“Believe in Yourself,” with Children’s Author Alan Salisbury

“If you believe in yourself, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.” That is the message of children’s book author Alan Salisbury’s holiday book The Legend of Ranger: The Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly. Beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Roberta Baird, The Legend of Ranger tells the story of Ranger, the younger brother of the famous Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer who dreams of being one of the reindeer who pull Santa’s sleigh. The book chronicles his journey to find the “secret” within him to fly, and we think it’s a really cool book to enjoy with your kids this holiday season!

 

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A father, grandfather and major proponent of providing an education rich in the Arts to children, Alan is proof that positive thinking brings big results. He wrote The Legend of Ranger after retiring from a 30-year military career, during which he pioneered the use of computers on the battlefield and earned the rank of Major General and a successful 12-year tenure in executive roles in the field of IT as well as a full schedule as an independent consultant.

 

To celebrate his own creative interests and love of giving back to the community, he established Opus One Studios as a way to benefit some of his favorite charities. Through Opus One Studios, he offers a variety of socially conscious creative products whose earnings will go to support select beneficiary causes. The Legend of Ranger, the Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly and the book’s theme song, which Alan composed, “Dream and Believe (Ranger’s Song)” are the company’s first offerings. All profits from this project will go to support the Antonia J. Giallourakis Endowed Fund in Art Therapy for Children with Cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital. The story’s positive message aligns with the fund’s efforts to help children as they face life-threatening diseases.

 

 

Alan’s interest in education was sparked when he was teaching at West Point. Not long after receiving his Ph.D., he developed a pioneering computer board game called Computer Rage that was an entertaining tutorial for children aimed at understanding computer fundamentals and binary numbers. The game was published in a sold-out edition of 10,000 copies by Creative Computing Magazine.

 

We recently spoke to Alan about what inspired him to write a children’s book and why he feels music and the Arts are so important to a child’s development.

 

Parents with Angst:

 

How have the Arts played a role in your life?

 

AS:

 

The arts have played a role in my life since elementary school. We moved from one town to another in New Jersey when I finished kindergarten, and at my young age, they wouldn’t let me into the new school system. So, rather than make me complete kindergarten for a second time, my mother sent me to a little day school in Short Hills, NJ. The school was very Arts-oriented, and I got really into singing, theater and musical instruments. I really learned to appreciate all the different forms of art and music.

 

The only time I got really involved in music and the Arts, myself, as an adult was as a cadet at West Point, when I joined the Cadet Glee Club. I like to say I “majored” in that for four years, because I just really enjoyed it as an extracurricular activity. About five years ago, three other folks and I founded a West Point Alumni Glee Club. We’ve been giving 20-30 performances per year for the last few years. When we first put that group together, I thought, “If my mother could write music, I can write music.” I wrote about three songs for the glee club and had very talented people come up with arrangements, and they have become part of the repertoire.

 

Parents with Angst:

 

How did your interest in writing develop, and what inspired you to write The Legend of Ranger: The Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly?

 

AS:

 

I have a lot of professional writing experience, but until writing The Legend of Ranger, I have never written anything for children. I wrote a computer architecture reference book back in the late ‘70s and a lot of professional articles and papers on business management. I retired from the Army after 30 years and went into the IT industry for another 12 years, then was doing consulting for a while after that.

 

My interest in writing initially came from my mother, who was an amateur poet and songwriter. She wrote several songs in the World War II era that were never published. They were on the road to being published, and I had sheet music for a couple of them. They’d always been in the scrap book, and one day, I decided to hand them off to my daughter so she could help me bring them to life. I reached out to some friends and found a vocalist, an instrumentalist and a recording studio. They put together some really nice cabaret-style recordings that I put out on a CD for friends and family.

 

Fiction was something I had not done. Five or six years ago, the idea for a Christmas story popped into my head. I thought it might be neat to write about a reindeer that was Rudolph’s brother. Each Christmas for two years, I kept returning to the idea of this story. Finally, in 2011, I just decided to take a shot at writing it down. In a few days, I had a first draft of the story. I was motivated by my grandkids as much as by the idea of the story. I have four grandchildren, ages two, four, eight and ten. We tried out the story on them that first year. I sat everyone down around New Year’s, and I read the first draft of the story to them. They sat with full attention for the entire half hour it took to read it.

 

I have improved the story quite a bit since that first draft. My youngest daughter was really the one that encouraged me to get it published, so I credit her with the fact that I actually went through the process of publishing a children’s book for two years after I first wrote it. I’ve been having a ball with it and learning a lot of new things as I go along.

