RIDGEFIELD — Earleen Griswold was living on St. Thomas, coloring with her friend, Mario Picayo, and his family.
Picayo’s son colored an apple tree, then said, “We don’t have apple trees in the Caribbean.”
That gave Griswold an idea: a children’s alphabet book in which each letter was represented by local references, such as “boat” and “Bahamas” for the letter B.
Griswold illustrated the book, and Picayo wrote it and later started a publishing company. They put out the book, which eventually made it to the White House, when a visiting Virgin Islands politician gave copies to Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
Griswold moved to Ridgefield and is now the owner and operator of Old Liberty Theater and Seasons Coffee, Tea & Remedies, which is located in the lobby of the theater, 115 N. Main Ave.
She was talking to watercolorist Maureen O’Reilly about the Ridgefield Art Association. She showed O’Reilly her book, “A Caribbean Journey From A to Y.” O’Reilly, vice president of the association, loved the book so much she asked if it’d be OK to make a Ridgefield version.
“I wanted to bring together the community,” O’Reilly said. “We’re growing so fast. I like to try to stay a cohesive community, so the arts association interacts with the youth and the community. We want to bring an awareness of how great our little community is.”
About six months later, “Ridgefield, Washington From A-Z” is out, but O’Reilly did one major thing differently. Instead of having one illustrator, she turned to the community for the book’s artwork. The book features a mix of paintings, drawings, photographs and even sculptures from 34 students and 22 adults throughout Ridgefield.
“I liked that she used kids’ artwork in the book and adult artwork,” Griswold said. “I think it really makes the kids feel good that they can see their work in a book alongside art from adults.”
O’Reilly reached out to teachers and split up the alphabet, so students in different grades and classes had different letters to work on. Students from elementary school through high school have artwork in the book.
The Ridgefield sights featured include school mascots, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse and U-Haul, which was founded in Ridgefield. A photo of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is on the cover.
“There are a lot of wonderful artists in this community and not all of them are professionals,” O’Reilly said. “We tried to capture as many different types of art as we could.”
O’Reilly and her husband, who shot the cover photo, turned part of their house into a studio to take pictures of all the artwork that came in for the book.
Each book costs $20, with $10 going toward Ridgefield Youth Arts Month, some going to the association and some going to shipping and printing of any future copies. The book is for sale on Amazon, as well as the association’s website — www.ridgefieldartassociation.com — and in some stores throughout the town, including Seasons.
Griswold said she has a copy on the counter where guests order their drinks, and she said people are frequently flipping through the book, thrilled and shocked there’s an entire book about Ridgefield made by artists from the city.
O’Reilly is pretty surprised herself.
“I’m shocked,” she said. “I keep telling people I need to put publishing a book on my bucket list so I can cross it off.”