ISLAND BOOKSHELF: ‘The Sheltering Cedar’ is an Ocracoke Christmas story for children
By SUNDAE HORN
As I write this, I’m snug in my old house, while outside the wind
is howling and rain is beating at my windows. My dog just scratched at
the door, but when I opened it, the gust of chilly air made him change
his mind about needing to go out. It’s the kind of night
that’s made for staying in.
Let’s imagine that Ocracoke is having a staying-in kind of night
that just happens to be Christmas Eve. A nor’easter is blowing,
and island folk and their pets are hunkered down in warm houses waiting
for Christmas morning. Just like tonight, everyone on Ocracoke has
taken shelter from the storm, but what about the wild critters out
there in the wind and rain? Where do they go? Where’s their warm
and cozy hiding place?
In the new picture book, “The Sheltering Cedar,” author and
illustrator Anne Marshall Runyon of Garner, N.C., shares the story of
the animals’ Christmas Eve, as they find shelter in the sturdy
branches of a cedar tree in the sand dunes. When the storm passes over
and Christmas morning dawns bright and sunny, the red birds chirp their
morning song. An island family spreads cheer by bringing seed for the
bird’s holiday feast.
“The Sheltering Cedar” is a gentle and lyrical picture
book, with soft watercolor and ink paintings that complement the
writing. The story almost echoes “The Twelve Days of
Christmas” with its cadence of “five red birds,”
“four small beetles,” “three mantid egg cases,”
“two toads,” and “one wet cedar,” but the
similarity never seems contrived. Other Ocracoke wild creatures survive
the storm – including a rabbit, mice, a ghost crab, dolphins, and
several species of birds.
In addition to the story, the title page shows a map of the Outer
Banks, and the last page includes a fact-filled guide to cedar trees
and a list of the animals in the book.
island in “The Sheltering Cedar” is a quieter, greener
version of Ocracoke, as Runyon remembers it from her childhood summers.
The lighthouse is there and so is the Methodist Church. But the
harbor is mostly undeveloped, and skiffs are tied to stakes in the
shallows. The old house, with its historic cistern, is the one her
parents, the late Charles and Robbie
Runyon, bought when she was a girl. Runyon and her brother own it now.
She has very vague memories of her first trip to Ocracoke, but after
her family discovered it, they spent every summer on the island.
“My parents were friends with the Rondthalers,” she said,
“and Alice Rondthaler told me that once you have Ocracoke sand in
your shoes, you’ll always come back.”
Runyon was inspired to write “The Sheltering Cedar” during
a winter visit to Ocracoke in the early ‘90s. She went outside
early one morning and saw cardinals flying out of a cedar tree.
“They were so beautiful,” she said. “My mother told me they were spending the winter in the cedar.”
Runyon turned that inspiration into a nature activity for kids about
where animals find shelter, and eventually the idea began to form into
her first children’s book.
“I’ve wanted to write and illustrate stories for children
all my life,” she said. “There’s a childlike quality
to my work.”
It took five years for “The Sheltering Cedar” to grow from
an idea for a story to a book, and Runyon is very happy to have found a
home at Portal Press.
work has also been published in the children’s section of
Wildlife in North Carolina magazine. Runyon writes and illustrates
articles for the magazine, and creates nature activities for children.
She does artwork for environmental education exhibits in parks and
museums, and has most recently been designing an exhibit for the North
Carolina Parks and Recreation building at the Dismal Swamp. She is
already working on her next picture book about the life of a long leaf
“I love the work I do,” she said. “I get to go to the
neatest places ¬– from the mountains down to the coast, and
meet people and see wildlife.”
Runyon’s son, Nate, who’s now a sophomore at North Carolina
State University, was the inspiration for her nature activities for
“When he was 4 or 5 years old, we would sit around the kitchen
table and make paper sculptures together. I create the paper sculptures
for Wildlife in North Carolina magazine, and I love to share them with
Runyon has designed four paper sculptures to go with “The
Sheltering Cedar.” They can be downloaded and printed from her
publisher’s website (www.theportalpress.com/cedar.htm).
Runyon will be sharing her book and her sculptures when she visits the
island in early December. She’ll meet with students at Ocracoke
School and will also be making sculptures and signing books at the
Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum’s Wassail Party on
Wednesday, Dec. 5. The book signing begins at 4:30 p.m., followed by
the Wassail Party and Community Tree-Lighting at 5 p.m.
Books will be available at island shops for the Thanksgiving weekend,
including the OPS Museum gift shop, Books to Be Red on Ocracoke, and
Buxton Village Books on Hatteras.