Monday, October 28, 2013



I'm giving my normal blog days to my daughter, Jessica Pierson, to talk about her part in illustrating the beautiful new children's book, SARAH'S MUSIC, published recently by Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery. The story is by one of my writing students and long-time friends, a professional storyteller for the Choctaw Nation, Stella Long. This story was based on her own life, and I know she is working on "book 2" right now. Here is Jessica's post about illustrating the book for Stella and working with her--a once in a lifetime experience! ----- Cheryl Pierson

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Choctaw storyteller Stella Long on the illustrations for her children’s book, Sarah’s Music.

At out last meeting, I struggled clumsily to explain to Stella why I thought Sarah’s Music was so special, and ended up saying something incredibly articulate, like “It’s just…I mean…it’s a great story.” She hadn’t asked me, but I desperately wanted to tell her why I had been so grateful for the opportunity to work on her story. “You know…” I began, “when I think of the books the girls I work with like to read, I mean, there’s nothing like this. There’s nothing…relatable. It’s all just… princesses.” (Slow clap) Well said, Jessica. Well said. Maybe you could have been less specific, but I doubt it. Not to be dissuaded, however, what follows is another more targeted stab at using my words.

Why Sarah’s Music is a “Great Story”: A Book Report by Jessica Pierson

Sarah’s story begins when she discovers that she is inspired by music, but seems to have no way to share her songs with others. With the help of her animal friends, Sarah goes on a journey all by herself and receives the gift of a musical instrument made especially for her by her. When she fails initially to make it sound, she becomes discouraged, but she doesn’t give up. Instead, she tries again, and practices, and learns at last to release the songs that have been locked in her heart.

Sarah’s Music is a moving glimpse at a worldview long forgotten by our dominant culture. In Sarah’s world, the creatures she encounters in the woods are not strange or frightening, but her closest friends. The natural world isn’t Sarah’s adversary. There is no “big bad wolf,” or “dark forest.” Rather, the natural world around her is generous, helpful, and inclusive. Sarah is a member of the forest community, not a stranger or an interloper. She isn’t superior to the plants and animals around her, but considers them her loved ones and her wise teachers. She lives comfortably among her relations in nature, learns from them humbly, and is ultimately only able to accomplish her goal because of the gifts she receives from her friends. Imagine the improved health of our planet if more children began to see themselves not as separate from the natural world, but as members of a community of living creatures.

In what is yet another departure from our established modern archetypes, Sarah is a child, a girl, and an empowered individual all at once! Her parents have shown her how to meet her needs, and allowed her the autonomy to make her own discoveries. It is no surprise, then, that she is brave enough to embark on a journey all by herself because she feels confident that she is prepared. Throughout the story, Sarah chooses for herself, and asks for help and guidance when she needs it. As a result, her learning process is unhurried and unstructured, the result of her own unique experiences. Her self-knowledge is completely uncontrived, and part of her accomplishment. Sarah isn’t a helpless object waiting for someone to save her, or take care of the hard parts. She is an active participant in making her dream a reality.

Perhaps the most subtly beautiful and surprising element is Sarah’s wish itself. Sarah’s greatest wish is not to gain anything for herself, but to share her music, which is already inside of her. She doesn’t dream of a husband, or a crown, or a treasure, or wish to be something she isn’t or to attend a ball. She wishes for an ability, not so she can gain something, but so she can use her own gifts for the enjoyment of those around her. What a delicate, wise wish for our world!

In addition to the opportunity to revisit a familiar and yet foreign traditional reality, there is one final facet of Sarah’s Music that I fell in love with as I worked to create the images. The final item that would make me want to read this book to my child every night at bedtime is that there is not one singular mention of Sarah’s physical appearance.

In our image conscious world, this might seem, at first, like a glaring omission. Our fairy tales are often about girls who are described as beautiful. “Once there lived a beautiful princess.” Stories about girls are almost always about their extraordinary beauty, as though these precious women/children had no other important or distinguishing qualities. If beauty doesn’t figure heavily into the story (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, etc.) it is almost guaranteed that as soon as the heroine is introduced, a physical description is provided. Sarah is not described as beautiful or in any other way, because it is utterly unimportant what she looks like. This is refreshing! She is a girl, acting to bring her goals about, and it doesn’t matter to anyone if she is beautiful. She has many praise-worthy qualities, and in the story, she learns new ones (patience, perseverance, etc.) It is lovely to find a story about a girl where literally everything else about her matters more than her appearance.

If you happen to be looking for a new bedtime story or a Christmas gift, consider sharing Sarah’s Music with your family. It is…healing. That’s the word I wanted to find for Stella, but somehow I suspect that she knows this already.

Sarah’s Music is currently available at Amazon in print for $9.45 and as an ebook for $3.99, thanks to Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery.

It isn’t possible to say an adequate “Thank You” Rebecca J. Vickery, Laura Shinn, and Cheryl Pierson for their hard work. Cheers, ladies.


