Gift-giving can be challenging enough when you're human. But when you're a mouse, it's really tough. Kansas City artist Charlie Mylie has just released his first children's book about this difficulty.
"Something for You" is about a mouse who delivers a cake to a friend and finds her unwell, not in cake-eating spirits at all. He must find something to cheer her up, so he takes to the surrounding streets, meadows and mountains.
He picks and picks flowers — "some for me, some for you" — then loses each and every bloom in a brooding storm.
"He kind of moves down the hill, mountain, rocks, whatever it is, and is holding this last purple petal, and you don't see it again. He lets it go because it doesn't feel like enough," Mylie said. "Like, is one little petal really enough to give to somebody?"
The book was initially only visual, but he later added a few words.
"I wanted readers who didn't maybe know how to read words but could read images, I wanted them to be able to understand it," Mylie said. "Not only what's happening in the plot, but the emotions."
Mylie said the story came out of an experience he had visiting some friends. He, too, thought a fistful of flowers would be just the thing, but on his way back to their house, rain hit and wilted every last one.
His book, which is ultimately about the gift of oneself and one’s love, came very close to never having been written at several points.
While Mylie was studying at the Kansas City Art Institute, he didn't think of drawing as an artform in and of itself. He worked on art installations and performances and explored media in contemporary art.
But he was still drawing for fun, just as he had when he was growing up. He drew to make himself feel better; he drew to embellish notes to friends.
"More and more I realized that it was part of how I thought. That thinking came much more naturally and was much more cogent when I was drawing," Mylie said.
All the same, he continued his non-drawing adventures, trying to make careers work in landscaping, teaching and other endeavors.
Then, six years ago, enough was enough, and he started Pop Up Charlie at Missouri Bank. He wore a gold cone hat and other gold accessories and set up shop to draw passers-by anything they requested right there on the spot. The pop-up turned out to be the right move. He could operate anywhere.
"It's the difference between being a guy in a coffee shop who’s just drawing, to being someone who is providing an art service," Mylie said. "That visibility is what allowed people to come up and say, 'Can you do murals? 'Can you do my logo?'"
From there, he started illustrating for the Rabbit Hole, a nascent immersive children's literature museum by Pete Cowdin and Deb Pettid, former owners of the Reading Reptile.
He felt drawn to children's literature after Reading Reptile introduced him to William Steig, author of picture books "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" and "Abel's Island." Mylie said Steig's work was the first in children's literature that spoke directly and clearly to him, and "with respect for me as a reader."
In Steig's work, another mouse, Abel, is stranded on an island with nothing but the fur on his back. That forces him to deal with who he is and what his life is about.
"He finds out that at the base of it is love and a desire to make art, and I totally felt that," Mylie said.
His own mouse's discovery isn't far off. He returns empty-handed to his friend's house — though in all fairness, the cake was already a pretty great gift.
And, as the girl mouse says, "Nothing except for us, and that's enough."
"I love that as the takeaway," Mylie said. "Love in your heart and cake always make people feel better."
Charlie Mylie spoke with KCUR on a recent edition of Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.
Storytime with Charlie Mylie from 10 to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, December 10 at the Kansas City Public Library at 14 W. 10th Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64105.