If you talk to families who live along the Bradenton Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton, you'll hear stories from generations of people who have experienced enormous changes as the Friendly City has grown. These stories, along with a recent expansion of the east side of the Riverwalk, inspired the staff at the nonprofit Realize Bradenton to create something that shares the rich history of their town. The result: Old Manatee A to Z, a new children's book that explores Bradenton's history in a fun, lively way.
The book includes 26 facts about the City of Bradenton dating back to the 1800s, covering historical landmarks, the natural environment and local culture. Realize Bradenton partnered with many organizations to research the content, including the library system, the Manatee County Historical Records Library, Manatee Village Historical Park, the Reflections of Manatee museum and a local naturalist familiar with Bradenton's landscape. They referred to old maps, journals and historical texts to make sure each fact was accurate.
Ryan G. Van Cleave, a Sarasota author and the head of the creative writing program at Ringling College of Art and Design, then came up with the idea of turning the project into an alphabet book. Realize Bradenton special projects manager Jodi Carroll says Van Cleave's experience writing for children transformed the entire concept of the book, from one with random facts into one that matches a fact with each letter of the alphabet, making it fun for kids.
"Being part of this picture book project gave me the chance to expand my understanding of what a historically interesting area we have here right in our backyard," says Van Cleave.
Around 9,000 copies of Old Manatee A to Z have been printed, with 6,000 copies donated to the school district and 1,000 to local nonprofit Soar in 4, which works with preschool-age children. A curriculum was also developed around the book for elementary teachers to incorporate into lesson plans with third- and fourth-graders. This curriculum includes a book read-aloud, historical references and physical copies of the book in classrooms.
Facts include "H Is for Horse," which describes the Florida Cracker horse, used by early settlers for farming and transportation. Another is "I Is for Ice Cream Social," which explains one of the first ice cream flavors in Bradenton: oyster. (Yes: oyster.)
To make sure the book was engaging for kids, Realize Bradenton formed a focus group with kids ages 7 to 10. The kids were given clipboards and asked to fill out surveys about their favorite parts, becoming what Carroll calls "book scientists."
"It was fun and engaging to hear their feedback," says Carroll. "In fact, the oyster ice cream part went over really well, although none wanted to ever taste it."
Illustrator and Ringling College professor Don Brandes, who has designed greeting cards for Hallmark, created 26 individual illustrations that coordinate with each fact in the book. Brandes used colored pencil to draw soft sketches and then cut the shapes out of colored tissue paper.
"I would go to the library and look for more content," says Brandes. "Once the research was done, I would sketch and sketch again until I got something I liked. All this was scanned and put together digitally. I hope everyone likes it."