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Literary Scene: Allentown author’s children’s book illustrates Ukrainian art of pysanky

Terese Wallack Waldron wrote her book 22 years ago and put it aside.

She rediscovered the manuscript while she was confined to her house during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic.

“Sophie and Her Sisters Decorate Eggs for Easter,” written by Terese Wallack Waldron, is illustrated by Lisa Mendillo Kulhanek (2022; 32 pages; oversize paperback, $19.99).

The book covers a joyful part of Ukrainian culture, in contrast to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that was unfolding as Waldron prepared the book for publication.

The rhyming text of the book, aimed at children ages three to eight, takes you through the steps of painting Ukrainian Easter eggs, called pysanky.

Pysanky was made for centuries in Ukraine and other Slavic countries, even before the adoption of Christianity.

This year, Orthodox Easter is May 5, based on the Julian calendar. Western Christianity Easter, which was March 31, is based on the Gregorian calendar.

“The painting [of the eggs] is a very old tradition. It has been said that if people stop making pysanky, the world will come to an end,” says Waldron.

“My grandparents came here [to the United States] in 1923. They were escaping ongoing oppression from similar things that are going on now.”

Waldron’s grandmother taught her the custom of pysanky. Waldron’s book is about preserving that heritage.

“You don’t give up on traditions. The egg designs are centered around the beauty of life, and the beauty of a new year. It promises a very relaxing day,” Waldron says during an interview in an Allentown coffee shop.

“There is a need to find things you can do as a family. It ends with the idea that you will spend your time doing the same thing next year.

“You might do two or three eggs in a given day. You make your own work of art. No egg is the same. It shows that we don’t all have to be the same, either.”

The book is beautifully and colorfully designed by Waldron’s cousin Lisa Mendillo Kulhanek, who is a graphic designer.

They have not made “Sophie” available in an ebook format because they felt it could not adequately reproduce the vibrant colors.

The book’s cover uses the colors of the Ukrainian flag of blue and yellow, with a background of blue, which was the favorite color of Waldron’s father Peter.

The egg-shaped characters, who are individually described at the beginning of the book, are based on real people.

Sophie is a late friend of Waldron’s. Tekla is Waldron’s grandmother. Helena, Milly and Lovey are Tekla’s daughters. Little Sophia and Magdalena are Waldron’s daughters. The other child is Anya Viktoriya, whose name combines the names of the daughters of the book’s illustrator.

Waldron is planning a second book about the terrace garden her grandparents made. “They worked to cut right into a hill. It sustained them and was a big part of their food supply. The story will be about growing, clearing, planning and collecting seeds.”

“’Sophie’ was about being together as a family. This one will be about diligence and shaping personal character,” says Waldron.

There might be a third book about Ukrainian Christmas, a day when Waldron was born.

Waldron is donating a portion of the book’s sales to SAFER Ukraine (Supporting Action for Emergency Response), an initiative of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and other organizations to help Ukrainian children with cancer and blood disorders.

Waldron calls the war in Ukraine heartbreaking: “They have had an independent, progressive, happy life for thirty years. They never thought that Putin would invade.”

Waldron has lived in the Lehigh Valley for 40 years, now in the west end of Allentown with her husband Peter.

Waldron has been a Senior Adjunct Professor of Marketing at St. Joseph University, Philadelphia, since 2008.

To any authors who might be wondering, it is challenging even for a marketing expert to get the word out about a new book.

“Sophie and Her Sisters Decorate Eggs for Easter” is available at The Paper Bag, 3900 Hamilton Boulevard; Albright’s Hardware & Garden Center, 2119 Walbert Avenue, South Whitehall Township, and etsy.com

“Literary Scene” is a column about authors, books and publishing. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

Terese Wallack Waldron