  1. I wish every young girl could read this type book and take it to heart. The things you list are perfect goals for each of us, and just what young women need to hear and read. Congratulations on being a part of an admirable book.

  2. SO excited about this book, Cheryl and Jessica. It'll be perfect for my grandkids and great-nieces. May it soar to the top of the charts, and congrats to all! xoxo

  3. Thank you Caroline and Tanya! Your encouragement really means a lot. The congratulations really belong to the wonderful Stella Long, who has been so generous with her stories, and has never grown tired of sharing them with others. I have been very lucky to be along for the ride :) Truly, we appreciate your kind thoughts and wishes more than I can possibly say.

  4. What an enchanting story. Kids are going to love it and I like that it's told as a Choctaw story. What age is this book appropriate for? I would love to see more of your illustrations, jessica. You create magic with your art.
    I wish you great success.

  5. Jessica, I have a feeling this is going to be one of those Important Books girls across the spectrum are encouraged to read. I'm glad you took another stab at finding the right words (though the originals were heartfelt, and therefore meaningful in a very special way :-) ), because I think the words you eventually wrote are beautiful, inspiring, and insightful. :-)

  6. Well, my goodness, Cheryl, what a beautiful daughter you have, and so talented, too. But wait, she got all that from you, didn't she? I have loved your stories about your daughter for several years, and feel as though I know her. She's as pretty as you are.

    I know you're thrilled, Jessica, to do the artwork for this wonderful story by Stella Long. This may be your launching pad, as well as Stella's...and we here at Sweethearts of the West could not be more proud than if you were our own daughter.
    I have no granddaughters, only three grandsons, and they're too old for the book anyway. But if I had a younger female grandchild, she would definitely get this book.

  7. Beautiful. What a great review of an important book. Congratulations to everyone involved. Doris

  8. Sarah,
    Thank you for your kindness and encouragement! It is wonderful to meet you! I learned so much doing the pictures for this book, and I very much hope there will be others in the future.

    The book will probably be most attractive to younger elementary-aged children: children who are old enough to connect the dots in a story line, and who still enjoy pictures. The wonderful thing about the Native American storytelling tradition, however, is that these stories contain many layers of meaning for people of all ages. Stories like this one are often told orally to a mixed group of children and adults. There is no given "moral" or definite objective, so the stories are allowed to take on different meanings to different people, and even to the same person over time. Almost everyone can not only "get it," but can find something valuable based on his or her individual experience.

    Thank you for your kind compliments and your good wishes. I wish you all the best as well :)


  9. What a beautiful tribute to your friend, Jessica. Your insights as well as hers are definitely something that needs to be shared. I truly wish you the best with sales with your enchanting book.

  10. Kathleen,
    How lovely to meet you! What a wonderful comment to read! Thank you for this. Yes, I am also glad that I gave this explanation another go, even if only so I could understand more about my own obsessive tendencies. LOL. This project was time consuming and labor intensive, and it took a long time for me to understand why I felt so driven to achieve a certain look, have everything "just so," etc. At some point, I realized that I was basically attempting to craft a visual introduction to an ancient art and to the natural world itself for today's iPad children. I'm not sure if I was able to do that as well as I would have liked (or if it was ever even possible), but at least writing this helped me understand some of the reasons why it seemed worthwhile to try. Haha.

    Thank you for reading and for your wonderful comment. It absolutely made my entire evening!


  11. Celia,
    What a blessing to finally meet you! Your comment left me feeling beautifully overwhelmed. I can't thank you enough for your kindness to me here, and for the friendship you have shared with Mom.

    I'm honestly just so thrilled to have had this incredible experience... and THEN, to have had the opportunity to share it here on Sweethearts of the West! What more could a girl ask for?

    Thank you again for reading. Much love to you, and also to your precious grandsons!


  12. Thank you Doris, and thank you Paisley! I hope you know how genuinely amazing it is to receive such wonderful messages of encouragement. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  13. Jessica, I love your description of this book. It conveys your respect for the theme of the story, one we can all learn from, regardless of age. And what a boon to be able to work with Stella Long. I wish you both the greatest success with "Sarah's Music".

    Would it be possible to order a signed copy directly from you? My daughter teaches the Read 180 program in a middle school in San Antonio. What a great tool this would be to encourage students to draw from within themselves and their environment for ideas and to use the tools they have—their own heritage.

    The best to you both!

  14. Hi Linda!
    Thank you so much for your good wishes! Yes, I would love to send you a signed copy. Your daughter's Read 180 program sounds amazing. If you'll send me an email at, we can come up with a plan to get a copy to you.

    Thanks again,

  15. Wonderful post, Jessica, and congratulations for being able to show your artistic talents in such an inspiring childrens' book. I not only applaud everything you said about Sarah's Music, but am thrilled that author Stella Long created a story thaf will inspire little girls. I believe we all have a gift -- for you it is the way you express yourself in art. How wonderful to empower little girls to realize it isn't how you look, but what is inside you that matters most. And I love the connection to nature and forest creatures, too. :)


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