Photo by Jeff Vorva
Mt. Greenwood’s Robert Walanka, left, and Worth’s Richard Plant show off their book that was just published 25 years after they created it.
One man loved to draw, the other loved to write.
They created a kid’s book and thought their future was bright.
Getting published, however, proved to be quite a fight.
But 25 years later, everything is all right.
Back in 1990, Worth’s Richard Plant and Mt. Greenwood’s Robert Walanka combined on a children’s book called “The Wunderful Tree.”
Plant did the drawing and Walanka crafted the words. Walanka admires the works of Dr. Seuss, so he used rhythm and rhymes to tell the story of evil turning good.
They were pretty proud of their work. They were ready to show it to the rest of the world.
But they never got to show it to the rest of the world.
Walanka estimates that he sent the book out to more than 70 publishers.
“I was rejected and rejected and rejected and rejected,” he said. “I was so frustrated I just shelved it. I put the manuscripts away.’’
But he got into the world of self-publishing last year and wrote a book called “The Insect King,” which he said didn’t sell much.
“But it got my foot in the door,” he said.
So Walanka dusted off the “Wunderful Tree” manuscript and found a better-known self-publishing company – AuthorHouse of Bloomington, Ind. -- to help print and promote the book.
Twenty five years later, Plant, a 68-year-old butcher at Pete’s Fresh Market, and Walanka, a 66-year-old media specialist at the Daniel Burnham Elementary School library in Cicero are finally in the book game.
While they both know that selling their product won’t be easy, they are hitting the ground running as they plan to promote their book this weekend at Fiesta del Sol in Chicago and will visit schools and libraries in the Chicago area. They also plan on marching in the Worth Days Parade in August.
For the 68-year-old Plant, who is hoping to retire after 40 years as a butcher in the near future, this is a dream come true.
“Ever since I drew for the school newspaper at Morgan Park High School, this is what I wanted to do,” Plant said. “I had resumes all over the place but I couldn’t get my foot in the door. This is something I always wanted to do but over the years it was more of a hobby.’’
When the two tag-teamed 25 years ago for this book, in which a tree saves one land from being overtaken by “evil meanies” from another land, Plant could practically read Walanka’s mind as to what he wanted the characters to look like.
“For some reason, when he told me about the book I immediately had in my head what I was going to draw,” Plant said.
With the exception of added coloring courtesy of Ian Piirtola, Plant didn’t have any revising to do.
“These are the same drawings we did 25 years ago,” Plant said. “I was surprised they didn’t want me to do more – but they liked it just the way it was.’’
Walanka is not too shy when he talks about his book. He said he has been around children’s books for years and thinks his book more than stacks up with many of the others he has seen.
“My book is better,” he said. “I read books all the time. I read this book to a classroom of kids at Burnham and everyone clapped after I read the book. They loved the book. Teachers have told me this is the best book they’ve read.’’
While Plant said his favorite illustrator is Chester Gould (who created Dick Tracy) Walanka said he loves Dr. Seuss.
“Every book I write is in rhythm. It rhymes. Sometimes to write four lines might take me six hours. I was signing a book for someone and I’m Jewish. He said ‘we should call you ‘Dr. Jewss.’ Maybe if this works out, I’ll call myself that.’’
The self-described “former hippie” is almost done writing another book and Plant is putting the finishing touches on the illustrations. Walanka is telling any writer who will listen to keep pursuing their dreams.
“If I can do it at this age, anyone can do it,” he said. “Don’t give up. That’s reality.’’