New children’s book focuses on St. Anthony history


Gail Olson’s new children’s book tells the tale of St. Anthony Village’s history and features illustrations by St. Anthony Village High School art instructor Sarah Gunderson.

Accompanying bus tour up for discussion

Historical records show that St. Anthony Village was once home to more livestock than humans. 

After digging through archives at the St. Anthony Village Historical Society, that tidbit stuck out to local author Gail Olson and inspired the title of her new book, “More Pigs Than People!” 

Olson, a Columbia Heights resident, has worked with the historical society in recent years as a commissioned author, writing books centered on St. Anthony’s history. 

This is her third book about the small suburb, but her first for children, complete with colorful illustrations by St. Anthony Village High School studio art instructor Sarah Gunderson.  

 

History for kids

“Basically,” Olson says, “my new book is just a children’s version of my first book.”

That book, “A Village in the City: The History of St. Anthony Village, Minnesota,” is a sold-out 260-page hardcover that was published in 2011, which Olson described as a coffee table book. From that book, she says she took the facts and anecdotes she thought kids might find interesting and presented them in a format they’re familiar with and enjoy.

“St. Anthony was agricultural until the mid-40s,” Olson says. “It was one of the last areas to be developed around here — Minneapolis and Columbia Heights are like 100 years older.”

Though it once had sprawling fields and teemed with farm animals, Olson says the land that’s now St. Anthony has always played an important social role in the lives of Twin Cities residents.

“St. Anthony was always the place everyone went to to ride horses, buy fireworks and have picnics in the country,” Olson explains. 

She says her research at the historical society led her to a listing of the village’s livestock population near the end of the 19th century.

“In 1880 there were 405 pigs, 132 horses, 232 cows and 28 sheep. When adding it all up, with the other animals as well, you have 804 farm animals, and that’s a fun fact,” she says, adding that there were only 485 people living there that same year.

 

Bus tour

Olson, who’s worked as a freelance writer for the last 27 years, writing for publications such as the Northeaster, NorthNews and others, says when she was growing up in Broadview, Illinois, there were no history books about her hometown, let alone any designed for kids.

Olson says her new St. Anthony children’s book “talks about the schools, the greenhouses, the tornado [that damaged Apache Plaza], how people built their houses starting with the basement building up as they could afford it. It was time for something like this.”

Barry Tedlund, president of the St. Anthony Village Historical Society, agrees.

“It’s going to be a great tool to bring into elementary schools to teach kids about our city’s history. It turned out really nice,” he says, so much so that he’s hoping it brings the history of the city to parents through their children.

Another thing Tedlund says is being discussed is an accompanying bus tour for the book’s readers. He says it could be an annual tour that brings readers throughout the community “to see what Olson is talking about in her book.” 

According to Tedlund, this is just an idea being discussing and nothing formal has solidified yet. 

“But it sure is an intriguing idea,” he adds. 

Gail D. Olson

Sarah Gunderson

The process 

Olson says originally, she and the illustrator, Gunderson, thought of looking for students interested in illustrating the book. 

“After we thought about it though, it’s kind of a daunting task,” Gunderson says.

Gunderson, who ended up taking on the endeavor, says she had a bout of “artist’s block” that stood in her way for a while.

“But after I got going and the style and images came to me, I couldn’t stop,” she says. “It took me about two months to finish ... minus the artist’s block.”

For inspiration, Gunderson looked to illustrations that Olson liked, such as those in the Richard Scary books, using mainly pen, ink and watercolors. 

“It was really fun and a great opportunity for me,” Gunderson says. “I’d always wanted to illustrate a children’s book.” 

Both Olson and Gunderson note that there was a third person crucial to the project. 

“Mary Henry did all of the design and layout,” Olson says. “We kind of threw the words and illustrations at her, and she put it all together very nicely. She did a great job.” 

 

Where to find it

Olson and Gunderson had their book release party and first signing event on Saturday, March 5 at the St. Anthony Village Historical Society. 

Those interested in purchasing “More Pigs than People!” can find it at St. Anthony Village City Hall. The price is $16. 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at twitter.com/JPooleNews.

 

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