Small idea by two friends turns into big, fun journey book on Buffalo
By David Yarger
Publishing a book is no easy feat. Authors start off with an idea, and sometimes it could be tough for that idea to transfer into a publication.
For Brigette Callahan and Kristin Warham, their dream of creating a book about their love of Buffalo came true.
The book, “Buffalo From A to Z, Come Take a Tour With Me,” is a bright, colorful, 54-page guide around the City of Buffalo.
Starting at A and ending with Z, the book takes readers through more than 70 locations in the Queen City through the eyes of character Bob Uffalo.
Locations include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Central Terminal, Canalside, HarborCenter, Kleinhans Music Hall, Riverworks, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the Buffalo Zoo and many more locations that even Buffalonians might not known exist.
Along with descriptions of each venue, readers can expect some of Buffalo’s best photography.
The authors, Callahan and Warham, are literary specialists at Errick Road Elementary School, as well as close friends away from the classroom who share a love for their home city. The two have been writing since 2002 in Buffalo, and share equal pride as Buffalonians. That civic pride turned into them creating this book.
“(We’re) besties. We are literally together all day long,” Callahan said. “We work with our kids in the other room at the same time we work one-on-one with our students. Then we have small groups in here. It’s nice, because we’re creatively-able all day long.”
“We sit across from each other all day long, so we have a lot of time to share ideas and bounce things off of each other. We’ve worked together for the last 18 years. We’ve had a lot of time to get to know each other. Our families are friends – we do things outside of school, so we have a true bond,” Warham said.
The duo began talking in 2002 about a love of literacy, kids and Buffalo, and soon came up with the idea to write. After a few trips to Spot Coffee on Elmwood Avenue, the two created the character Bob Uffalo, who was later illustrated for the book by Bill Jankowski.
From left, Warham, Bob Uffalo and Callahan. (Submitted photo)
The authors described Bob Uffalo as a fun-loving character who really captures Buffalo and what it’s all about, while instilling civic pride among readers. The character is quite popular amongst the two, as well.
“We are in total love with Bob Uffalo. Our own children love him. … Our students are in love with him,” Callahan said. “We came up with him in 2002. We spoke with a couple illustrators and had them do some sketches for us, and Kristin actually met someone on an airplane home from New York City who said, ‘I have the perfect person for you.’ Bill Jankowski was the friend that she knew and he ended up just capturing Bob.”
Of Bob Uffalo, Warham added, “He’s transformed over the years. He didn’t start off looking how he does now, but Bill was able to really capture our vision and kind of, as we began to evolve with our idea with what we were going to write about, he evolved with us.”
For the authors, a book about Buffalo could be done in some different ways. Callahan and Warham’s option to go the alphabet book route came from their day-to-day operations at Errick Road.
“We came up with the idea of an alphabet book because, born and raised in Buffalo, we know how many amazing places there are to go in Buffalo and amazing things there are to do in Buffalo. So, to organize our ideas, we work with kindergarteners through fifth-graders. So we’ve worked with a lot of alphabet books and we’ve seen a lot of books that go straight from A to Z, and we thought this would be a perfect way to organize our thoughts and something that kids could connect to as well. We started researching,” Callahan said. Warham laughed and replied, “A lot of researching.”
Callahan and Warham admitted it was a lot of work and tough decision making to determine which of the 70-plus locations would be placed in the book. The two also agreed, in their research, some venues chosen they hadn’t heard of or seen before.
“We came up with our original list that we’ve been (to) and we’ve known about, and then we found places like the Colored Musicians Club – I had never even heard of it. Now I’m like, ‘I can’t wait to take my kids there.’ It’s super interactive and teaches them so much. So there’s places in here that I know I haven’t been yet, that I’m excited to go to,” Callahan said.
“It was really difficult to decide which places were going to be a part of the book, and to kind of figure out what about each place we wanted to talk about. So, like Brigette said, a lot of the research that went behind it, we learned so much through that whole process,” Warham said. “It was not only interesting for us, but as adults who have lived here our whole life, we learned so many new things. And we thought we can’t imagine kids that have never been to these places are going to learn about.”
The book was obviously not published in one sitting, as the two weighed their jobs and family life, in addition with the book, to come up with the creation. Warham mentioned the two would have meetings that lasted until 10 and sometimes 11 p.m. with the publisher, Marti Gorman, but added Gorman was very helpful planning around the author’s busy schedules.
Callahan noted the tough process of weighing everything together has continued even after the book’s publishing, as well as pre-publishing.
“It’s been more difficult, I think, since it’s been published. It’s been a challenge for our families, so we’re constantly balancing prepping for work, prepping for family, making sure they’re all taken care of and then making sure our students are all taken care of. Lot of lunches and late nights together. Put the kids to bed and then scoot out and meet at a coffee shop,” Callahan said.
As literary specialists, Callahan and Warham are around kids constantly. With the book targeting a younger audience, the two said that children were a big reason behind the publishing, as they both wanted to focus on the upcoming generation around the city.
“We felt like we took our kids to so many of these places, (so) lets showcase them in a book for kids who might not be able to go to all of these places,” Warham said. “We as teachers work with so many different kids, some of them really have no idea anything about the place they live. So once we realized that and started working with our students and noticing what they didn’t know about our area, it just kind of came to life.
