Alysha Uhland Morlan grew up in Eads as part of the large and well-established Uhland family. Her husband Kyle Morlan grew up down the road in the McClave area in another large and rambunctious family. Together, they not only form a lovely husband and wife team and are parents of three adorable little girls, but they are also teachers, and, as of a couple of months ago, can add children’s book author/illustrator to their credentials.
Alysha is a vivacious young mother who was the fourth-grade teacher at Eads Elementary School for a number of years before the COVID pandemic chased her into teaching remotely in an accredited online school. Her husband Kyle was also a teacher in the McClave and Lamar districts but entered the online teaching world a year ago. They have three very young girls who are just as rambunctious and fun-loving as their parents.
The couple recently published their first children’s book called Shelby Sheep Shakes Things Up. It’s about a young sheep who spends her day on the farm wondering why all the other animals only do what is expected of them. Time after time she gets disapproval from the other farm animals when she tries to do things that a sheep wouldn’t typically do. She eventually gets all the animals to join in a rally to do the things they want to do, not just the things they have to do. At the end of the story all the farm animals learn that as long as they get their work done, they can also go have some fun. The book was published in August by Covenant Books.
Alysha shares why she started writing children’s books, “The idea got started when I came home from school one day wishing I could say things to students that teachers aren't necessarily supposed to teach kids. I wanted to tell them not to be ‘sheep’ (a follower) and always use their own minds to make choices.” She laughs, “Kyle suggested I write that book. So, I suggested he illustrate it for me!”
We asked if Kyle had any formal art training and was told by his wife, “Kyle has zero background in art, but a history of getting roped into things by his wife.”
Uhland says she names her characters after family members, and also uses alliteration for her characters. In Shelby Sheep she wanted the main character to be entertaining, “I made my main character a sheep and surrounded her with farm animals trying to participate in activities that wouldn’t be widely accepted for a sheep and then receive ridicule for it.”
Uhland says writing the actual text of the book was a very fast and easy process, “The text took me two "nap times" to write. I only had two kids at the time and they were both young. So about four hours of writing if my kids took good naps those days,” she says with a laugh. “But in between those naps, it consumed my thoughts. When I'm working on a book, I am constantly trying to put the plot together in my head. I think I had three books written within a month of writing the first one. And Shelby Sheep isn't the best, in my opinion.”
But Uhland also says, “As easy as the text was to write for Shelby Sheep, as well as two other books I’ve written but not published yet, the pictures were WAY harder than the text. The art is a different story. It didn't take Kyle THAT long to draw them, but it probably took me three years to color them. I developed a hatred for coloring in the process too. My biggest challenge was finding enough blues that were close enough to matching. I learned a lot about how the names of colors or brands of colored pencils don't matter at all. They are just making them up. A "Sky Blue" in a Crayola box is NOT the same as a "Sky Blue" in the next Crayola box. I also learned that a pencil sharpener only lasts so long before it starts breaking the lead of the pencil so that it falls out when you try to color. Then you are resorting to using a knife. The best sharpeners you can buy are at Crows Stop & Shop Grocery Store. We now own more colored pencils than probably the rest of the town combined. Another challenge I had was trying to color with little girls who LOVE to color but aren't so good at not shaking the table or bumping Mom. So, once I got so far on a page, I would only work on it at night...and I dreaded working on it. My neck and elbow would ache. That is definitely not something I would do again. We are coming up with a different plan if there is ever a next time.”
Once Shelby Sheep was accepted by Covenant Books, they helped us with a lot of the guidelines and the ins and outs of publishing a children’s book. “Yes. We were given a limit on the number of pages we could have, so we spent some time putting that puzzle together and deciding what stanzas to put on each page. I had a picture in my mind of a sheep getting built up with excitement on every page and then turning the page to be disappointed, so we tried to set it up like that. Kyle came up with all the ideas for pictures from there. We got stuck a few times, but mostly because of our number limit. The real challenge came with coloring them.”
But once little girls, teaching duties and general life slowdowns were overcome, the Morlans managed to get the illustrations done and submitted and they became children’s picture book authors for the very first time. So far, according to them both, they haven’t made much money, but they have enjoyed reading their books to their children who ask for the stories all the time.
“I have read all three of my books to my girls so many times. I think it drives my husband crazy when he hears me start reading one. They like them though. Especially the parts they are in. They really want me to write another one with Emmer and the cousins. I haven't gotten into that book so far. I guess Dolla Dog is going to have to go on an adventure to a zoo or something. Clearly, we didn't think about these books while we were naming our third kid.”
The Morlans are thankful for their large family who have given them plenty of advice and a lot of editing time. Alysha describes the editing process they use, “I also have a series of proofreaders and reviewers that I have sent each of my books to. It starts with my mom (Rhonda Uhland), of course. She is pretty biased and way too nice though. I can always count on Grandma Bobbie (Uhland) and Aunt Gay (Uhland) to give great, honest feedback. They are both topnotch proofreaders too!”
Alysha and Kyle also admit they had a difficult time figuring out the publishing world. Alysha says, “I eventually chose Covenant Books because I could tell I wasn't so good at doing things myself. I needed a company that would do some things for me, other than give me an ISBN number. I think it is a mix between self-publishing and getting published traditionally. They made a video for me and a webpage and came up with a press release. They have also told me several other things to do, that I wouldn't have known to do without them. Finding time to do them is a different story. I am hoping by the time summer gets here I will have more time for marketing and hopefully I won't have COVID restrictions to work around.”
This talented local children’s author/illustrator family is also working on other ideas for books for children that teaches them lessons not learned in the traditional school curriculum. Alysha explains, “We have two other books written, but the pictures for them aren't started. Papa Pig makes sure kids aren't getting raised by technology, and Rhonda Robin teaches kids not to feel entitled for things they haven't earned. I really find both of them to be better books. They have more jokes and more clever plots. However, I have a hard time getting people to agree with me.
I have some ideas for others, but we will see what happens with these three first. It would be cool to have a whole series published someday.”
If you are interested in finding the Shelby Sheep Shakes Things Up book you won’t be disappointed. It can be purchased at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and itunes.com. Also, when more copies are sent to the Morlans they would like to sell their copies locally. The Independent quickly agreed to proudly sell copies from our offices.