Athey said he’s written rough drafts for children’s books in the past, but this one seemed special. He came up with the title The Straw that Healed the Camel’s Back about two years ago and taped it on his desk where it gathered dust until this summer, he said.
“I suddenly realized the straw would come from the manger, and the healing would be a gift of the baby Jesus,” Athey said.
It was important to both Athey and Browning that the illustrations be as accurate as possible. Alice Browning researched the clothing Middle Eastern people wore at that time, and Athey wanted the angels to be depicted as they were in earlier Christian times.
“I was leaning toward having the angels be more traditional, but Alice wanted to be more innovative in their depiction,” Athey said. “I think we found a good, artistic compromise. One professor said they are ‘Giotto-esque.’”
Athey praised Browning’s “captivating” use of vivid colors, as well as her ability to mix realism and imagination. He learned of Browning’s artistic talent when her dad and his friend, physics professor Dr. Fred Browning, showed him a picture she made that was “obviously at a professional level.”
Browning, an English and film major, is a self-taught digital artist who “dabbles a lot.” She created the illustrations for Athey’s book using basic pen and paper sketches that she imported into Photoshop, she said.
Browning discovered a knack for drawing as a middle school student and refined her skills in high school and college, she said. She is primarily a painter using acrylics and water color.
“It’s something that I’ve been working at for a lot of years,” Browning said.
When Athey asked her to illustrate on the book, she got to work immediately, sketching, revising and creating “something amazing,” Athey said.
“Trubba Drom the camel (the main character) is so full of life; and all of the other characters are imbued with great energy and personality,” he said.
The experience has taught Browning that she can actually pursue art as a career. “It showed me that it’s possible,” she said. In addition to the children’s book, Browning has been published in Living Waters, the student literary journal that Athey advises.
In addition to the new children’s book, Athey has published numerous other titles.
The Straw that Healed the Camel’s Back was published on Amazon on Nov. 5. Taylor Smythe, assistant director of Student Activities, Involvement & Leadership (SAIL), designed the interior layout.
Said Athey, “I hope the story is fun, entertaining, and inspiring, keeping the focus of Christmas on Christ.”
Photo: Alice Browning holds The Straw that Healed the Camel’s Back, the children’s book she illustrated for English Professor David Athey, in front of the PBA Christmas tree.