During my 20-year career with the public library system, we often had more needs than any inventor could take care of. What we really needed was a counterfeit currency operation! But I must admit, there are some things that money cannot buy. That was brought to my attention one year — 1994, I think — when the Woodstock Public Library hosted a Scholastic Book Fair. While I was gung-ho for most fundraisers, this particular one was not my favorite. We hardly had floor space to operate day-to-day, and the books and displays brought in by the Book Fair seemed to cover every inch of the floor space and the air space above it. But that year was an exception because with the books and doo-dads for sale came a Clifford the Red Dog outfit to be used by the library staff in the children’s department for the duration of the Fair.
Clifford was a big hit. The children knew him already, and he was warm and fuzzy. We dreaded to see the outfit leave. Knowing funds were limited, I made a list of reasons why we should try to purchase our own Clifford outfit. I called our frugal library director who said, of course, that we could not afford it, but did agree that I could call for pricing. As it turned out, Clifford was not for sale.
By this time, Clifford had become a real need in our minds, not just something we would like to have. After a little brainstorming, we decided to “invent” our own character, write a book, or a series of books, with a character the children could relate to, put the story in coloring book form so copies could be made in-house, and make our own outfit. The character would be a train engineer, operating out of Woodstock, a lion named Elroy.
One staff member was an excellent seamstress. We found a pattern at the fabric store, purchased some material and yarn, and ended up with a full-body outfit, complete with a lion’s face and mane and tail. I wrote a little rhyming story about Elroy and Woodstock and the train. Mary Lou Reece, a member of the library board of trustees, sketched some drawings to match the story and, voila, we were up and running. Some of the youngsters loved the character, others were cautious. But they all listened to the story. We did three different Elroy stories over a period of a year or so, and we gave away dozens of the books. Elroy made public appearances outside the library, including a parade.
Later, as the Woodstock Centennial Commission was planning Woodstock’s 1997 centennial celebration, the idea of a history of Woodstock in easy-to-copy coloring book form seemed the ideal way to involve children in the activities. We developed a timeline, and Millicent Barnes Fox did the drawings for this one. Copies were made and distributed to K-2nd graders in Woodstock schools.
Not long after the visitors center opened in 2001 in Dean’s Store, Millicent, a descendant of W.H. Dean, illustrated a new coloring book about Dean’s Store and the city’s history. This was incorporated into a made-for-students version produced by the South Cherokee Optimist Club, the Cherokee Tribune, Ghost Writers and the centennial commission. Other versions were developed in the years since, the most common one being the one in use since 2003.
Entitled “Color Me Woodstock, Color Me Home,” it was designed by Lola Carlisle, another Dean descendant. Carmel Elementary fifth grade students, under the leadership of teacher Merry Willis, last year adopted the update of the book as a project. They turned it into an activity book, adding a maze, a search-a-word, a crossword, and additional drawings and activities. Their work, as part of the on-going evolution of the coloring book, was submitted to the Georgia Downtown Conference by Billy Peppers, director of the Main Street Program, in the category of Best Creative Marketing Piece. It won! The award came with a hefty little check, which will probably be used to publish multiple copies of the book. In the meantime, the old “Color Me Woodstock” is still around. Stop by the visitors center and pick up a copy.
Do some research about the city’s history, and perhaps develop your own activity book. As Lola Carlisle said when hearing about the book, “I love that the kids got so involved ... and took it to the next level ... That’s what it’s all about, keeping our heritage available and exciting for the kids.” Right on.
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.