SAVANNAHIANS KNOW Bess T. Chappas as a storyteller and the organizer of the popular local “Tellabration” storytelling events.
But the talented resident has put her skills to paper, with a new children’s book about a vignette from her girlhood in Greece called Kiki and The Red Shoes. The book is illustrated by the masterful local artist Sandy Branam, and also includes a CD of Chappas herself telling the story, which in a nutshell goes like this:
Little Kiki needs some new shoes to wear for a special first-grade program at her school. But when they come, they don’t match her dress and she worries about being made fun of by the other kids.
We spoke to Chappas last week in advance of her appearance at the Savannah Children’s Book Festival Saturday.
Bess, You write like someone who’s really put some thought into how to write for children.
Bess Chappas: Well, I spent 20 years as a media specialist, at Hesse Elementary, and a lot of children’s books went through my hands. And of course I have three children, too, so I did a lot of reading to them.
Where did you get the idea for the story?
Bess Chappas: It’s based on a true incident when I was a little girl in Athens, Greece. That’s where I was born, and we were there until 1939 when we came to this country. It began as an oral story, because I do storytelling. And the children enjoyed it so much, and adults enjoyed it so much, it gave me the idea of putting it in printed form. And also I guess it’s a way to leave something for my children and grandchildren.
So did you actually get red shoes?
Bess Chappas: Anytime you write you embellish a little bit, and there are some things I don’t remember, but my aunt did send me a pair of red shoes. I remember that I did need a pair of shoes for school, I don’t remember whether it was for commencement exercises, or something like that. But I did need a pair of shoes and they came and they were red, and I had to wear my pink dress. So I won’t say it’s 100 percent true, but a lot of it is true. In fact I went looking for my house the last time I was in Greece, but I think that area must have been bombed or something, because we didn’t even find the street.
How did you and Sandy get together?
Bess Chappas: I found her by accident. At first I contacted a couple of SCAD students come talk to me about it, and I picked one but she graduated and left town, so that was the end of that. So I went down to River Street and asked around the galleries, and Sandy’s name kept coming up. Two or three people said, “Oh, you should talk to Sandy Branam because she does children so well.” And she read the story and said, “I’ve got to do your book, I love this story.”
What will you be doing at the Festival?
Bess Chappas: I’m involved in two ways, as a coastal author and as a storyteller, because we have our own little tent, called the Tellabration Tent. And we’re going to be telling stories there all day long.
Tell us about your decision to self-publish.
Bess Chappas: I went through a local company here in town called Big Tents Books that specializes in children’s books. They did it, but I paid for it so I guess you could call that self-published. Self-publishing must be getting popular, because when I first started I must have had a dozen different companies contact me wanting my business. And it’s because the publishing business has changed so much. They don’t want any new people because it’s too expensive, and they tend to want to stay with tried and true authors.
I can’t tell you how wonderfully the book has been accepted. It’s been amazing. I knew I had a good story and I know that Sandy’s illustrations are exceptional, but I really didn’t expect this to be accepted as well as it has been.
For more info go to www.savannahstoryspinners.com/