What happens when you're a Buckhead socialite with a passion for vintage toys, and you've got a children's story idea about celebrating differences to bring to life? You bring in the gays. So with the help of a B-52, a veteran Atlanta journalist and others, “Sassafrass Jones & The Search For A Forever Home” was born.
The idea for the story came to author Cathleen Smith Bresciani when friend and notable Atlanta art dealer Fay Gold suggested she photograph and create a book filled with her vintage Steiff plush toy collection. After working with a team to create the lavish photos, she needed a writer. Enter gay Atlanta journalist and Atlanta Magazine editorial contributor Richard Eldredge (photo left).
“I wanted to collaborate with Rich because besides being a phenomenal writer, he is witty, and has a truly creative, whimsical vision,” Bresciani says. “I knew if anyone could bring my collection to life it would be Rich!”
The story is about a “perky Pekingese” with cat eye glasses named Sassafrass Jones and a fashionable milliner mouse named Madeline and their quest to win the forest's annual gingerbread baking contest. The grand prize is a trip to New York, where Sassafrass can get an appointment with an esteemed eye doctor and Madeline can chase her fashion dreams. They have to endure bullying by the notorious Beaver Sisters along the way.
While a children's book about woodland creatures isn't typically Eldredge's style–check his Facebook page for a healthy dose of snark–he identified with the message of outsiders overcoming adversity and bullying. That tends to happen when you grew up gay in Gwinnett County, an area he describes at that time as “racist, redneck central.”
“I fell in love with this story and what she was trying to achieve,” he says.
On the way over to Smith's house for their first writing session, Eldredge brainstormed about who would be perfect for the audiobook. Someone who has experienced adversity for being who he is. Someone with one of the most distinctive voices in music history. Why not Fred Schneider of the B-52's? (photo right)
“The reason that Fred's voice is so perfect is because [the book has] the same message the B-52's have been delivering for 35 years: it's okay to be different, to be an outsider,” Eldredge says. “They conveyed the 'It Gets Better' message, but it was pasted onto a 12-inch piece of vinyl and you could dance to it.”
Bresciani texted Schneider, a fixture at gay Atlanta events, and he replied back immediately to say he was in.
“Cathy has been a good friend since forever,” Schneider says. “I was excited to be a part of the project, and the book is beautiful. She has such great taste."
With Schneider locked in, Smith and Eldredge were able to write the entire book with his voice in mind.
Neither Bresciani or Eldredge have children of their own, so they focus-grouped it out to some confidants, who read it to their kids, and the book was tweaked based on the feedback. They made a conscious effort not to talk down to the kids who would be reading it.
“The last thing we wanted to do was put a kid in a coma with this book,” Eldredge says.
"Sassafrass Jones" is available now for your niece, nephew or adopted Asian child for $24.99.