HALIFAX, N.S. - It’s the perfect picture book gift idea for the Cape Breton or eastern Nova Scotia family living away from home. And, really, that should come as no surprise when you consider the author is Inverness native Tom Ryan and the story is about Angus MacAskill; the man known as the Cape Breton Giant or, more simply, Giant MacAskill.
Released in October, Ryan said reception for A Giant Man from a Tiny Town; A Story of Angus MacAskill, has been fantastic, which included the official launch event at a “packed to the rafters” Inverness County Centre for the Arts Oct. 13.
“We almost sold out of books,” Ryan, talking to the Casket Nov. 13, said. “People were buying multiple copies and having them signed for grandchildren and nieces and nephews in other parts of the country and beyond; it was a really nice experience.
“I’ve always felt really supported by my Cape Breton and Nova Scotia family but this book really took it to the next level. I’ve been amazed by the support and enthusiasm … it’s beyond my expectations.”
This book is unique for the veteran author in that it’s his first picture book.
“I’ve been writing chapter books, novels, for kids for several years and I had never done a picture book, but I always wanted to,” he said.
“I had some discussions with Whitney Moran who is the managing editor at Nimbus [Publishing], about three years ago now, and discussed with her some options. I knew I wanted to do a Cape Breton picture book and the idea I was most interested in was something historical but fun for kids, and the Angus MacAskill story was pretty much at the top of my list because I knew no one had done a picture book with Angus. She [Whitney] really liked the idea and we took it from there.”
The illustrator for the book is Christopher Hoyt. Ryan said he was familiar with Hoyt’s work prior to working with him on this project.
“Whitney and I had worked together in the past and she knew I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the book to look,” he said.
“So we worked together to come up with a list of possible illustrators and Chris Hoyt was, really, my number one from the get-go, so we approached him before we approached anyone else. What I liked about his work is it’s really colourful and has a timeless feel. He also has a lot of experience in historical illustrations, so it seemed like a really good fit. I knew his stuff could appeal to children while still being accurate, historically.”
Ryan noted Hoyt was enthusiastic about the project and did a lot of research to make sure the time-period elements in his illustrations were just right.
“He painstakingly researched everything from the clothes people were wearing in Cape Breton at the time, farmers and fishermen, right down to the cities Barnum and Bailey’s [circus] would have traveled to in those days; city scenes from London [England] to Havana, Cuba, which are accurate to the time. He just did a great job.”
As for the mid-October timing of the release, Ryan said it relates to him wanting the cover of the book to reflect an autumn season in Cape Breton.
“I wanted it to have a cover inspired by the fall; I also knew Celtic Colours would be happening and we might get some interest there. And that worked out, my launch was during a Celtic Colours event,” he said.
“I also did school visits for about two weeks all around Cape Breton. It was the first time I’ve done school visits around Cape Breton which was great. I also knew, with Christmas coming up, it’s a book grandparents can send to their grandchildren who might be living in Alberta.
“It’s a book that is made to last; people have really responded to it being a book which could be passed down through generations.”
A Giant Man from a Tiny Town; A Story of Angus MacAskill can be found in most book stores in Atlantic Canada and can be purchased online through Chapters or Nimbus. Ryan also intends to do another book signing event in Inverness during the holiday season, with a date still to be determined.