There’s a packrat in every family. Or so illustrator Cheryl Bielli of Gloversville has recently discovered.
As she’s worked on the children’s book “The Boy Who Never Threw Anything Out,” due out on Tuesday, she’s found many people connect with the young protagonist, Tommy, who can’t bear to part with anything, including broken toys and old stuffed animals.
“I think it resonates with people. Everybody’s a hoarder. I don’t think I’m exaggerating,” Bielli said.
The book follows what happens as all his toys pile up around him and he loses some important things, like his brother, and becomes trapped in his many towering piles of possessions. Tommy’s parents eventually help him realize a way out by donating toys and clothes to others and recycling what can’t be reused.
The story, which is written by Margie Peterson, is told through rhyming prose and brought to life by Bielli’s detailed watercolor illustrations.
The cover features a mountainous stack of teddy bears, baseball bats, trains, planes, trucks, and a toy chicken. Inside, there are intricate illustrations of Tommy’s cavernous room, filled to the brim with toys. Some of the toys are characters within themselves too, like a headless superhero and a chicken that lays eggs when a lever is pulled.
“There’s a ton of detail in the book . . . and that took forever,” Bielli said.
It’s Bielli’s first time illustrating a children’s book, though she’s been an artist for decades.
“I’d always done little books for friends and stuff like that. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid,” Bielli said.
As a young teen, she also drew caricatures at a community fair. Early on in her career, she illustrated for newspapers and magazines.
“I’d do illustrations for stories. I did it just because I saw a need. Back in the day, there wasn’t the internet and you couldn’t just find [an image] at the touch of a button,” Bielli said.
She also wrote feature stories for the Leader-Herald as well as The Gazette and other publications. Later in her career, she went back to college to get her teaching degree and worked for Johnstown and Gloversville school districts as an art teacher.
In 2020, she left teaching and began working on “The Boy Who Never Threw Anything Away.” Peterson, a longtime friend, had submitted the story to Crave Press who agreed to publish it. It’s based on her son, Tommy, who had difficulty parting with anything.
During the illustration and planning process, the characters, which include Tommy, his mom and his dad, evolved. However, Peterson had a clear vision from the start of which scenes should be illustrated and how detailed they should be.
Some of them, simply because of the volume of things that Tommy holds on to, were particularly challenging to paint. Another challenge was the fact that there wasn’t a way to set up a model of Tommy’s packed room to use as a visual reference.
“[Usually,] you’re trying to use spatial relationships and proportion . . . and you didn’t have that with this,” Bielli said. “So you have to figure out where’s the light coming from? And how would it look if stuff was piled on top of stuff?”
In one scene, Tommy sends his dirty laundry to his mom via a toy plane. His mom in turn is sending his meals via a toy train. That illustration, which was the first she completed for the story, took around 30 hours.
Throughout the months that she worked on the illustrations, she visited schools and craft fairs and even Sauve Faire in Saratoga Springs to demonstrate her work. It seems to connect with people of all ages.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback. People of all ages seem to relate to the stuff the kid accumulates as well as having a packrat in their midst. In many cases, folks fess up to being the resident packrat,” Bielli said.
The book ends with a hidden-picture page that has been popular as well, with kids and adults alike.
“Adults find one batch of hidden things and the kids find the other so it’s cool to see how perception changes with age,” Bielli said.
“The Boy Who Never Threw Anything Out,” will be released on Tuesday and sold by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indie Books.