BY ABIGAIL MURPHY
FOR LIVE LEE MAGAZINE
UPDATED BY THE OBSERVER
It only took four hours. At least to write it down. It was already in her head, and all she had to do was put pen to paper. So, Angela George, owner of O Town Ice Cream, went up to Lake Martin, found herself a place to sit and started to write. That was the easy part, she said.
George’s newly published children’s book is titled “Monkey Tales: An Adventure in O Town.” It all started when she was looking at a map of Opelika and thought back to stories like “The Goonies”. She likened the map of Opelika to a treasure map, and her imagination got to work from there.
“When you’re a kid, you are looking for adventure,” George said. “That was the inspiration for me writing this book was to bring children an adventure.”
The book takes readers on a tour of different places around Opelika with the story centering on three monkeys, Fran, Star and Sam, and the boy who set the monkeys loose — Windel. The story begins in Monkey Park, and once the monkeys get loose, they make their way to Courthouse Square.
George said the monkeys had been hearing about the ice cream being served at Courthouse Square, and that’s why the Courthouse is where they want to go first. This scene calls back to one of O Town’s flavors, Courthouse Coffee Crunch, which also alludes to O Town’s early days when they would sell ice cream at the farmer’s market at the Courthouse.
As the monkeys and Windel make their way to the Courthouse, they pass by other landmarks such as Northside School, Smith T’s Hardware and The Museum of East Alabama. The monkeys also go to St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which George said holds a special significance to her.
Her mother attended St. Mary’s before passing away unexpectedly in 2012 and George, herself, was also confirmed there. George said she felt growing up around her mom’s imagination rubbed off on her, especially while writing this book.
“I had an incredible mother who blew out holidays, overexaggerated all of them,” George said. “My mother made Halloween this beautiful, magical trick-or-treat-pumpkins, and cats, and spiders and creatures everywhere. I think of all of my collective memories, as an adult, from being a kid just came together to write this book.”
The monkeys wind up in a maple tree at St. Mary’s, which alludes to the ice cream flavor George named after her mother — Manda’s Maple.
However, this isn’t the only place family ties in. George dedicated the book to her children, Sophia Francesca, Stella Lucia and Samuel, who also happen to have the monkeys named after them. Her children partly inspired her to write a children’s book, but it was also her way of thanking them for being her “greatest adventure.”
“I think a lot of moms, as they watch their children grow up, this idea of ‘Well, I’d like to write a children’s book one day,’ [comes about],” she said.
George noted her children have also been a big help with the ice cream business, and they don’t even have a flavor named after them. Maybe this is a way to make it up to them a little, she said. However, the ice cream business encouraged George beyond that as well.
The flavors not only gave inspiration to the places the monkeys visit but also some of the characters they meet along the way. During their adventure, they meet a big swamp turtle, which is one of the shop’s flavors, and two cats that are named after the pumpkin-flavored ice cream. The monkeys also meet some honeybees, which allude to the flavor, Beeman’s Blueberry Cheesecake.
The incorporation of O Town’s ice cream flavors was not by accident. Once the book is published in late summer/early fall of this year, George said she hopes to read it during the store’s Storytime event. O Town has been doing Storytime each Tuesday during the summer as part of regular business practice for several years now.
George said she wanted the ice cream shop to host these kinds of events because growing up, her mother took her to story time at their local library and it was such an important part of her childhood. Originally, the launch party for “Monkey Tales: An Adventure in O Town” was supposed to happen at the first Storytime event for 2020.
“That was the plan 2020 that spring, when school ended, we were going to start off the Storytime as ‘An Adventure in O Town.’ Then everything just fell apart and we didn’t even know if we were still going to be open after all of that,” George said, thinking back to the start of the pandemic. “There was this initial panic of ‘This is never gonna happen’ to ‘No, this is God’s timing of when this will happen.’”
While George’s writing of the book only took four hours, it still took some time to assemble the book from there, even without the setback of the pandemic. For one, she needed an illustrator. Luckily, George noted, with owning an ice cream shop you meet all kinds of people.
One day, a young woman walked into O Town. She had recently finished her engineering degree and was still in town as her husband was working through his medical degree. She came into the shop and left an illustration for George “as like a little gift.”
George got in contact with her, and Madison Brooks became George’s illustrator. Brooks said she had been trying to grow her illustration work at the time, and she knew a little about George from a mutual friend. After her and George’s initial meeting, they met for ice cream to discuss George’s book further.
“Once I read the draft, I knew I wasn’t going back,” Brooks said. “I love the balance the story has. It holds a lot of deeper meaning and heart, yet it keeps a lighthearted nature — an uplifting story of adventure.”
As part of the preparation process, Brooks and George took a tour around Opelika following the same path the monkeys do in the story. They looked around the sites, finding different viewpoints and taking pictures for reference. Brooks said they spent hours at her kitchen table sketching out different illustrations.
Brooks noted what made this process even more enjoyable is they found they have a lot of things in common, and she believes this book is going to bring something positive to the community.
“[George] did not set about making this book a reality for the looks of it or the money, but genuinely to honor the stories of local children and to give back to a community that has given her, and me too, so much life,” Brooks said. “She counts every child and every family that has stepped foot in her ice cream shop as her own family, and she loves them like her family, too.”
With Brooks on her team, George still wasn’t quite done with the publishing process. They had to figure out how they were going to put the pieces together. One day Emily Littleton, a graphic designer, came into O Town and told George she wanted to be a part of this work. From there, George and Brooks were able to begin the layout process with Littleton’s help.
“I sent so many art files to Emily, so many I started to question how they’re all going to work together,” Brooks said. “And then she thought about totally different details than I did, and sure enough, it turned into one cohesive book.”
After all this time, George is now at the point where, after having received a proof copy and making the final edits, the book is finished and copies are available for purchase. As her work for this first book is coming to a close, George couldn’t help but think back to her fifth-grade year, when an author came to visit their school as a guest speaker.
In the elementary school gym, the author was going through some slides on her old-school projector. Then one slide appeared that was a picture of the author swinging on a large maple tree. George said the author then told them, “Here’s the day I finished my book. This is the day that I finally finished it, and it is how I felt. I felt free and childlike again.”
And George said she couldn’t agree more.
George and Brooks are hosting a book reading and signing event at O Town, located at 700 2nd Ave. in Opelika, on Sunday, Oct. 2 from noon until 2 p.m.
Pre-orders of the book can be picked up at O Town.