The Mankato area continues to prove itself as a literary hotspot.
Here’s a look at just a few of the titles produced by local authors and publishers:
‘Supper with the Savior’
Barbara Sartorius-Bjelland’s journey to her debut publication began with a major conversion at the age of 14.
That’s when she discovered the Bible and became a Christian.
In the following years, Sartorius-Bjelland spent a decade working at an inner-city church as well as at Crossview Covenant Church in North Mankato and as the sexton in the Chaplain’s Office at Gustavus Adolphus College. Her years of education and scholarship -- combined with a lifelong interest in creating children’s literature -- have now yielded “Supper with the Savior: Communion in the Bible and Today.”
For the author, the 110-page, hand-illustrated volume marks the culmination of a long-sought goal.
“I’ve been interested in writing children’s books for decades,” said Sartorius-Bjelland, who holds degrees in religion, history and graphic design. “I started the process a long time ago. I had no idea how long that process would take.”
The process actually began in 2004 when the author received a Worship Renewal Grant, a program that is hosted by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and funded through support from the Lilly Endowment. This year, the program is distributing more than $300,000 for various worship-related projects to 31 congregations, educators, churches and schools across the country.
Sartorius-Bjelland used her grant almost 10 years ago to self-publish the first edition of her book. Upon completion, she began shopping around for publishers.
After a few “nibbles” didn’t pan out, she decided to publish her book through Regent College in Canada. Regent is the home of Regent College Publishing, a small publishing imprint that specializes in a mix of out-of-print Christian titles and original work.
The book was released in September 2011 and is now available at Amazon.com.
Sartorius-Bjelland said she took care to make the book relevant for all Christian denominations and to include activities for all ages. Her illustrations are joyful and tasteful and includes concise lessons with textual references, coloring pages and an animal hunt. The book also includes a more in-depth Bible study as well as a communion journal and certificate.
The author said she is now beginning work on a companion guidebook as well as continuing to work on other children’s literature projects.
Who need words with such powerful, telling illustrations?
In “Flood,” a wordless picture book that assaults and recedes with the same rapidity as its subject matter, Argentinian illustrator Alvaro F. Villa tells more than words ever could. The book was published earlier this year by Picture Window Books, an imprint of Capstone Press in North Mankato.
As the bucolic opening images of a quaint, waterside home unfold with children frolicking in a sun-drenched yard and playing in a warmly lit living room, a storm is brewing outside. After building a dyke around the house and boarding up the windows, the family says goodbye to its home and waits out the storm in higher ground. With the power of natural forces fearfully illustrated in violent, brooding images, the flood’s destructive potential is evident when the family’s home is nearly razed.
When a brighter day dawns, the family returns and begins the process of reconstruction.
New York Parents Magazine said the story “wrings a surprising dose of understated optimism from familiar recent events.”
The Wall Street Journal commented: “Though the final pages will lift the heart with scenes of renewal, the central image of floodwaters roaring into the family’s living room, knocking pictures off the wall and foaming hungrily at the stairs, leaves an impression that no child will quickly forget.”
Sales from the book have benefited Save the Children, a nonprofit that helps children and families in times of severe crisis. Capstone also offers a free reader’s guide and discussion tips on its website.
‘100 Miles of Thought’
As Ryan Chukuske humorously noted, “Books about running are almost always about the guy who won.”
But not this one.
Rather, the Tracy native who completed graduate studies at Minnesota State University and now works in St. Peter wrote his book about failing to even finish a 100-mile marathon in August 2012.
“When I wasn’t able to finish the race, I thought the book went right down the gutter,” Chukuske said.
Instead, Chukuske documented the personal struggle and outward victories of preparing for, and competing in an ultra marathon. A growing competition for the most die-hard of runners, ultra marathons are often run at distances of 50-100 miles. Chukuske had competed in countless triathlons as well as half- and full marathons, but he felt compelled to find his endurance limit during a 100-mile race in South Dakota.
In his 94-page, self-published volume, Chukuske shares his experience mile by excruciating mile, linking his reflections during each mile to broader life lessons. When the pack of runners thins out during mile five, Chukuske muses about the comings and goings of people in his life. When a well-meaning onlooker shouts “You’re almost there” during mile 24, Chukuske channels his annoyance into an observation about negative perceptions clouding well-intended messages. At mile 40, Chukuske falls down; at mile 51, he first considers giving up. After hallucinations and constant pain accompany him through miles 60-67, Chukuske finds his limit at mile 68.
Chukuske said he began writing the book as soon as the race was finished, despite his misgivings. He sought feedback from friends and colleagues and said he’s proud to share what’s he’s learned with readers.
“A lot of people speak about what they cannot do,” Chukuske said. “But they do so without ever having tried.”
Though Chukuske said he’s not planning on running another ultra marathon, he is working on his 26-mile time with the hope of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. He also plans to continue running the Mankato Marathon.