 

Parents with Angst: 

 

Why do you feel that the Arts are so important to children and to their understanding of the world?

 

AS:

 

The counsel I gave both my daughters when they went off to college was, “Don’t worry about getting a job.” And I realize the fact that I was able to encourage that was a great luxury for them. However, I think getting a broad, liberal arts education is very important. A liberal arts education gives you education for life, not just for getting a job. I told my daughters that if they wanted to go beyond that and get a specialized Master’s degree, we would help them with that. I think the liberal arts experience turned out to be very valuable for them.

 

One of my daughters is very creative and is now a professional photographer and voiceover artist. She actually did the audio book version of The Legend of Ranger story and does wonderful character voices. My other daughter was an art minor.

 

My professional career, both in the Army and afterwards was rooted in information systems and technology. For many years I was a system developer and a project manager for software systems for the military both for battlefields and office use. I found the biggest problem we had in developing computer systems for people was truly understanding the user. You don’t learn how to understand people and how users react to things in an engineering school or computer science school. That idea reinforces the notion that understanding people equips you to deal with everything in life. And you learn that skill from the Arts and a liberal arts education, which I think everyone should have. That type of education makes us all better people.

 

The idea that everyone needs a liberal arts education is still one of my rock-solid principles in life, and you need to start it as early in life as possible. School can be drudgery for many children, and what makes it interesting is variety, which is what the Arts bring to the equation. The school that my eight- and ten-year old grandsons go to now is has a wonderful Arts program, and both of them are involved in chorus and other activities. I think these activities turn children into more well-rounded individuals and gives them something rewarding that they can continue to participate in as adults.

 

I think it’s interesting to note that George Patton – one of the toughest generals in history – also wrote poetry. I was not in the fighting Army, so I don’t consider myself to be a warrior like others I respect so highly, but I actually don’t know of any senior military people who like war and don’t have a softer side.

 

Parents with Angst:

 

What is the story behind the theme song for your book, “Dream and Believe (Ranger’s Song)”?

 

AS:

 

Music always comes to mind whenever I am creating anything. And of course, Rudolph has his own song, so I felt like Ranger deserved one, too.

 

I connected with one of my West Point friends’ sons, Paul Busdiecker, who is a classically-trained musician and hobbyist producer down in Nashville, teaches music lessons and has also written a series of books on string instruments. He helped me find vocalist Mary Allen – who is one of his vocal students and has a voice I really felt would connect with children. We then created the recording with Mary and a quartet from the Nashville Symphony in a Nashville studio.

 

Dream and Believe (Ranger’s Song)” is now available through iTunes as well as with the audio book as a second track. The song carries the same message as the book:  “If you believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can accomplish.” I think that is an incredibly valuable lesson for young kids.

 

Parents with Angst:

 

And how did you get involved with the Antonia J. Giallourakis Endowed Fund in Art Therapy for Children with Cancer?

 

AS:

 

That is an extension of my interest in the Arts. One of my West Point classmates, who was also in the computer software development industry with me for a few years had a wife named Antonia Giallourakis who was an art teacher. Our families became very good friends. We spent summers together and shared a beach house for 15-20 years.

 

Antonia was an artist in her own right and was an iconographer. That shared interest brought her and my wife together as close friends. Our children grew up together and continue to be good friends to this day, and our grandchildren are also growing up together.

 

Antonia developed cancer and struggled for many years. While she was in and out of treatment, she developed an innovative art therapy program for kids with cancer to give them an outlet for some of their challenges. She lost her battle with cancer, and after she passed away, her family set up a small family foundation to provide funds to teachers who are interested in implementing her art therapy strategies into the classroom. The program also links up children in classrooms with children in cancer therapy.

 

About a year ago, the Giallourakis family decided to fold their family foundation into Massachusetts General Hospital, where their son is an M.D. and Ph.D. researcher. The hospital was starting its own art therapy program, and because they found art to be an effective tool to help kids cope with cancer. Their foundation became an endowed fund at Mass. General. It’s a labor of love for my family and I to devote the time and effort and donate 100% of the profits from The Legend of Ranger: The Reindeer Who Couldn’t Fly to that endowment.

 

You can check out the trailer for Alan Salisbury’s book and read more about the author and his projects on the Opus One Studios website. And on the same theme of supporting each other’s dreams, we invite you to listen to Parents with Angst’s “Encourage Each Other.”

 

As you continue to celebrate the winter season, please also enjoy our song “You Are Loved,” below. Happy Holidays!  xo – Amelia and Harold