two women and a man at the library

Passion Projects

Local children’s book authors pursue their passion for kids

Photos by Christopher Tierney


“Build a Better Community.” These words are displayed all over Sump Memorial Library in Papillion. That is exactly what Omaha local authors Stacey and Phil Haussler, Kathy Rygg, and Bruce Arant are doing.

Bruce Arant is the author and illustrator of Simpson’s Sheep Won’t go to Sleep. But Bruce hasn’t always been a book author. Illustrating books was always his passion. “I remember sitting at my drawing board in 1993 and thinking I didn’t want to grow old and never have tried illustrating books,” he said. “But there was no road map to get me here.” In need of an art portfolio, a book was created.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bruce admits that the first book idea came within three hours and from a design on a baby blanket. “After being rejected by many publishers, my agent sent a black and white copy to another publisher and that one got picked up,” he added. In 2014, Bruce won the Nebraska Book Award for best children’s book and best illustration, and was a Golden Sower nominee in 2015 and 2016. This fall Bruce’s second book Simpson’s Sheep Just Want to Sleep will be released, which he said was a labor of love. “I had 90 pages of drafts for a 530-word book.”

Your brain is sometimes referred to as “your marbles,” and to ignite means to spark. That is how Phil and Stacey Haussler created the name for their local publishing company, MarbleSpark. With titles that include Following Featherbottom; Twas the Mouse Who Saved Christmas; God Whispered Your Name and Every Hero Needs a Sidekick, these books all have something in common, in that they are all customized. When Phil and Stacey were expecting their first child they began to realize that a unique name spelling would make it hard to find personalized items. The idea of a personalized book evolved.

Much more than name spellings, the couple’s books offer more than 240 variations, including a character’s hair and skin color and the places they visit throughout the story. Because each book is different, each order is printed on demand digitally. MarbleSpark’s most recent creation is Project OpenBook, a community created book that invites authors to submit stories, illustrations and poems. “Sort of a Shel Silvertstein meets Mosh Pit is often what comes to mind behind this book,” Stacey explained. Proceeds from this book are being given to charity as a way to give back to the community.

Local author Kathy Rygg began writing children’s books when her son asked her to write one. “Writing has always been my passion, and my kids have been a great inspiration,” she said. Tall Tales with Mr. K and Taller Tales with Mr. K are chapter books for beginning readers; Animal Andy is for young middle graders; and her geocaching adventure series The Crystal Cache is for middle graders. All of Kathy’s books are magical realism because that was her favorite genre to read as a child. Published by Knowonder, Kathy’s books are also available in an easy to read DyslexiAssist format that uses special spacing and fonts to allow children who struggle with reading to still engage in the book.

Each local author has a different approach to getting their name out there. Bruce visits schools and festivals. He is also involved in workshops with children. Phil and Stacey have their personalized books in Pottery Barn Kids and you might recognize their brand from the recent 2017 Cox Business Get Started Omaha competition where they were one of six finalists. Kathy’s geocaching books are featured at Groundspeak’s geocaching headquarters in Seattle and on the web site.

Local bookstores such as The Bookworm are big supporters of local authors, often hosting book signings, which is one of the best ways to connect with them. “Interacting with the kids is the best part of writing,” Bruce said. And while each author admits there is a place for eBooks, the consensus is that there is nothing quite like a child holding a beautifully illustrated, engaging book. Stacey added, “There’s something magical about the bond made between a caregiver and a child when they read a book together.”

Leave a Reply