As Alice Rhea Mitchell read stories to her two small children, she frequently thought about writing for publication. As the children grew older and before she returned to the classroom, she took a course by mail in writing children’s literature and explored The Writer’s Market to learn about publishers. A stack of rejection slips later, Alice answered the call to return to the classroom.
After approximately seven years back in the classroom, Alice wrote a one-page query about creating a curriculum for interdisciplinary instruction. She mailed the query with a copy of her resume to a publisher she had found in The Writer’s Market. Two weeks later, she received a letter from the publisher with twenty questions about her proposal, to which she made up answers. Two weeks later a contract arrived. With the children at summer camp for a month, Alice spent marathon days to produce pages of manuscript. In April 1993 Interdisciplinary Instruction in Reading Comprehension and Written Communication: A Guide for an Innovative Curriculum, published by Charles C. Thomas, Publishers, was released. It was reviewed in the May 1994 issue of Journal of Reading.
After Alice retired, she revisited old manuscripts and created new ones. In 2013, a narrative poem written twenty-seven years before found life in My Mama’s Closet with eighteen watercolor illustrations by her friend Sheryl K. Perry. Her friendship with Sheryl had begun when the Mitchells and the Perrys lived in McComb, Mississippi. Then the Mitchells moved to Magnolia Mississippi, and the Perrys to San Antonio, Texas. The families stayed in touch, exchanging birthday cards and Christmas cards. Alice taught; and Sheryl continued to paint, displayed her work at art shows, and contributed her paintings to a book entitled A Guide to Home Decorating Indian Style. The friendship expanded when Alice traveled to Harcourt in San Antonio as a representative of the English II Test Development Committee and discovered Sheryl had taken a job at Harcourt as a member of the Mississippi Project. Through the years, Alice and Sheryl had daydreamed about Sheryl’s illustrating Alice’s writing. When Luke Lampton of Magnolia Gazette Publishing Corporation told Alice he wanted to publish My Mama’s Closet, he said she could select her own illustrator. She chose Sheryl.
The lines of My Mama’s Closet had come to Alice as she sat in the choir loft of Magnolia United Methodist Church one Sunday morning. Her daughter was four at the time. After the book was published twenty-seven years later, Alice realized the book really was about herself. When Alice was four, her mother would put a box of her cast-off clothes out on the driveway for Alice and her friends to play. When Alice was in college, she sometimes borrowed a scarf or a sweater from her mother. If she were complimented on a piece, she replied, “Thank you! I found this [scarf] in a neat boutique called ‘My Mama’s Closet.’”
In February 2016, Alice received an email from Darlene Morgan, the director of the Pike-Amite-Walthall Library: “Will you collaborate with Fern Crossley on a project?”
Intrigued, Alice met Fern at the Magnolia Library. Fern asked, “Will you write a story to benefit The Miss Mattie Foundation?” Suddenly, Alice realized the joy of writing with a purpose.
The next week Alice met with Miss Mattie, the children’s librarian, who regaled Alice with stories. As Alice left the library one day, she noticed a poster inviting the children to bring their teddy bears to the library for a sleepover. The idea grew into a story and came to life with illustrations by Sheryl in 2016 in Scooter Mouse and the Teddy Bears, published by Magnolia Gazette Publishing Corporation.
Prompted by the request of buyers of My Mama’s Closet to have a little boys’ book, Alice wrote a poem in 2014 and submitted the poem for a review in October 2015 to scbwi (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Encouraged by the reviewer, Alice applied the appropriate recommendations. The poem centers around a father-son-baseball relationship, which Alice had witnessed through her husband, their son, and their grandson. At Sheryl’s suggestion, Alice submitted the poem to White Bird Publications in Austin, Texas. About three weeks later, the publisher contracted with Alice and Sheryl. As with My Mama’s Closet and Scooter Mouse and the Teddy Bears, Sheryl’s illustrations make Our Game. http://sherylperrywatercolors.com
In Scooter Mouse and Rabbit, Rabbit falls from Alexander’s backpack after Story Hour with Miss Mattie and hides under the circulation desk until Scooter Mouse rescues him and engineers a hide-and-seek reunion. The tale of Scooter Mouse and Rabbit began in 2013 as a long poem, “Rabbit’s Habit,” after Perry requested that Mitchell write about her grandson’s stuffed rabbit’s hiding, i.e., being lost. To reduce the length of the manuscript, Perry recommended a prose version. Mitchell tried and then set the writing aside until after Scooter Mouse and the Teddy Bears evolved. Then Perry asked if Scooter Mouse and Rabbit could have an adventure, and Mitchell’s imagination took over. As always, Perry’s illustrations capture the story. In addition, Rejoice Dance Academy brought the book to life through ballet for the tri-county area kindergartens.
According to Scooter Mouse Finds the Library, the third in the series, a precocious Mississippi mouse seeks a better opportunity and follows a path from Amite County to McComb City, where he escapes a Tabby cat, discovers the library, and meets Miss Mattie, who names him Scooter Mouse. Nineteen vibrant watercolor paintings by artist Sheryl K. Perry illustrate the text. The end pages feature artist Perry’s detailed map of Scooter Mouse’s route, including paw prints.
Prompted by a Christmas ornament with a story of its own, Scooter Mouse Finds Christmas emerged. The ornament, a gift from Mitchell to her husband on their anniversary, featured a mouse in a stocking. (The exchange of ornaments on their anniversary dates to a Christmas ornament shower given before their marriage in 1975 by Mitchell’s “longest” friend, one she has known since they both were toddlers.) As Mitchell’s husband hung the ornament in 2017, he quipped, “Scooter Mouse does Christmas.” Mitchell tucked the idea into her imagination and allowed the story to emerge. Perry provided vibrant illustrations. After numerous delays through Covid, the book arrived in time for the Pike-Amite-Walthall Library Christmas Soiree on December 21, 2021, incidentally the Mitchells 46th wedding anniversary. Through a grant by the Mississippi Early Childhood Education, each family attending the soiree received a copy of the book.
Always interested in civic affairs, radio talk-show host Fern Crossley contacted Mitchell in 2018 to see a novel pothole with a decorated dead tree branch in its center. Fern insisted Scooter Mouse needed to have a role in the pothole problem, now recognized with National Pothole Day on January 15. Mitchell drafted, revised, edited, and rewrote the text of Scooter Mouse and the Pothole for two years. With grace and finesse, Perry employed collage and watercolor techniques to add depth and dimension to the illustrations. Then Scooter Mouse added some intrigue and some ink..