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Encouraging kids to "stay creative"

Children’s picture book author Alastair Heim visits North Liberty Community Library
Children’s picture book author Alastair Heim greets Ani Swanson, age two, during a book signing for her and big sister Lexie, age five. The internationally published author provided a rare treat to the North Liberty Community Library on the morning of Saturday, May 26, reading his books to the families in attendance, signing copies and encouraging kids to “stay creative” as they grow up. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– Alastair Heim had words of encouragement for the kids of North Liberty.
On the morning of Saturday, May 26, families kicked off their weekend with a visit from the internationally published children’s picture book author. Heim took the occasion to read his books to the young locals, share some wisdom and sign copies of his work, with Prairie Lights Books providing books for sale. The event, which began at 11 a.m., was hosted by the library in partnership with the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, free to the community.
Heim is the author of the picture books Love You, Too; No Tooting at Tea; The Great Puppy Invasion and his latest, Hello, Door, released early this year. His presence has recently transcended the U.S., with a French edition of Hello, Door (entitled Bonjour), as well as a Korean and Chinese edition coming soon. The author lives in Kansas City with his wife and three children, from whom he gathers his inspiration.
With his daughter eager to assist, Heim shared with the 75 people in attendance his colorful, whimsical and clever storytelling, with such absurd themes as “tooting” etiquette, a fox burglary gone awry, and a town overcome by a puppy invasion.
“Alastair was really great to work with,” said Erin Silva, Youth and Teen Services Librarian. “We haven’t really had anybody of his caliber come to us and actually do an entire storytime with their books, so we were pretty excited about that.”
After reading his whimsical stories to the spirited kids, most of whom were seated on the floor, Heim took a moment to reflect on his background and offer some crucial advice to the budding minds of his audience.
“I’m a big believer in ideas,” Heim began. “As a kid, I loved to write things, and I carried on my creativity throughout my life.”
“As kids grow up and you guys get older, there’s a lot of pressure on you to kind of like what everybody else is gonna like and do what everybody else is gonna do. One of the things that doesn’t always come along for the ride is creativity,” he explained. “So if you like to sing, if you like to dance, if you like to draw, if you like to write... as you get older, keeping singing, keep dancing, keep drawing, keep writing.”
In a world often bound by conformity, Heim hopes his stories will inspire children to “fight for their creativity.”
“If you have friends that don’t like the way you dance, dance in the morning and then dance at night when you guys get home, and just please stay creative as you guys grow up,” he insisted, asking the kids for a promise to do their best to maintain a creative imagination as they face adulthood.
The author then retrieved some “idea cards” and with the help of his family, Heim distributed them to the audience. He encouraged the kids to take them home and think of at least one good idea, document it in writing or illustration and keep it with them into adulthood as a reminder of their imaginative roots.
Following his reading, Heim took a seat and began signing copies of his work for attendees, greeting families one-on-one and jotting notes of encouragement on the inside of their books.
“When I’m done writing my last stories, we’re gonna need you guys’ stories, we’re gonna need your dances, we’re gonna need your drawing, we’re gonna need all that good stuff,” he told the young audience. “The world needs it, okay?”
Heim grew up in Hazel Green, Wisconsin, just a few miles across the river from Dubuque. His brother, who the author refers to as “my local North Liberty P.R. man,” has lived in the North Liberty area for almost a decade and reached out to the library to help facilitate his visit.
“Northeastern Iowa has a pretty special place in my heart, and I’m always looking for opportunities to read to kids when I visit,” Heim said. “I’ll be back in North Liberty in the fall for my brother’s wedding and am hoping to have another event at a local library.”
Heim has two more books coming out in 2020, both to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In the meantime, he’s busy introducing his first four picture books to as many kids and parents as possible.
“Being a relatively new author, I’m hoping my books will resonate with parents looking for something fun, clever and heartfelt to share with their children,” he said.
“I was a dad before I was an author, and the countless hours of reading books to my own kids– learning about what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t make for a great read aloud experience– has shaped every story I’ve written,” Heim explained. “The parents reading my books are just as important to me as the children hearing them read aloud, and I strive to make my stories enjoyable for everyone.”
Through his books, the author has also made it his duty to encourage the upholding of creativity and art in future generations.
“Creativity, in my opinion, is one of the most important things in the world,” he summarized. “If there’s one thing I hope to instill in the children I meet, it’s that fighting for your own personal brand of creativity matters.”