Cullman library to host premiere of original Ben South children’s story at ‘book walk’


“The Reluctant Topiary” was written by Cullman’s hometown author and playwright, Ben Johnson South.

CULLMAN – If you’re looking for something fun and original (and did we mention FREE?) for kids to enjoy this summer, the Cullman County Public Library will host the premiere of an original children's story, “The Reluctant Topiary,” with original illustrations and video, gardening crafts and refreshments at its first-ever "book walk" on Thursday, June 28 at 10 a.m. The event will take place at the library’s main branch, located at 200 Clark St. NE in Cullman.

“The Reluctant Topiary” was written by Cullman’s hometown author and playwright, Ben Johnson South.


Per South, “Topiary is a fancy word for plants clipped into shapes like animals and spirals.  The story idea came to me when I was in Mexico almost three decades ago. As I gawked, dropped-jawed looking at these grand, 40-foot-tall, evergreen topiaries of a seal bouncing a ball and giraffes and such, I thought, ‘What if you were a tree or shrub and you believed you were just fine without someone trimming you into something else?’  The tale, written for children about third-grade age who are beginning to read chapter books, celebrates the unique, super power of special individuality that each person has. It is dedicated to every free-spirited, ‘reluctant topiary’ who makes the world better.”

For the June 28 premiere, Cullman Public Library Director Sharon Townson and Youth Services Librarian Josie Harrington created an imaginative “book walk” where people will be guided through large panels of the printed story and art by Cullman muralist Jack Tupper.  

Townson told the Tribune: “If you could picture a book, like a kids’ picture book, being taken apart, and you walk up, and you read one page, and then you walk to the next station and read that page and the illustration.  It’s just that; it’s just to kind of get them moving a little bit, of course.

“It’s just part of what we’re doing for our summer library program.  We kind of try to keep them reading through the summer, so they don’t lose what they learned last school year.  This is just a different way to kind of get them involved, and really let them see how a book is put together . . . It’s just to help the kids boost their interest in reading and their reading skills.”

Weather-permitting, the book walk will take place along the sidewalks around the library.

There will also be an original, storytelling video of “The Reluctant Topiary” by talented Cullman educational couple, Sharon and John Drake.  Sharon Drake is a technology integration specialist with the city school system, and John Drake teaches computer science, multimedia production and broadcasting, and business tech, and sponsors the Cullman High School Broadcast Network at Cullman High School.  

The video will be available free on YouTube after the live premiere at the library.

After its Cullman premiere, “The Reluctant Topiary” is expected to travel in other parts of Alabama.  South imagined the work as a children's ballet story for his adopted daughter, who was then a gifted dancer at the Alabama School Of Fine Arts (ASFA) in Birmingham.  This spring, the Cullman writer met with Wes Chapman, ASFA's internationally celebrated dancer/choreographer, to begin exploring how to bring the artistic vision to reality.

State champion first-grade author on the program

As an added treat for kids, according to Townson, Cullman young author Anna Kate Allcorn will also be attending the book walk to read her prize-winning story “The Golden Goat.”  Allcorn, a Cullman area first grader, took the state championship in her grade level in Alabama Public Television’s 2018 Young Writers Contest; after taking third place in the Kindergarten category last year with her story, “Little Fuzzball.”

Parents of aspiring young writers are encouraged to bring their kids out to meet one of their peers who’s already accomplished in the field.

At a glance

  • “The Reluctant Topiary” – original Alabama storytelling premiere
  • Cullman Public Library (Main), 200 Clark St. NE in Cullman
  • Thursday, June 28 at 10 a.m.
  • FREE–Suggested for ages 5+
  • For more information, visit or call the library at 256-734-2720.

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