Naomi Canale began writing novels when she was about 20. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is, because Canale didn’t actually learn to read until she was in high school.
She grew up poor in Reno, Nevada, and her family even lived out of their car for a while. Canale is dyslexic, which wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her 30s, “and other factors had contributed to my lack of education,” she said. Still, she often visited the school library to pick out picture books, and she learned to follow a story’s plot by looking at the illustrations.
“It was seeing story through narrative art that really informed my way of reading,” she said.
As a teenager, Canale was enrolled in an experimental college-type high school in Reno where she received the resources she had been lacking.
“It was finally getting the help I needed in that program, and I really excelled in those years,” she said. “It really kind of catapulted me into being able to read and write.”
Canale began reading — and writing — in earnest, and she soon had an agent who shopped her novels to publishers. That agent saw some drawings that Canale had done and encouraged her work, and that led her into creating picture books for children.
Canale has created what’s called a book dummy — sort of an advanced rough draft, complete with illustrations — for her latest book called “Fiona’s Words”, which she recently presented to the vice president of a major publisher.
“She said it made her cry,” Canale said.
“Fiona’s Words” mirrors Canale’s own childhood.
“It’s kind of my journey through dyslexia, and how she learns to have a better relationship with words,” Canale said. “She starts to pick up on how to read through pictures. Connecting the two visually for me is what helped me to really start to see words.”
As a child, Canale said she loved books by Eric Carle — “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” — as well as “Corduroy” by Don Freeman and “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.
“All of those were visually just so strong for me,” she said.
To illustrate her books, Canale usually works in pen and watercolor, and sometimes adds a collage. She really lets the story inform how she creates the illustrations, she said.
Canale also enjoys bookbinding, working with plaster and, in at least one instance, coffee-soaked paper. She initially got into bookbinding when she worked at Fabled Bookshop & Café.
“I put together a bunch of handmade book ornaments for display,” she said. “I made a whole bunch of tiny ones, and then it just kind of evolved.”
She turned to online resources to learn the basics of the craft.
“YouTube university is a great asset,” she said.
Adding a Touch of Whimsy
Samples of Naomi Canale’s art are on her website — NaomiCanale.com — and on her Instagram page. Her work can also be seen at Fabled Bookshop & Café in downtown Waco. On display there are a large dragon and a rabbit on a swing, both created from papier-mâché. The rabbit was “kind of like a family effort,” Canale said, as her husband Daniel helped in the installation of the sculpture. Canale began working at Fabled to “figure out what bookselling was like from the side of putting them in people’s hands so I could understand the market better,” she said, which makes her better informed when she’s pitching one of her own books to a publisher.