by Britt Aamodt
Alice Thibodeau had recently turned 50. She went with her daughter Jodi and two grandchildren to McDonald’s in Maple Grove.
Her daughter looked at her and said, “Mom, is there something you’ve always wanted to do and never done? Something you haven’t told anybody about?”
There was. Thibodeau had always wanted to be a children’s book author. She already knew the story. She knew the main character, where he lived, even his name.
“But I don’t know how I’ll ever do it,” she said.
“You don’t have to know how,” Jodi said. “You just have to do it.”
Thibodeau, a resident of Elk River for 40 years, has published six books to date, under her pen name Alice Palace, with a seventh on the way.
Fifteen years have passed since that fateful, fortunate mother-daughter talk at McDonald’s. And these days it’s Thibodeau who’s urging audiences to just go ahead and do it: make your plan, follow your dream and write.
Thursday, May 23, Thibodeau, will be presenting “Self-Publishing Made Easy” at the Elk River Library. The free workshop begins 6:30 p.m. and is one of the author’s occasional forays into teaching for adults. Her audiences are usually much younger.
Since 2002, when her first book “My Little Cabin” hit the bookstores and library shelves, Thibodeau has been traveling the state and entertaining elementary schools and story time groups with the ongoing adventures of Marvin and his wildlife friends.
Her colorful Northland-inspired picture books, written and illustrated by Thibodeau, are geared for the younger set, but the themes of exploration and imaginative adventure are universal.
Of her own journey to publication, she said, “I just knew I had an idea. I didn’t know how to do any of it until Jodi said, ‘Do it, Mom.’”
Her self-publishing workshop is partly how-to and partly an inspirational pat on the back. Publishing can be a tough nut, and Thibodeau learned it first hand.
The author spent two years researching and preparing her first book. Research included burrowing into the children’s section at the Elk River Library and reading every picture book she could get her hands on.
That done, she wrote her story. Then she looked for an illustrator.
“But that was going to be too expensive. So I decided to do it myself,” she said.
Drawing was one of those things she wanted to try but wasn’t sure she had the ability. She’d done a lot of drawing in school but that had been years before.
Still, she plunked down with pen and paper one night and took a stab at illustrating a couple white-tailed deer. And the picture turned out pretty well. So she kept on until she had the entire book illustrated.
She had 40 copies printed, mailed each one to a children’s book publisher and waited for their responses. What she got was a common occurrence for first-time authors.
“I opened the first letter — a form letter — and it started ‘Regretfully …,’” said Thibodeau. She received 39 rejections before she heard from the last, Little Leaf Press, which responded: “Your book has value and we would be happy to help you self-publish.”
Self-publish? One door closes, another one opens.
Thibodeau self-published “My Little Cabin,” which introduces Marvin, who in this first installment is so excited about the family kayak trip he dreams about it the night before.
Each page carries Marvin and his readers on another leg of his dream journey, meeting spiders, deer and kingfishers, passing under bridges, traversing rapids, until at the end he returns safely to bed with his animal friends gathered about him.
Other books in the series include “My Little Lighthouse,” “My Little Fish House,” “My Little Pine River,” “My Little Sailboat” and “My Little Mountain.” The books can be found in gift and bookstores around the country, locally at Elk River’s Kemper Drugs and online at bearpawbooks.com.
Writing and illustrating, said Thibodeau, has been life changing.
“I realized I had hidden talents,” said the author, who leaves her audiences with the message that if they plan for a dream and pursue it, “They’ll realize they can do things they never thought they could.”