Self-published children’s book brings the perfect park to life

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Provided by Cameron Levis, illustration by Keeley Shaw

“Home is where your Park is”, a self-published children’s book, serves as a love letter to WKU graduate student Cameron Levis’ grandfather, Alton Little. Levis is the third generation of his family to be involved in parks and recreation.

Jake Moore, Content Editor

Cameron Levis, a WKU graduate student, grew up with an appreciation for parks and recreation thanks to his mother and grandfather. 

“In many ways I say I’m a ‘parks and rec kid’ because I’m the third generation,” Levis said.

His grandfather, Alton Little, taught recreation and park administration on the Hill for 36 years. Little passed away at the age of 86 in September of 2021, prompting Levis to think about preserving Little’s legacy and inspiring the next generation of parks and recreation professionals.

“I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, but no ideas really ever stuck,” Levis said. “A week before Thanksgiving, I’m driving home with my wife from out of town, and [this idea] just started playing in my mind, writing a children’s book dedicated to him, rooted in our family’s passion for parks and recreation.”

Levis was then reminded of a classic assignment Little would give to his students. Each person would map out a park on poster board, taking care to include everything a community would enjoy. These “perfect” parks were objects of fascination to Levis.

Levis poses with concept art of the book’s main characters, drawn as himself and his grandfather. “It’s also something I feel like everyone can relate to, because a park is a place where memories are made and communities are built for the better,” Levis said about the book. (Provided by Cameron Levis)

“My mom, having gone through the program while my grandpa was still teaching in the 80’s, she had her parks at our house,” Levis said. “As a kid, instead of being totally enamored with comic books or action figures, I was totally in love with these parks.” 

The quest to create the perfect park served as the core idea of Levis’ book, titled “Home is where your Park is”. 

The book follows an older man and a young boy, drawn to portray Little and Levis, sharing with each other what they think would make the perfect park. The character’s interactions parallel some of the actual moments the two shared during their many hours spent together.

“The park is where a lot of the times I feel closest to him, because so much of our relationship and bond was built upon being in a park,” Levis said. “It’s also something I feel like everyone can relate to, because a park is a place where memories are made and communities are built for the better.”

According to Levis, a park isn’t perfect because it has the tallest slide, the most baseball fields or the best trails. The perfect park is able to facilitate its visitor’s imaginations in order to create lifelong memories.

The book challenges readers to think of the items they would include in their very own “perfect” park. (Provided by Cameron Levis, illustration by Keeley Shaw)

“I can put a playground here, I can put a trail connecting it to a sensory garden, and then you’ve got a ball field – I can put all of this on paper, but it’s how we allow people to be inspired to use the space that creates the experience,” Levis said.

Once he had the book’s theme, Levis had to navigate the self-publishing process, which was far from a walk in the park.

“I’m still learning, because I was not an author and did not expect to be an author,” Levis said. 

He ended up reconnecting with Keeley Shaw, an old friend from WKU, to create the book’s illustrations. Levis would sometimes give Shaw $20 to paint a custom request on a canvas, and Shaw even painted Levis and his wife’s wedding vows. Now, Shaw was helping him fulfill a dream.

“It’s been pretty cool to have that personal connection with someone that you met in college, and that we’re gonna get from something simple to something major,” Levis said.

The book is also meant to showcase adaptive recreation, ways in which children with disabilities can participate in play regardless of their situation. (Provided by Cameron Levis, illustration by Keeley Shaw)

Levis’ goal with his work in parks and recreation is to provide as many opportunities to as many people as possible, especially those with disabilities. It was important that the book included depictions of children taking part in adaptive forms of recreation, something Shaw was able to illustrate.

“I wanted it to be a representation of the park being a space for all people, regardless of whatever disabilities they may have,” Levis said. “And [Shaw] gels with that too, that’s partly her world as well, working with children with disabilities. She made that part of the book come to life in a fantastic way that I could not be happier with.”

Levis hopes the book will appeal to kids and adults alike since everyone of all ages benefits from local parks.

“That childlike connection back to a park, even for an adult, I think it’s something to cherish and have fun with,” Levis said. “Even though it’s a picture book, I want adults to have fun reading it and thinking, ‘I like going to the park with my family, what would I include in my perfect park’? It’s really for all ages.”

The book will be released through A Little Park Publishing, a subtle nod to the man who inspired Levis in the first place. The book has been approved for publishing digitally, but readers can attend a launch event at Lost River Cave on May 15 at 5:30 p.m. to pick up a hard copy.

Content Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.