Don’t ask children’s book author and illustrator Arthur Geisert where his ideas come from.
“That’s the question I hate most,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Where does the idea come from? Nobody knows.”
At least in part, his ideas come from his surroundings. His latest book, “Pumpkin Island,” published in September by Enchanted Lion Books, tells the story of a pumpkin patch that starts on a small island in the middle of the Turkey River in Elkader. The pumpkins grow and grow, and soon the vines and round orange globes have taken over the town.
“It’s just where I live,” Geisert said. “There’s a pile of rocks (in the middle of the river), I’m looking at it right now — Pumpkin Island is a real place.”
Geisert, 77, has been writing and illustrating children’s books for more than 40 years. He moved to Elkader about three years ago, setting up his artist studio and living quarters in the former Elkader Dry Cleaners building on Main Street. His brightly illustrated scenes of pumpkins growing in the streets and taking over downtown buildings are based on the actual buildings and parks he walks by every day.
He had previously lived and worked from a studio and apartment converted from a former bank in Bernard, just south of Dubuque. He grew up in Los Angeles and lived in the Chicago suburbs and Galena previously.
He moved to Elkader as he planned to retire, looking for a place where he could get everywhere he needed to go on foot.
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“I live in a very nice place, and it’s a nice experience,” he said. “I’m able to walk to everything, grocery store, drugstore, post office, bank, everything is easy walking distance. That’s why I’m here.”
Walking, he said, lets him see more details of the world around him, and that inspires his work. Despite his stated goal of retirement, ideas for books keep coming to him, and so he keeps creating.
He’s already started the next project, working on the text with Elkader Public Library Director Lisa Wilke Pope. “It’s a retelling of the classic Three Little Pigs, about how the Big Bad Wolf gets his comeuppance,” Geisert said.
In the meantime, he’ll celebrate “Pumpkin Island” with a book launch, signing and art exhibit Saturday at his studio, where he recently had a real life pumpkin takeover experience.
In honor of the book, earlier this summer he planted pumpkins in two containers outside his front door. They grew so much he said the mayor made him cut them down.
“It was getting out of control, it was ridiculous, with the pumpkin vines,” he said. “We had to put a stop to it. You can’t have vines growing over your neighbor’s entrances and across the sidewalk into the gutter, so I cut everything back.”
If he hadn’t, he wonders if his story might have come true.
“It’s perfect. When I talked to my editor, she said, ‘It’s like the Twilight Zone,’ that this is actually happening, that the pumpkins were taking over in front of my door,” he said.
If you go
What: “Pumpkin Island” book launch, signing and art exhibit
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday ► Oct. 27 ◄
Where: 116 N. Main St., Elkader
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