PENINSULA PROFILE: 'True blue family'

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — I guess I should read the grown-up books. So Elizabeth Blake thinks upon entering the bookstore.

But then: Forget that. Blake loves the children's stories, especially the ones with the wild illustrations.

When Blake was a girl, she caught a glimpse of herself as a children's book illustrator. Teachers gave her rave reviews for her art projects and told her she must go to art school.

But Blake, who grew up in Minneapolis with parents who adopted her at less than a year old, decided she had to be practical. She graduated from high school at 17, moved out on her own and went to nursing school. Eventually, she earned a Master of Science in nursing; she still works at a Silverdale clinic as a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Much to her delight, though, Blake has begun her career in children's literature. At last.

Like nursing, this career springs from her hope for the healing of young people, including those who feel separate — adrift — in their own families.

Blake knows that feeling. Growing up, she simply didn't have the sense of fitting into her family. It was like she was green and they were blue.

Her parents also had a biological child, born eight years before they adopted their little girl. This brother, Brian Larson, is blind, so he too differs from his family members.

Larson didn't let blindness stop him, however, from a full life.

He was one of this country's first blind young men to become an Eagle Scout, Blake noted. And he recently retired from a long career as a social worker and career counselor.

Blake herself embarked upon a career change around the time of her 50th birthday. She and her husband Steven had moved to the Olympic Peninsula in 1996, since they had friends and family in Seattle and their daughter Stephanie had decided on college at Tacoma's University of Puget Sound.

They chose Port Ludlow, finding it beautiful and just close enough to the Seattle metropolitan area. Steven was working in Europe, though, so Blake joined him for a while.

“But I knew I had to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner or lose that career,” Blake said. “So we lived separately for many years.

Followed her dream

“During that time, I had the time and freedom to pursue my dream career” and take children's book illustration and writing courses at the University of Washington. When she'd completed the courses that fit her interests, she changed schools and enrolled in the online program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

She could have pursued a Master of Fine Arts degree, but Blake wasn't after a diploma. She just wanted to write and illustrate books, as she puts it, to help children.

Then, about four years ago, another adoption happened. Blake's daughter Stephanie adopted an Ethiopian-Kenyan girl, Sophie. With her brown skin, Sophie cuts a striking figure beside her blond sister Beena, who is Stephanie's biological daughter.

And so Blake began writing GreenBean: True Blue Family, telling the story of a young girl rabbit with green fur and long, floppy ears. She has a brother, mother and father who are blue with perky ears.

GreenBean loves art. Her kin love physics. She's neat. Her folks, not so much.

“Oh no! Maybe I do not belong in this family,” GreenBean thinks.

But then her brother, who is blue like the rest of the family — and yet the only one of the clan who is blind — helps GreenBean see that her uniqueness is a good thing. She has talents of her own to bring to the table, just as he does.

“I can be uniquely me, and still belong,” GreenBean says, “in my true blue family.”

In the front of the book, Blake offers another message from the heart.

“Regardless of how a family comes together, feeling different is universal,” she writes. “Differences are even more apparent to children who are adopted, in families of mixed culture and ethnicity, and all sorts of families where children live.”

Publishing problems

Blake found a small publisher for GreenBean, but then that company suffered financial setbacks. Blake was told it could be a year before her book could be printed.

Blake decided to form a limited liability corporation: her own Nisse Press, to put out the book. She dedicated it to her grandchildren Beena and Sophie, along with their new little brother Will, who's just 1.

GreenBean also is dedicated to “you, the Reader. You are unique in the world. You belong here with us,” Blake writes.

She also thanks her brother Brian, who “taught me that sight is not necessary for insight. His life is an inspiration for uniqueness.”

GreenBean's release

Blake, who moved with her husband to Port Townsend in 2008, celebrated GreenBean's release during the Art Port Townsend Studio Tour in July, opening her home studio to visitors.

On tour weekend, Blake shared her studio space with photographer Steven Cunliffe, and together they welcomed about 200 grown-ups and kids.

“Port Townsend is an incredible community for artists of all types,” Blake said.

“It also has many residents who have either come from other countries or lived outside the United States. These people add to the feeling of PT being a world community with a bigger world-view than you would expect to find in a small town.”

Next adventure

These days Blake's studio is filled with GreenBean's grand adventures. In the next book, she gets to travel, meet people of various backgrounds, and even fly around outer space, where she has a good time with an space-dwelling friend.

So this November — National Adoption Month — GreenBean is a messenger.

She's here to let children know, Blake said, that uniqueness and acceptance go together.

Recently, Blake received a ringing endorsement from her granddaughter Beena. When an uncle read GreenBean: True Blue Family with her and asked, “Do you like GreenBean?” she answered — with vehemence — that she didn't merely like this character.

“I am GreenBean,” the little girl said.



More info

GREENBEAN: TRUE Blue Family can be ordered by local bookstores and through sites such as Amazon.com. To find out more about the book and writer-illustrator Elizabeth Blake, visit http://Elizabeth
Blake.us.

Last modified: November 19. 2012 9:23AM
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