children’s books.
She met Candice at one of the local conferences in Mobile. After Candice had written the manuscript, she contacted Julie and said, “I remember you. I love your work!” Candice told her the motive for a children’s book about Mobile Mardi Gras. Julie loved the story and signed on.
Julie’s first book is an interesting tale. Their neighbor in Chicago was the creative director for the advertising agency that handled McDonald’s Worldwide. McDonald’s wanted to include a children’s book with each Happy Meal purchased. Julie submitted some of her work and was selected to illustrate one of the four books written for the campaign.
She was anxious about the big stage, but one of her teachers at the Art Institute of Chicago told her, “You’re ready. You’ve got this, go for it!” Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando was born. The main character was a Dodo bird that McDonald’s thought might have the potential to be an animated movie star, so the pressure was on to create a lovable character that kids would embrace. Julie was sent a Model Sheet of the dodo bird character from which to start.
Julie’s family owned a cottage on Dog Island, a small island accessible by boat in the Sound near Port St. Joe, Florida. In her happy place, she stowed away for a while to illustrate Doddi’s story. Once complete, McDonald’s printed millions and millions of each of the four children’s books to include with the Happy Meals all over the world. Julie and her friends would purchase Happy Meals throughout the Chicago area hoping her book would be in the package.
In 2016, after their second stint in Houston, the Allen family moved back to Fairhope. A few years later, Julie’s mom, who owned a home in Magnolia Springs on the River, passed away, and Julie and Doug purchased the property and moved in. Julie worked at the Fairhope Library’s Children’s Department for a couple of years, and she painted two murals there, one of a lighthouse and another representing the sea life found in the area.
Today, Julie and her business partner from Chicago, Anne Benson, have a stationery and tea towel business called “The Glendale Girls,” named after the street they both lived on in Chicago. They sell boxes of hand-illustrated stationery through their Etsy online retail shop, and you can find them at gift shops around town, like the Happy Olive.
“I start, and she finishes,” says Julie about how they work together. “I do the illustrations, and she does the graphic design.” So far, so good, she says. They do a ton of “Custom Wedding Suites” for save-the-date cards and wedding invitations. “If you want whimsical, we’re your people,” she says.
M is for Moon Pie can be found at The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, or you can order it through Page and Palette in Fairhope and support your local independent bookstores. Candice and Julie will be at the Haunted Book Shop on February 18, signing their books from 2 pm until 4 pm. They will also be at the Mobile Literary Festival on March 11 from 9 am until 4 pm at the Ben May Main Library. At the Festival, you can browse the Haunted Book Shop’s local author showcase and meet Candice and Julie and get your copy of M is for Moon Pie signed.
M is for Moon Pie: ABCs in the Birthplace of Mardi Gras is a cool, beautifully illustrated book that will give young and old readers a fun education about Mobile Mardi Gras. Just in time, too!
Thanks, Julie. That was fun! You can see more of Julie’s work here.