Former Oak Park teachers signs new book at Magic Tree
Iris Yipp introduces Ellie Alldredge-Bell, author of "Sitting on a Zinnia & Other Sweet Dreams," during a book signing Saturday at Magic Tree Bookstore. | Steve Johnston~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:43PM
OAK PARK — Just before children’s author Ellie Alldredge-Bell starts reading “Sitting on a Zinnia & Other Sweet Dreams,” she invites 4-year-old Molly Gilmartin to take a seat on the floor at the front of the standing-room-only audience at The Magic Tree bookstore.
Without a word, Molly declines the invitation, moving shyly behind her “Nani,” her grandmother Kathleen Hall.
After the reading, however, Molly’s 6-year-old sister, Katie Gilmartin, can hardly contain her praise of the book.
“It was really good. I liked about the recipe and it’s cute,” Katie said of the book.
“Me too! Me too!” the suddenly-less-shy Molly chimed in.
Molly and Katie were among dozens of fans -- including well-known children’s author Harriet Gillem Robinet -- who crowded into the store on Saturday for the reading. In some ways, the event was more of a reunion with family members, friends and former co-workers for Alldredge-Bell, who now lives in Madison, Wis.
Sarah Vingaman, who teaches English as a second language at Holmes Elementary School, where Alldredge-Bell taught first grade, said she’d received an electronic flier from the author, inviting her to the reading.
“She has a big following. This is her fan club,” said Vingaman, who also attended First United Church of Oak Park with Alldredge-Bell.
Before the reading, Vingaman stood in line to buy two copies of Sitting on a Zinnia -- one for herself, and one for her granddaughter, Ellie.
“I told her she has to sign it ‘To Ellie from Ellie,’” she said.
Though she hasn’t read the book yet, Vingaman is sure she’ll give it a thumbs up.
“It’s fabulous because I took classes from Ellie also on choosing children’s literature,” she said. “She taught me how to choose carefully the books I read to my students. So I knew when she wrote her own book, it would be good.”
The first-time author, who drove down from Wisconsin with her husband Bob Bell, was overcome with emotion at the turnout for the reading at the bookstore, where she used to buy classroom materials during her 33 years as a teacher.
“Bob said on the way down, ‘Do you think you’ll cry?’ I said, ‘No because I’m so excited about this.’ But now that I’m here . . .” she told the audience, tears welling up in her eyes.
Like the retired elementary school teacher she is, Alldredge-Bell moved her head around the room as she spoke, making eye contact with members of the audience.
“Oh, my doctor’s here. What could be better in case I have a heart attack?” she quipped, leading the audience to laughter.
Following the reading, Alldredge-Bell entertained questions, including one about the dream scenes and character development.
“You’ll recognize yourselves, some of you, she said. “They’re characters; they’re people I’ve known.”
A retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, Hall said she learned about the reading from a mutual friend who also knows Alldredge-Bell. The reading, she said, inspired her to possibly try her hand at writing a children’s book.
“I’d like to do something constructive and creative in retirement,” the Forest Park resident said.