Lisa Wilke Pope gives words to the worlds of local author Arthur Geisert

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Lisa Wilke Pope and Arthur Gesiert are co-authors of the recently published “How the Big Bad Wolf Got His Comeuppance.” It’s the second book in Geisert’s Clayton County Trilogy.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


“He came to the library one day and I didn’t know who he was…I thought he was just donating books,” Elkader Library Director Lisa Wilke Pope joked about her first interaction with local children’s book author Arthur Geisert. 


The meeting sparked a friendship that blossomed into a working relationship. Some time later, while Geisert was working on the book “Pumpkin Island,” which features locations in Elkader, he sought out Pope for advice and assistance on coming up with the right words to fit the illustrations and to bring to life the vision he’d crafted with the etchings on the page. 


It was Pope’s first foray into the world of being an author. But books have always been a part of her life. 


As far back as Pope can remember, she has liked reading and writing and working in libraries—being surrounded by books and by words. But the public library isn’t just a place of hardcovers and paperbacks and thumbed-through pages of shared experiences. It’s also a place where kids can be free from the pressure and expectations of assigned reading; they can explore their curiosity and their imaginations. It’s a safe space that provides a small town experience where staff make the effort to get to know the customer and provide memorable service. 


The library, most importantly for Pope, is a place of equality, fairness, and a level playing field. Anyone with a library card can access the worlds of Tolkien, Twain and Thoreau. 


And now, they can enjoy the words and world of Pope, which fit nicely underneath the etchings of Geisert in the newly released book “How the Big Bad Wolf Got His Comeuppance.” 


After “Pumpkin Island,” it occurred to Geisert and his editor in New York that Pope was able to provide the words to the story Geisert was attempting to craft. It was a sort of re-imagining of the “Three Little Pigs,” but without the violence of the original and with more of what Geisert labeled “goofy humor.” What made Pope the obvious choice was the fact that “she knows more words than I do,” Geisert joked. 


“My editor saw that I was struggling with the story and she loved what Lisa did with ‘Pumpkin Island.’ It was a quick decision and I am very happy with the decision. I’m good with pictures, but not good at the writing so much,” Geisert added. 


“I was surprised and pleased when they asked,” said Pope. “Arthur is so respected in the field. It was a really big honor and I probably would’ve done it for free.” 


She was happy to continue the working relationship with Geisert and happy to fulfill a lifelong ambition of being an author. 


So, the two got to work providing the right words for Geisert’s retelling of an old tale. But first, they had to overcome their toughest obstacle (other than the COVID-delayed publishing of the book—which was how to spell “comeuppance.” Once that problem was solved, they focused on how to make an age-old story new, or at least pay homage to the original in a way that wasn’t stale or forced. 


One way was the setting, which is, of course, Elkader and other surrounding places in Clayton County. One place in particular is the wolf’s lair. Geisert did not want to rehash the sinister cave dwelling so typical with the wolf, so he scoured the landscapes until he realized the location was staring him right in the face: the monster truck on the steel supports in Volga. Once realized, all Geisert did was add a beat-up camper, spiral staircase and some shoddy shacks and sheds, which were inspired by a scene on Fourth Street in Elkader. 


Along the way, Pope made suggestions, formed a story around the illustrations and revised as conversations with Geisert sparked a phrase or a better word choice.


The vision, in the words of Pope, remained Geisert’s. But Geisert joked it was “me versus Lisa and my editor,” when it came to suggestions and ideas. 


“He’s the talent. I’m a co-author. It was his vision. All I did was put words to each page and create a story out of his illustrations,” Pope said. “I just like the idea that I could help create something people could enjoy.” 


One thing that hasn’t changed in this re-imagining is that the wolf remains a bad guy. Perhaps the moral has changed, though, with the gruesome fate of the wolf being removed for a more kid friendly ending. 


While there was no predetermined moral intertwined with the story, the overall lesson, according to Pope, is “to be nice and be kind. To simply be a good person.” 


But this story doesn’t end here, or even on Oct. 23, when a book signing for “How the Big Bad Wolf Got His Comeuppance” is set to take place at Geisert’s Elkader studio at 116 N. Main St. This story includes another book, which according to Geisert will conclude the Clayton County Trilogy, which started with “Island” and continued with “Comeuppance.” 


This new book, which Geisert hopes will be his last after a series of health related complications, will be another collaboration with Pope about some mischievous trolls who live under the bridges of Clayton County, including the historic Keystone Bridge. 


The book will be titled “Turkey River Trolls,” unless they decide to add “the” to the beginning, which is still up for debate. 


The book, like the previous two, was inspired by the region, which Geisert states has “distinguishing qualities.” 


“People around here are mechanical geniuses. They can fix almost anything. They have strong family ties and friendship ties and they will always help you. I admire all those qualities. It’s a culture that inspires,” Geisert said. 


As for the ideas behind the stories and where they come from, such as the wolf getting his comeuppance or rascally trolls causing chaos on Main Street, Geisert takes a more romantic approach.


“No one knows where ideas come from. That’s a mystery no one can answer,” he said. 


Regardless of where the ideas come from, northeast Iowa has inspired Geisert, who, in turn, has inspired Pope. Together, they have provided inspiration for people who love to read. It’s a trilogy of the “goofy stupid” stuff that Geisert likes. It’s nostalgia retold. 


In the words of Pope, “You’re never too old for picture books!”

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