Q and A with Rachel and Shannon Clark
Kindergarten Rancher, the inaugural children’s book by The Fence Post assistant editor Rachel Gabel, will be released this month. Illustrated by Shannon Clark, a cattlewoman and artist from Collbran, Colo., the book introduces readers to a little girl who would rather stay at home and ranch with her dad than go to school.
Along with providing an accurate story and illustrations that ranch kids will appreciate, the book combines cattle information and classroom lessons, highlighting the importance of learning, livestock and literacy.
Q: What is your background?
A: Rachel — I grew up in 4-H but not on a working ranch. Livestock judging and showing opened the doors for me to the cattle industry and I earned an animal science degree from Fort Hays State University. I spent nearly 15 years in the classroom, teaching secondary English and writing at night and during lunch until I was able to join The Fence Post staff full-time in 2018. The Fence Post, coincidentally, was one of the first publications to print my writing when I was about 14 and writing 4-H club reports. I’m a member of one of the state’s cattle producing families and write exclusively about agriculture from the ranch in northeastern Colorado.
B: Shannon — My dad was a cowboy, cowman, and ranch manager. When I was growing up on the ranch west of Laramie, Wyo., we had some mother cows and we summered, about 1,200 yearlings. My older sister and I were the hired men. We cowboyed, fixed fence, put up hay, and ran wild. After high school, I went to veterinary technician school and worked for a few different practitioners and ranches. I earned my B.S. from the University of Wyoming in range management with minors in soils and animal science. I’ve kept a handful of commercial cows my whole adult life.
Q: Shannon, have you always drawn?
A: This is my first book to illustrate but I’ve always drawn, just not faithfully or consistently since I would always rather be outside doing something else. I started drawing a couple of years ago because it’s hard to find a full-time ranch job in the valley where I live. Drawing helped generate a little income to help pay the bills and feed the cows. I’ve sold a few prints now so that’s encouraging. I typically draw horses, cattle, western scenes and some wildlife.
I had a good art teacher in high school, and he taught right and left-brain theory. I’m mostly self-taught and learning to improve my powers of observation and patience. My grandfather was a sign painter and an oil painter. His kids and grandkids seem to all express some form of artistic talent. I was just fortunate enough to get the gene, too.
Q: Kindergarten Rancher has illustrations of people and cattle, which was likely challenging. How did you prepare for that and what about the project appealed to you?
A: The powers of perception and discernment are essential to be a good livestock producer and they are the same skills that help me reproduce an image artistically.
I appreciated the story line of Kindergarten Rancher. I know I would have rather stayed home and helped my dad, than go to school. Who wouldn’t? But, in our day and age, kids needed to learn a few more things than just a work ethic. It’s good to give them a little hope and sense of purpose, for all those long school days, maybe.
Q: Rachel, what prompted the idea for Kindergarten Rancher? Why is this type of book important?
A: It was important to me to have a book that was accurately written about ranch life and cattle because I believe kids on the ranch ought to be able to open a book and see a place that’s familiar and a character they can relate to. It’s also an opportunity to shine a light on ranching for those who aren’t involved all in a book that parents will enjoy reading after a long day. It was tested and reviewed by some of my favorite ranch kids in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming and North Dakota. There is a growing list of accurate agriculture books on the market now and they serve an important role in educating those removed from the ranch but it’s equally important that kids who learned to read on dad’s lap looking at bull sale catalogs have a book they can see themselves in.
Q: Writing a children’s book is different than what you typically do. Tell us about the process.
A: The writing of the book itself was pretty straightforward. It is an adaptation put down on paper of the stories I tell my kids verbally at night. I knew Shannon was the right illustrator when I saw her other drawings and Liz Munsterteiger, who works with me at The Fence Post, made the whole thing come together with her design and layout. The entire project, though, hinged on the support of the Vogler family of Vogler Cattle Company in Ashland, Neb. I was picking Les’ brain about how to make this happen and he liked the project and really made it possible. It really did take a village — I had the easy job.
Q: Where is the book available?
A: The book will soon be available for order at rachelgabel.com. In the store, several of Shannon’s prints are also available. Both Shannon and Rachel are scheduling book signings now. ❖