“It was really important to us to create something that kids could really connect to, and we felt like we’ve watched over the years, even with our own friends and family, so many people leave Buffalo. They grow up here, they never completely have fallen in love with the place that it was, or jobs took them somewhere else. And we wanted to create something to allow kids, from an early age, see what a wonderful place that Buffalo is, the beauty that it holds, the fun there is to do. Kind of everything that it encompasses. … It’s a really different Buffalo than it was years ago. Everybody has the ‘Buffalove’ that is out there, so we wanted to create something that kids could connect to in that way and develop roots and civic pride and just really kind of fall in love with the area like we have.”
Callahan added, “We love that kids can see places in Buffalo through Bob’s eyes, but they can also see them through photographs. That was really important to us that our students could see the real places and think, ‘Wow, I could really go there someday,’ or, ‘I’d like to see that.’ We’ve actually had some people that have told us they started from letter A and been going with their grandchildren or children to every single place in the book, which is exactly what we wanted. We wanted it, not only for kids to read and learn about the places in the book, but bring ties to their family together, too.”
Speaking of photography, the two praised the efforts of the photographers who submitted their work to be used. Near the back of the book, the authors list each photographer from each page and letter in a four-page reference guide. The duo added that the photographers were very willing to assist in project and valued the purpose of it.
Warham and Callahan also enjoyed how the book turned into a community project and said the production was like giving a gift to Buffalo.
“Another huge chunk of time was the photography,” Callahan said. “That was really important to us to make sure we had beautiful photographs, and we really wanted to highlight the talent we have in Buffalo. We really wanted to reach out to as many different photographers in Buffalo as we could.
“So, it was a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails – a lot of begging and pleading – and some people heard about the project and were like ‘Wow, that’s really cool. We want to share this with the kids in Buffalo, too.’ ”
Brainstorming for the book began a little over two years ago with the two jotting down locations in addition to a lengthy and extensive research process, which included calling the locations, talking to several individuals and online searching. The next process involved writing stanzas about each location, as well as working with the book’s designer, Melanie Zakraysek, as well as Gorman with Buffalo Heritage Press.
The book targets youth, but both authors said they’ve heard from adults who are in love with the creation, including mothers who read to their children at night; grandmothers who love the rich history in the book; and those who gift it at baby showers or as a memorabilia piece.
“(It’s) served its purpose in a lot of different ways and we’re proud of that,” Warham said.
In addition to the book’s successful local reaction, which led to it being on its third print run upon interviewing the authors, Warham and Callahan also had the support of big-name locals, such as Robby Takac of Buffalo’s own the Goo Goo Dolls and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. The two sold copies of the book at the Goo Goo Dolls recent 20th anniversary “Dizzy Up The Girl” shows at Shea’s. Autographed copies sold raised $1,500 for Music is Art.
The authors also held a release of the book in late November at Parkside Candies in Buffalo.
To have backing from locals in the community, especially from someone like Takac, was really special to Warham and Callahan.
“We feel so thankful from photographers that contributed one photograph, to the Goo Goo Dolls who allowed us to be at their concert and have our first release, to the owner of Parkside Candies who allowed us to have our release party there, to people in the press who are sharing our story,” Callahan said.
Warham added, “(It was) not only exciting, but surreal. I think it makes us take a step back and realize the good in so many people who really care about this place and care about helping other people be successful. … The people in Buffalo seem to really want to lift other people in this area and help them be a success and really just let Buffalo shine. We have really found that to be true. So many people we didn’t expect would take such an interest have been such an integral piece of us, not only getting it out to the public, but supporting our ideas and really making us feel like what we’ve created is really a Buffalo gem, not just a book.
“People who have come into this project, from the smallest parts to the biggest part of this project, have really made us believe in Buffalo. … They’ve given us a chance to see how devoted people are, not only to our community, but to the future of our community – the kids. … It showed us how community can really come together.
“I don’t think on our end we could’ve fathomed the excitement and the just feel around the book. We didn’t expect such a reaction. When you’re creating this, we knew we loved it, because there’s so much time and effort and energy … and it was a passion project. It was a labor of love and we didn’t think so many other people would develop such a love for the book that they have and it would’ve become something that so many people instantly connected with.”
Back at Errick Road, Warham and Callahan’s students have grown an appreciation for their teachers’ book. What was most refreshing to the two, though, is that the students could see something they played a major part in.
“We teach kids about the writing process and this wasn’t just teaching them, it was showing them that you can start with this little idea, and it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time,” Callahan said. “That’s why you have a team of people to go through and work and edit and share ideas. … You work as a team to do this, and this is something we could’ve never done on our own.”
“The most exciting part was that they were a part of it from beginning to end,” Warham mentioned. “We have kids that are in fifth grade who were part of the beginning in second or third grade when we were just showing them, you know, ‘What do you think of this character? Listen to this. What do you think of this line?’ And they were such a part of the design.
“When they saw us as teachers going through those processes firsthand, it made what we teach them everyday so much more relevant.”
And as authors who started with just a small idea based on the love of their city, the two gave an important piece of advice to other young hopeful authors: “Just do it. Never give up. Take the chance. … (It) takes one person to believe in you and that day can be the start of a whole new beginning.”
“Buffalo A to Z, Come Take a Tour With Me” is available for purchase at www.buffaloheritage.com, as well as bookstores and gift shops across Western New York. For more fun pictures and tidbits on Buffalo, readers can also follow Bob Uffalo on Instagram, by searching @Bob_Uffalo.