Collaborating for children
Author Charlie Alexander and two teenagers worked together to write and illustrate a new Christmas book for young readers.
Children’s book author Charlie Alexander has stepped away from his series about a miniature poodle named Flash to release a Christmas book, “Santa’s Big Smile,” in which Alexander shares the illustration credits with two young artists, Kristyn Kennedy and Sarah Frances Voelkel.
The two budding artists captured Alexander’s attention during separate circumstances. He learned about Kristyn’s talent when he was in his doctor’s office getting a shingles vaccine, administered by Kristyn’s grandmother, Bonnie Sorrentino, LPN.
“We were talking about one of the books I had published, and I said I was thinking about a Christmas book and looking for someone to do some of the artwork for me,” Alexander recalled. “Bonnie took out her cell phone and showed me images of things that Kristyn had done at school in her art class. I was very, very impressed. Her work is different from mine. Hers is very professional.”
To Kristyn, the encounter turned into an opportunity of a lifetime. A 17-year-old senior at Trinity Catholic High School, she said that in addition to academics and several sports activities, she is heavily into her art, which she shows on Instagram.
“That’s probably what my grandmother showed him,” she said. “I never had an opportunity like this. It was cool that I’d get to illustrate a published book. I want to do film production, and this gives me another open door if I want to become an illustrator—just another path I could end up doing.”
Sarah, 17, is Alexander’s niece, the daughter of his sister Donna and her husband, Scott Voelkel.
“I knew she was an artist,” Alexander said. “I had seen some of her drawings in the past. I wanted to give some young people credit for being involved in a book, so, I sent her an iPad so she could do the artwork. She did great.”
Sarah also became a co-author of the book, which is based on humorous texts they shared.
“We were texting Christmas jokes back and forth and that’s how this book came about,” Alexander said. “I said, ‘Hey, draw me a couple pictures,’ so she did.”
One of Sarah’s drawings shows a sleighful of toys sitting on a roof. The text reads, “How much did Santa’s sleigh cost? Nothing. It was on the house.”
Sarah lives in Burke, Virginia, and is looking at a career in animal care. She said she grew up reading her uncle’s books about Flash.
“Every couple of months, we’d get another Flash book,” she said. “It’s just inspiring to see my uncle working. I’m really happy to be part of this work, but my uncle’s the real author. Maybe in the future, me and my uncle will come up with more holiday themed books.”
The work with the young artists came together in January. By that time, Alexander had already written and released 10 Flash adventure books.
“While I was waiting for the artwork from the girls, I did 11 more books,” he said. “I was in a rip-roar during the pandemic.”
Through the eyes of the canine, Alexander has taken children on adventures to music arenas, zoos, farms, and even into outer space. For the first 22 books, Alexander wrote the text and did all of the illustrations and cover designs. But that has changed with “Santa’s Big Smile” and he doesn’t mind sharing credits with Kristyn and Sarah.
Alexander, who was born Charlie Remillard, married Becky Alexander in 2014 and chose to take her last name. She had established a career in real estate, so it made sense, he said. Even so, it was an unusual thing for a man to take his wife’s name instead of the other way around, he admits.
“I heard I was the first man in Ocala to do that,” he said. “It was unfair, because they don’t charge women, but they charged me to change my name.”
As for his own career, he said his wife gives him 100 percent support.
“He’s the creative mind in our family,” Becky said. “He’s really incredible.”
The Alexanders will celebrate their 10th anniversary in March 2024. They have no children of their own, but his affinity for youngsters has taken him into classrooms and libraries where he interacts with kids of all ages, reads his books to them, and sometimes entertains them by playing the keyboard and singing. The Alexanders have donated books to children’s wards in several hospitals, including UF Health Shands in Gainesville and St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Alexander’s talents have not gone unnoticed by Zandra Singh, president and director of Capstone Academy and Preschool. After meeting him at one of his musical performances, Singh invited him to come and speak to the students, who range in age from pre-kindergarten through the fourth grade.
“He mentioned to me that he had books for kids and would love to stop by,” Singh recalled from their first meeting. “I said, ‘You ought to come read for the kids, not just drop books off.’ The kids love him. There’s nothing like an author reading his own book, and he’s so animated. You can just feel the energy in the kids. You know how it is with a 4-year-old, they get bored, but not with Charlie. He’s able to keep their attention.”
A professional jazz pianist and teacher of music, Alexander currently performs from 5 to 8 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays in the lobby of The Equestrian Hotel at the World Equestrian Center.
Self-published through Xlibris, Alexander’s books, including “Santa’s Big Smile,” are available in all formats from amazon.com, bn.com, and booksamillion.com and are on the shelf in the Ocala, Belleview, and Freedom public libraries.
For more information, go to charliealexanderandhispalflash.com