'The Bag Family' is a product of two college friends who were inspired to return to their efforts 35 years after they started.
ADAMS, Mass. — Dawn Nelson had a book rolled up in the back of her closet for 35 years.
On Saturday, she was finally able to debut "The Bag Family" that she wrote and illustrated with her college friend, Karen Zander.
The short children's book is the story of the bags used by a family every day. A diaper bag arrives with the new baby and is soon learning about the roles that each of the bags — including a pocketbook, a backpack and a briefcase with self-esteem issues — play in the family.
When they try to change things up with the help of a family pet, it disrupts everyone's day and they learn to work together as a team.
At a reception held at Real Eyes Gallery on Park Street, the local artist said she and Zander had attended college together and later had both moved to Boston.
"She said, 'let's do a children's book together,'" Nelson said. "She had this idea, she had little kids and she was dragging around their bags ... The bags started, like, matching the kids and it sort of seemed like their own family."
Zander wrote a draft and Nelson made the initial drawings. And that's where it ended.
"We got so busy that there's no way we could have finished it," Nelson said. "It got rolled up in the back of my closet."
Fast-forward 35 years and the two friends, who remained in touch, were hitting retirement and had more time on their hands. Zander wanted to finish the book she'd thought up so many years ago when her children — now long grown — had been little.
"For the last year and a half the both of us have been working on it really feverishly and figuring out how to get it out there," Nelson said. "So it's really brand new and we're just really really excited that we actually finished it. ... And we really like it!"
Picking up so many years later was a little difficult for the Nelson because her style of drawing had changed dramatically. The retired Weston Middle School art teacher, who splits her time between her loft in the Eclipse Mill in North Adams and her home in Jamaica Plain, found that her skills in new technology could be the bridge to her older drawings.
She was able to scan the original sketches and use software to make the changes she needed to bring the book to life.
"I wanted to keep that look from 35 years ago, it's from my house where I lived 35 years ago," she said. "I lived with Audrey, who was an attorney. So Aunt Audrey really did have a briefcase, it really was very heavy, and she really just dumped it when she came in ... all of the characters were from actual bags we were using or people who were in our lives."
Nelson thought the story might be a little dated but found that the way we use bags hasn't changed much — she just added in a laptop for the briefcase to update things.
"It was really interesting," she said. "They held their own and we didn't need to change them at all."
The book met the exacting criteria of Keziah Zelazo, 9, who came for the reading at the gallery and to draw some pictures from the book.
"I like the part where they switched up the things that are inside the bags," she said, adding she'd read the book the day before. "It looked interesting and it was a kid's story and I like kid's stories especially if they're short. I don't like long stories."
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