I am a huge fan of the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) here in Abilene. Growing up I learned very quickly that if I was going to do well in school I had to learn how to be a better reader. My second-grade teacher was instrumental in helping me find the kinds of books that kept my interest and improved my reading skills.

That said, the NCCIL is an incredible addition to our community in Abilene and the Big Country. Students of the Big Country have been read storybooks by adults in our community for years, and at one point, by Abilene Mayor Gary McCaleb. In December 1993, Mayor McCaleb entered one of AISD's elementary schools to read to the schoolchildren, and that's when it all began.

As Dr. McCaleb entered the school, one of the educators handed him a book he was to read to the students that day. Mayor McCaleb had never seen or heard of this book or author before, and as he began reading, he was amazed that the lead character - Art Atchison Aimesworth - was from Abilene, Texas. The Mayor quickly then questioned the validity of the book.

Being from Abilene, as the story tells, perhaps Art’s predilection stemmed from eating confections from Candies by Vletas. The book doesn’t mention this real-life candy store, now across North First Street from the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, but the shop has been serving up handmade candies in Abilene for more than 100 years.  Source: NCCL History Youtube Video

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Upon discovering that this was a brand-new book by an honest-to-goodness children's author, Mayor McCaleb had to meet him. As you'll hear in the video, Mayor McCaleb talks about how he invited author William Joyce to Abilene, where Joyce would find out he was being honored for his incredible children's storybook with some spot-on artwork.

What's really mind-boggling is that Art Atchison Ainsworth has a sweet tooth. When author William Joyce wrote the book, he had no idea his Aimesworth character would inspire a children's art literacy center in downtown Abilene, and that it would be located directly across the street from one of Texas's oldest candy stores, Candies by Vletas.

The rest is on the video and in the history books now.

Photo by: Facebook / NCCIL
Photo by: Facebook / NCCIL

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