Local author, artist, teacher present live art


Sharon Drake reads “The Reluctant Topiary” while author Ben Johnson South displays illustrations and artist Jack Tupper looks on. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – On Thursday, the Cullman County Library concluded its summer reading program on a high note with a live reading of Ben Johnson South’s “The Reluctant Topiary.”  A logistical mix-up moved the presentation, originally planned for an outdoor walking route around the library, to the front of the circulation room, where the author himself was on hand to set the stage and display the original art for the book illustrations; Cullman Primary teacher Sharon Drake read the story.  The illustrator, well-known Cullman mural artist Jack Tupper, also attended.

To add to the fun, Rachel Dawsey and staff from the North Alabama Agriplex helped the kids make “magic bean” necklaces, and the library fed the children as part of its federally-funded summer feeding program.  More than 70 participants, from around the Cullman community and as far away as Colony, came to take part.

Youth Services Librarian Josie Harrington told The Tribune that the month-long reading program went “incredibly well.  This is the first time I’ve done one, but the past years, we’ve had roughly between 30, 50, 60 kids. On average, we’re having over 60 or 70 children attending, so it’s been incredible.  Good attendance, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

“With the reading logs we’ve received back, we’ve had a lot of reading, I think partially because we’ve changed to a system of prize lists.  There’s no prizes given out for the reading logs themselves, and for reading so much; it’s not so much of a chore. We try to get them to come into the library more often, as opposed to just once or twice.  And I think that’s increased how much they come in and get books.

“But as a whole, our attendance has just been incredibly high: good numbers, everything’s been enjoyed, lots of reading’s been going on.  I’ve gotten lots of compliments on how it’s been going. People really just enjoyed coming to the library this month.”

South talked about the presentation of his book:

“We had a great turnout.  I mean, what was it–maybe 75 people here today at the Cullman Public Library!  Sharon Drake is a phenomenal storyteller, so it was really great to have her here live, doing it.  John Drake, her husband, has created a wonderful video of the story, and with the images from Jack Tupper’s terrific paintings.  But it was great to have it live here with Sharon.”

John Drake’s video, featuring Sharon Drake reading, Tupper’s art and a musical soundtrack by Red Mountain Theatre’s Henry Scott, is available for free viewing on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxNFfMHO0Es.

South and company will be taking “The Reluctant Topiary” on tour, starting in Colony on July 12; they are also working on a long-term project to turn “The Reluctant Topiary” into a children’s ballet.

The library’s summer feeding program will continue through the end of July.

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