Authoring a surprise ending
Posted 04/12/2017 02:35PM

Authoring a surprise ending

When her husband David Johnston arranged a surprise 50th birthday party for her in late January, Holy Ghost Prep teacher Edna Ramirez thought the party itself was her main present.

But Johnston had a bigger surprise up his sleeve.

For over a year, Johnston had worked to get “The Rabbit on the Moon,” a children’s book that Dr. Ramirez had written in Spanish and English years ago, secretly illustrated and published.

Johnston hired family friend Zack Bird, a Philadelphia-based artist, to illustrate the book and then had the book self-published by Amazon. After many twists and turns, the book was published in mid-January and arrived four days before Ramirez’s birthday. With family and friends, including Bird, gathered together for the surprise party, Johnston floored Ramirez a bit when he presented her with a published copy of her book.

“It was a dream come true,” says Ramirez, who is completing her fourth year as a Spanish teacher at Holy Ghost Prep.

In a word, Johnston describes her reaction to the gesture as “priceless.”

“I think this will keep me out of trouble for a least a year, maybe a little more,” Johnston quipped. “The presentation was done at a surprise party I had arranged for her, so the surprise was really double. Only a handful of people at the party knew about the project because we were worried that someone would spill the beans. She was very surprised all around. I think she is still a little puzzled as to how we pulled it off, but very happy we did.”

Ramirez, who had originally learned “The Rabbit on the Moon” story as a child growing up in Mexico, wrote her adaptation of the ancient Aztec tale in Spanish while she was staying home with the couple’s two then-young children: Manya Johnston-Ramirez, now a senior at Gwynedd Mercy Academy who will attend the University of Pennsylvania next fall, and Albert Johnston-Ramirez, a sophomore at Holy Ghost Prep.

Dr. Ramirez realized that the story would reach even more children if she wrote it in English as well, so she translated the story, took classes about writing children’s books, joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attended conferences, and worked for three-to-five years to get the story perfectly polished in both languages before approaching several publishing companies.

“I tried to send it to some different publishing companies that had published bilingual books,” Ramirez recalls. “But it was at a time when digital publishing had just taken off, so the big publishing companies weren’t publishing as many books—particularly children picture’s books because they are expensive to illustrate and produce.”

Although the publishing of the book encountered a temporary dead end, Ramirez kept the story alive by reading it to her pre-school though fourth grade students at Ancillae-Assumpta Academy, where she taught prior to Holy Ghost Prep. And you guessed it; the children loved the story—just as Ramirez had as a child in Mexico.

So she approached Bird about possibly illustrating the book five or six years ago. Bird did a few very rough pencil sketches, but Bird makes his living as an artist, had never done a children’s book before, and frankly was pressed for time.

“Zack loved the idea, but he really didn’t have time to embark on the project,” said Ramirez. “So the book went into a drawer for a while.”

But then Johnston decided to author a surprise happy ending to this story.  He started discussing the project with Bird again during the summer of 2015 and the illustrator started working on the project, between other jobs, in November 2015.

“From start to finish the project took well over a year. Keeping it a secret was easy at first, but as communications became frequent, it became really difficult. Zack and I communicated in person, emails, text messages, and by phone to discuss what we got wrong and refining what we got right,” said Johnston. “This was her story and so many times we really wanted to ask her opinion on this or that. I almost slipped and asked her something dozens of times. The closer we were to completion, the worse it became. One time, Zack sent me a text about meeting and she read it! I fortunately made up a good excuse and no suspicions were raised.”

The first proof of the book printed last November, but the illustrations came out too dark, so Bird and Johnston made revisions and the final version arrived just in time to surprise Ramirez.

“The amount of work that both of them did, without me knowing, was incredible,” says Ramirez. “Zack’s illustrations are gorgeous. And David really went above and beyond. For instance, when my parents were here for Christmas, David showed the final version to my parents to ensure that there were no grammatical errors in the Spanish text, and to make sure they liked the illustrations.

“My parents loved the book and the illustrations. My dad was amazed that an artist in Pennsylvania was able to capture the Mexican spirit of the illustrations, and that David went to all of this effort to give me the best 50th birthday present I could ever imagine.”

To learn more about the book or to order a copy on Amazon, click here