A graphic novel about a wise elder

A graphic novel about a wise elder

As Kathryn Toure and Celeste Wamiru sat across the table from me in the Classic Cup Cafe on the Plaza in October 2019, we debriefed each other. The two of them had just finished their first-ever live television interview about Mary on the Move.

During the official book launch at Prospero’s Bookstore, I interviewed them about the unique collaborative process they undertook in Kenya. That’s where both of them live. The audience and I learned that the production of this graphic novel required much more effort and planning than the emails and the Google files they sent me from Africa would indicate.

It was only after her mother Mary became older that Kathryn recognized and really appreciated her subtle wit and personality. She got to know Mary as a unique individual, apart from the mother figure she is.

Beginning in 2014, after Mary became a widow and moved to a nursing home in Liberty, MO, Kathryn started documenting her mother’s witticisms.

Enter Celeste Wamiru, one of the first female political cartoonists in Africa. She was a character designer for the Tinga Tinga Tales animations and illustrator for the accompanying children’s books, both inspired by a unique and colorful Tanzanian art style called Tinga Tinga.

Celeste Wamiru didn’t know Kathryn’s mother when she was approached by the author. But the two women made a trip to Kansas City so Celeste could meet Mary. The result is a precious tribute to a woman who never got a lot of accolades or recognition while raising a family and working as a nurse. Mary even supported the family for a while after her husband got laid off from the Boeing plant in Wichita, KS.

In addition to the wonderful cartoons that reveal Mary Olden Tajchman’s dry wit and personality, Kathryn includes some of her mother’s personal milestones. In the book Afterword, we learn, for example, that Mary played the bagpipes in her youth.

Our cafe table discussion led to the topic of respect for elders and for teachers, then a cultural comparison between the U. S. and African nations. From that, we segued into a topic that had been broached at the book signing event at Prospero’s–about how memoirs put people in contact with themselves and also provide insights for future generations.

When I asked Kathryn and Celeste what they felt their next chapters would look like, they both said they would continue in the same vein and also integrate lessons from their collaboration on Mary on the Move.

We all have similar storytelling missions. Why not start now rather than later?!

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