(published in the Raleigh News and Observer/Charlotte Observer- July, 26,2015)
In 2010 Missy Julian Fox signed up for my introduction to writing children’s books. A poet addicted to rhymes, she had a desire to inspire and a love for her home state of North Carolina. Rhyming and teaching are two dangerous elements for most children’s book writers, but somehow Fox has miraculously meshed the two gracefully with her passion for all things Tar Heel in her two books.
I have watched many of my talented writers be discouraged by the impossibility of breaking into traditional publishing. Fox is not a woman who is stopped by hurdles, and her imagination is as rich in marketing as it is in wordplay, two things that aid her in proving a self-published children’s book can equal those in the mainstream marketplace.
This is not a surprise when you view her background. Fox was raised by her designer father, Alexander Julian, and her earliest memories were of “wanting to wake up really early and go to work with him.” Long hours of doing just that engendered a drive for excellence and a family joke that “the store was almost more our home than our actual house.” Fox remembers her father holding her hand and walking down Franklin Street where “we would wave to people and they would stop and ask you questions” so she felt she grew up basking in “the collective joy of a caring community.”
She has found a like-minded community-loving colleague in Chapel Hill artist Elaine O’Neil. In 2012, they published “Goodnight Carolina” and now they have published a second book timed for summer adventure, “Road Trip Carolina: A Ride Across the Old North State” (McDonald & Associates, ages 4-8).
From the first page there is an enthusiastic verve that captures the thrill of journeying. The book opens with a portrait of adventure excitement. “Binoculars, sunscreen, golf clubs, hat/ Flip flops, tennis shoes, ball and bat …” declares the first part of a rhyming verse – and O’Neil’s illustrations show a car bursting with all that and more.
Ahead stretches a winding road, the mountains in the distance and road signs offering possibilities like the Outer Banks, Triad and Piedmont. “From the tops of the mountains and onto the sea,” proclaims the unnamed young narrator, “North Carolina waits for me.”
The refrain continues throughout, changing slightly depending on location and experience. The narrator is dazzled by autumn’s “rusty red and wild citrine,” a winter search for the perfect Christmas tree, and beating the summer’s heat with “singin’ and strum-min’ and pickin’ and hummin’. ” North Carolina surprises with Grandfather Mountain’s mile-high bridge and imagining a weeklong game of hide and seek at the Biltmore estate. Treats abound and meters reflect the thrill of NASCAR racing, savoring hot Krispy Kremes and taking a ferry ride on a road of water.
Finally, a shimmering Carolina Moon shines “from the tops of the mountains and onto the sea” and the narrator concludes, “North Carolina belongs to me.” Readers of all ages will feel the same way.