SHREWSBURY – Shrewsbury resident Fern Davis Nissim’s father was trying to explain to his grandchildren the story of his family’s emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States.
But the children were having trouble understanding the story, leading Nissim’s father to create an allegory about a little red ant trying to escape servitude and gain freedom.
That was in 1977. More than forty years later, Nissim has taken the same ant story further with a series of illustrated children’s books.
“He created the original story, ‘Antiline the Ant,’ and then he gave it to me and he said ‘Why don’t you do something with it?’” Nissim said of her father. “I read it to the kids; they loved it, but I never did anything more with it because I was very busy with my own career and raising children.”
Nissim began writing what is now her “Little Red Ant Books” series around 2019, though, updating the story, putting it in rhyme and finding another artist – Marlborough-based Sue Fleishman – to help develop illustrations.
Their first book was entitled “Antiline’s Brave Adventure.” They have since published a sequel, “Antiline’s True Discovery,” and finalized a third book, which is now set to be published in the coming weeks.
“Out of the three books altogether, I hope that children will get the general gist of the story, which is freedom, friendship and community,” Nissim said. “Those are the three keywords that I’m trying to focus on.”
Upcoming book highlights ‘community circles’
“Antiline’s Brave Adventure” sees Antiline, a Serv-ant living under the reign of the Tyr-ant, traveling in search of a happier life until she ultimately finds an accepting home.
“Antiline’s True Discovery” is about Antiline’s journey to learn about her family ant-cestry and her ant-cestors like Queen Victori-ant. She ultimately discovers the importance of sharing and learning about others’ histories.
Nissim described the upcoming “Antiline’s Community Circle” as somewhat of a how-to book for creating a “community circle” of friends.
Beyond her writing, Nissim is also developing an advisory group to gather interest from parents, teachers and community groups. She hoped to work with this advisory group to create venues for the promotion of community circles, which she describes as “gathering a group of people together for one main purpose, which would be just to get to know each other.”
Fleishman said that the end of the third book has line drawings, designed to engage young readers. She said the decision to include this was influenced by a talk she and Nissim did at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough a few summers ago, when a child did her own drawing of the Antiline character.
Fleishman said that the child and her mother, who are second-generation immigrants, had been talking about their own traditions and family stories.
“It’s a book for young children, and young children love to draw,” Fleishman said.
Collaborative process creates books
Nissim explained that both she and Fleishman have backgrounds in art, although neither had done illustration before.
In their collaborative process, it’s Fleishman who draws the characters in the Little Red Ant Books. Nissim paints backgrounds.
Fleishman has specifically researched gestural drawings and children’s movements to inform her character designs.
“Despite the fact that the way we draw and paint are different, it works together,” Fleishman said.
Books available for sale
Where many modern books are developed through the use of digital art tools, Nissim emphasized that all of these Little Red Ant illustrations are done by hand.
Nissim said the books have received a good response, with Nissim doing readings at libraries before the pandemic, among other things.
The books are self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, meaning they’re also available for purchase through Amazon.
The books are additionally available in person at Tatnuck Bookseller and TidePool Bookshop in Worcester.