Northwest NEWS

September 18, 2000

Features

New children's book is a feast for the senses, imagination

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by Deborah Stone
   Features Writer
   "The Sleep Ponies," a beautifully illustrated new children's book, is a labor of love for Woodinville author/illustrator Gudrun Ongman.
   It is a captivating, lyrical tale about magic ponies that carry children away to golden fields of dreams and is the perfect bedtime story to make the nightly ritual special.
   The prose is whimsical and poetic, accompanied by lush, dreamy illustrations of watercolors overlaid with pastels.
   First time author Ongman initially learned of the sleep ponies from her own mother and later she elaborated on the myth as she put her own children to sleep at night.
   She says, "These sleep ponies were so much a part of my childhood. From the moment the little band trotted into my life, I had adventure to combat boredom, guards to ward off night noises, and friends whose faith in me never faltered.
   "We grew up together and though I many not have noticed, the sleep ponies were there when I studied art, there when I raised my three girls and there when I cared for Whinny, our real-life pony. They would emerge periodically, unexpectedly and sometimes unrecognized, in a sculpture, a bedtime story, a painting or a dream."
   The process of writing the book for Ongman began five years ago during a sculpture session.
   She formed a sleeping child to snuggle with a resting horse and it became clear to her that she had carried the image inside of her for years and that it was time to pass on the story of the sleep ponies in the hope that others could share her comforting journey into the imagination.
   For several years, Ongman worked solidly on her book, foregoing the portraits, commissions and shows she had previously been involved in.
   She continued to teach her arts classes at Arts Umbrella in Bothell and received much encouragement and support from her students and the other instructors as she made progress on the project.
   When she felt it was ready to go to a publisher, Ongman realized that she had to make an important decision.
   "I had to deal with my feelings about whether to keep my creation small and special or to send it to a publisher and risk losing artistic control" explains Ongman. "I decided that I really wanted to keep my own mark on it, so then I had to spend time researching out how to start a publishing company myself. This took almost a year, but I am very satisfied with the results and wouldn't have done it any other way."
   With "The Sleep Ponies" in print now, Ongman is busy marketing it nationwide, a challenge for the independent publisher.
   She does readings, signings and attends bookseller conferences across the country to increase awareness of the book.
   In addition, she is working on ideas for future endeavors.
   "I envision a Christmas Sleep Pony book and an early reader chapter book on the same theme," says Ongman. "I'd love to carry this story through on an increased reader competency level."
   "The Sleep Ponies" has also inspired a line of figurines which portray girls and boys of different ages, races and hair color interacting with various sleep ponies, as well as posters, greeting cards and bookmarks.
   All of the above are available on the author's web site (http://www/mindcastle.com), in galleries, gift shops and bookstores (Barnes and Noble, The Gift Horse, Artistry and Borders).
   "Creating this book has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me," comments Ongman. "I tried to used every written and pictorial device I could dream of to make this a sort of introductory, 'how-to' travel book for the imagination.
   "I have been so surprised and touched at the depth of reaction to it,", she said. "There seems to be a strong sense of déja- vu in many adults' reactions to the story, as if this story was not created, but rather uncovered by my mother. I like to think it may have existed as a natural myth in children's subconscious for generations."