In September 2004, a chance meeting led artist Vicki Norris Hoffman to author Roland McElroy, who had been looking for someone to illustrate his children’s book "Jibicle and Cokie."
"The idea for the book had been in my imagination for several years, but I needed someone to illustrate it," said McElroy. "We met in a physical therapist's office and after talking, I found out she was an artist so I asked for some samples."
A native of Georgia, McElroy moved to McLean 34 years ago on the staff of Sen. Samuel Nunn. He typically spends his days ghostwriting for opinion articles at various publications, with children's novels being something he "dabbles in for fun," he said.
"Jibicle and Cokie" is McElroy's second children's book, the first of which was published in 1999 and titled "The Great Mizzariddle."
The process of writing for children has not come without its challenges, he said. "Often times it is difficult for adults to write for children because they have to know how to communicate with a child and present a story in a way they will understand."
WHEN THE AUTHOR and artist met at the physical therapist's office, McElroy was recovering from surgery, while Hoffman was being treated for carpal tunnel syndrome. "You’re in the physical therapist's office for about an hour each time, so you get to know the people around you," said Hoffman. "I had never done illustrations for a children’s book before so I was pleased to send him some samples."
Hoffman is originally from Arlington, and a graduate of West Springfield High School. After spending four years in Chicago, she returned to Northern Virginia where she opened a gallery in Old Town Fairfax. "I do mostly portraits and murals in watercolors, pastels, and oils," said Hoffman, who now works out of a studio in her home. Most notably, she supplied a large mural for an assembly room at The Waterford of Fair Oaks.
After their initial meeting, a year-long production process led to the development of "Jibicle and Cokie," a children’s book about the power of friendship and its ability to help people, or in this case cats, overcome difficult situations.
"The blue cat is Cokie, who is carefree and sweet," said Hoffman. "He helps Jibicle whose family has moved and stranded him, and shows him how to be a friend."
McElroy chose to tell his story entirely in rhyming verse, while Hoffman used bright pastel colors to give life to the characters based on the author’s descriptions of what he hoped to see. The end result is a light and thoughtful tale for children, brought to a close with a moral aimed at connecting with the readers.
The two have just begun promotion for the book, which is currently available at amazon.com, borders.com, waldenbooks.com, and mcelroyassoc.com. It is also being sold at Olsson’s Book Store in Washington, D.C. for $6.95.
McElroy and Hoffman are scheduled for a book talk at Tree Top Kids in Fairfax on Friday, Aug. 25, at 12 p.m.
"The book is beautifully illustrated, and a lot of times you don't find such high quality illustrations with independent publishers," said Liz Tromba, book buyer for Tree Top Kids.
"It's such a sweet story, with a moral at the end that kids can walk away with."