Children’s book ‘Dear Sun, Dear Moon’ draws inspiration from Sonoma County

It is ostensibly a children’s book, but the illustrated tale by Sebastopol residents Deborah Paggi and Gayle Cole stands rooted in the personal journeys of the longtime friends and the place they call home.

Their book, “Dear Sun, Dear Moon,” imagines love letters between Sun and Moon. Contemplative, it draws influence from Sonoma County’s landscape - its coast, its vineyards and the famed Valley of the Moon.

“Sonoma County is a special place on the planet. Our proximity to the ocean, the city, nature is unique. Within an hour’s drive you can be sipping wine at a winery, shopping on Union Square, hiking up Hood Mountain, or whale watching in Point Reyes. We are lucky to be able to call this place our home,” said Paggi, 57.

The book, their first, stems from a friendship forged two decades ago when Paggi and Cole were both young mothers.

“Our children introduced us, but also our mutual love of gardening and antiquing has solidified the friendship and now this collaboration,” said Cole, 61.

Each brings a different perspective to their creative partnership.

Paggi, who scripted the story, previously worked as a local representative for Scholastic, helping the children’s publisher stage successful book fairs.

She currently works as an English tutor at Santa Rosa Junior College and teaches language arts at Sonoma State University in a pre-college program.

Cole, who illustrated the tale, is an artist, designer and landscaper who lives on a blueberry farm. She is inspired by the art of Marc Davis, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the core animators of the classic Disney films; comic book art like the “Archie” series illustrated by Tom Moore; artist Roy Lichtenstein, whose compositions were heavily influenced by comic strips; and graffiti.

Their 30-page book seems of another time, one where texting doesn’t exist. The stylistic choice of hand-written or retro-looking typography is deliberate - to counter contemporary typeface in an age of technology, where products are branded with the latest typographical designs.

Cole’s images are complex, sometimes scary, simple or psychedelic. The final illustrations are notable in a bold, precise visual demonstration of an eclipse.

Cole insists the book is “about love and communication. In this age of texting, it is nice to remind people of actual letter writing. Especially love letters.”

The arc of the story mirrors the role of the writer and illustrator.

“The sun and moon are always with us - we just don’t see them at the same time, except in glimpses,” Paggi said. “This concept extends into our partnership: I write. Gayle draws. These are separate processes but we come together - like our book’s eclipse.”

Paggi and Cole live a life of purpose. They cherish their families, their community, humor and their friends. Both are intrigued with the celestial sky.

“I have always been awed by what is going on in the sky above. Our constant companions, the sun and the moon, particularly intrigue me. I have this daily habit of reading about the sun and moon in the weather section of The Press Democrat. I find these little snippets describing the ‘Heavenly Waters’ or ‘Cetus the Sea Monster’ and such things utterly fascinating. I even have a journal with all of this astronomical terminology,” Paggi said.

Cole said her father sparked her interest in the skies above.

“My father has a huge telescope and is always informing me about the happenings in space. I simply find it magical and mind-expanding. My father took up this hobby about 13 years ago, after my mother passed away.

“We grew up with more of a spiritual belief, rather than religious, and I always found my ‘higher power’ in nature. I like to imagine my dad wanting to get closer to the moon and stars to feel closer to the love of his life. The best part of the book for me is the dedication I got to write to my mom and dad.”

Paggi, who had been working on the concept for a year or so, decided to finish the book after she was laid off from her job at Scholastic in May.

“When I was laid off from my job, I decided to resurrect this rough draft and work on it. I started perusing the internet when I came across our publisher, who was actively looking for manuscripts. After I sent an inquiry, they were interested in seeing more.”

For the illustrations, Paggi immediately thought of Cole. “She was on board right from the start,” Paggi said.

Their book was published in November by Michelkin Publishing, of Roswell, New Mexico, which specializes in working with first-time authors.

Cole and Paggi are presently in the development stage of another book. They have reached the editing phase and hope to be finished before summer.

“I am putting the finishing touches on a unique picture book about a young girl who just can’t seem to get to sleep. She uses her bravery, courage and stick-to-it style to figure out how to join the symphony of snoring sleep, which fills her house at night,” Paggi said.

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