A cute bird who can’t see well visits a local optometrist and gets the pleasant surprise of his young life in “Hector: The Adventures of a Little Bird Who Needs Glasses,” a delightful children’s book recently published by the author-illustrator team of Angela Nickerson and Robert Magnus.
With a body size and feather color based on a yellow warbler, Hector hatches one morning in a nest overlooking an unidentified Maine lake; unofficially the setting is on Brewer Lake, where Nickerson and Magnus live on the Holden shore. “‘Hector was born on a golden morn,’” Nickerson penned the opening line, and the Maine nature surrounding the little songbird reflects the intimate beauty and detail drawn by Magnus, who actually created Hector “about 35-40 years ago.
“I wrote ‘Hector Flies South’” and sent it to several New York City publishers, said Magnus, who grew up on Long Island. That initial endeavor had a bespectacled Hector migrating to warm climes in the fall; en route he lost his eyeglasses.
“It ended up in the slush pile,” Magnus said, referring to the publishers’ collective response to that first story.
An artist by desire, passion, and trade, Magnus earned bachelor and graduate degrees that ultimately led him to teach art education “from the elementary grades to college” before he retired. “Most of my teaching was on the high-school level,” he said.
His family “came up every summer” to a camp on Brewer Lake in Holden, below forested Copeland Hill. From the shore, Magnus could see Kings Mountain in Orrington. The camp held special meaning to him; when he retired from teaching, he moved north to enjoy nature on Brewer Lake and the slower, quieter pace of life found in rural Maine.
Nickerson grew up in Bangor, where “my dad was a barber here in town for 60 years.” Her childhood home long ago disappeared as commercial development overtook a large residential area stretching along Main Street; today Shaw’s Supermarket stands where the house was located.
A John Bapst Memorial High School graduate, Nickerson liked to write, primarily for the enjoyment of herself or others. She recently retired after working 13 years for the University of Maine System in Bangor.
About two years ago, Magnus “decided he was going to do a new ‘Hector’ book,” Nickerson said.
“It was a regular story about Hector flying south for the winter,” Magnus explained. “Basically I went back to my first story.
“I admit, my writing was, well, not good,” he said, glancing at Nickerson. “She can write well. We decided we should team up on it.”
“I sat down one day and wrote the first line,” Nickerson said.
“I loved it,” Magnus commented. “I think her opening lines are just magic.”
“He decided to write the story about when Hector was born and how he got his glasses,” Nickerson said.
“I had the basic idea for the story,” Magnus said.
As inspiration struck him, he sketched different Hector-related scenes, although not sequentially, and Nickerson’s “writing followed his illustrations,” she said.
“I usually start with [pencil] layouts, sketches,” Magnus said. He experimented with different media, including colored pencils, water colors, and inks and dyes; some illustrations, especially those involving a spectacularly hued butterfly, required more than one media.
Once Nickerson had finished the writing and Magnus the illustrating, he laid out the book. Nickerson’s choice of words and rhymes makes the tale a great “read” for children, and readers will appreciate the rich colors and attention-to-the-fine-point details that Magnus incorporated in his illustrations.
This plot of this first “Hector” book flows logically and incorporates at least one Bangor-area reference. Hector, of course, is blissfully unaware that his eyesight isn’t what a bird needs to survive in nature. After some adventures involving friendly chipmunks and his patient warbler mother, Hector goes to see Dr. Jeffrey Soarer at Penobscot Bird Eyecare.
The avian optometrist is based on Dr. Jeffrey Sawyer of Penobscot Eyecare in Brewer.
Magnus’s illustrations turn Hector’s eye-chart test into an interesting comparison with the familiar “E” chart long used by human optometrists.
Receiving prescription eyeglasses changes life for Hector, who lives a warbler’s normal life around the lake until autumn arrives and he takes wing for the South. But he will be back come spring; Nickerson and Magnus already plan on publishing “Hector Flies South” and “Hector and the Frog Band.”
Working with the Rockland-based Maine Authors Publishing & Cooperative. Nickerson and Magnus had that company print the book and include it in the current MAP catalog marketed to regional bookstores. “They won’t publish a book they don’t think will sell well,” Nickerson said.
Maine Authors Publishing “gave us a marketing plan” and built a Web site for Nickerson’s and Magnus’s publishing efforts. The first “Hector” book is available for $15.95 plus shipping and handling at www.nickerson-magnus.com and for $15.95 plus sales tax at:
• The Briar Patch, the Discovery Museum, and Rebecca’s in Bangor;
• The Grasshopper Shops at Bangor International Airport and on Main Street in Searsport;
• The University Bookstore at the University of Maine;
• Union River Toy on Main Street in Ellsworth.