Bil Lepp draws inspiration from his daughter and his home state for a feisty new children’s book.
As a native Appalachian, Bil Lepp has storytelling in his blood. Lepp, who grew up in South Charleston, started his storytelling career in 1990 at the West Virginia Liar’s Contest at the Vandalia Gathering, an annual celebration of West Virginia arts, culture, and tradition. Now, nearly 30 years later, Lepp is releasing his second children’s book, The Princess and the Pickup Truck.
The tale puts an Appalachian twist on the popular children’s tale, “The Princess and the Pea.” Instead of a precariously placed pea, however, the mattresses are piled onto a pickup truck. “I was driving with my daughter, who was probably 14 at the time,” Lepp says. “A wonderful teenage girl with a sense of sarcasm that she uses for the power of good. There was a truck in front of us with 10 mattresses piled on it, and I looked at her and said, ‘Do you think you could sleep on that?’ and she said, ‘Of course, Daddy, I’m a princess.’”
Within days, Lepp had the basic outline for a story about an independent, boot-sporting, messy-haired princess who challenges social expectations. “She’s her own powerful character,” Lepp says of the princess. “She’s doing things the way she wants to do them. She’s not sitting around, waiting on the world to come to her. She’s out there in the countryside, finding out what she can get into.”
Given the book’s Appalachian roots, Lepp wanted to produce the story with the help of fellow West Virginians. He chose to publish with the West Virginia Book Company in Charleston, with whom he had previously published his storytelling CDs. For the book’s illustrations, he enlisted the help of Lottie Looney, a Charleston-based artist and instructor.
“I wanted Lottie to have free rein to do the art that she wanted to do,” Lepp says. “We had a good relationship going back and forth to make sure the art matched the words. She has such a folksy, free style of doing art, that, like the princess, is unconcerned with conventionality. I wanted her to be part of the process so that she could do bright, happy art that would fit the story.”
Lepp says the finished product is exactly what he envisioned. “I wanted it to be an Appalachian-based story that positively reflected on Appalachia and West Virginia, which I try to do in all of my stories. I want to make sure there’s a different view out there to challenge the stereotype.”
written by Lexi Browning