Name: Tom Lichtenheld
Tie to Kane County: Resides in Geneva
What makes him intriguing: This best-selling author has published more than a dozen books, authors a blog and has been recognized numerous times as a gifted writer. Not to mention, he also saves his crayon shavings — because they’re so expensive — for a future use some day
Words To Live By: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde
One of Tom Lichtenheld’s earliest memories as a child is drawing a ship on the blackboard hanging in his family’s kitchen in Rockford.
While he may have needed some phone books in order to see over the countertop back then, Lichentenheld had the determination to be someone bigger one day.
Nearly 40 years later, Lichtenheld still carries an imagination that has kept any of life’s monotonous happenings from wearing him down.
Still, it wasn’t until his nephew wrote him a letter asking for some pirate doodles that the current author/illustrator decided to see if the public would also appreciate his work. Before long, one doodle-filled pirate page turned into 20 that eventually led to the creation of Lichtenheld’s first children’s book, “Everything I Know About Pirates,” published in 2000.
Lichtenheld continues to capture the attention of both younger and older generations with his playful words and characters bursting with personality on every page of the short stories he puts together for children. Currently, he has 16 books published, and three new ones are set to come out in the spring.
Working out of his home in Geneva, Lichtenheld enjoys what he calls the walk-able, historic river town with his wife, Jan, whom he occasionally calls upon for advice during his writing process.
“Endings are particularly difficult,” Lichtenheld says, adding that his wife has a knack for coming up with how a story should end.
Keeping equilibrium between his personal life and a busy schedule is a process Lichtenheld admits he has yet to master. On average — although he has recently been on a touring hiatus — he visits 25 schools across the country each year, explaining the importance of practicing a skill, patience and accepting criticism, plus the value of artistic talent.
“It’s a valuable skill that can lead to a lifelong career,” he says.
And indeed he has. Lichtenheld has spent 35 years marrying his humor with his creative doodles that have kept children laughing until the very last page.
“The word ‘underpants’ is always funnier than the word ‘underwear,’” he notes. “Go figure.”
While Lichtenheld has received many prestigious awards and been on the New York Times’ best-seller list, he remains humble and loyal to his smallest fans that fuel his inspiration.
“As a listener, I try to understand them,” he says. “As a creator, I try to help see that books and reading are fun. When I create a book, I’m always thinking of my reader as one child, and I challenge myself to engage and entertain my audience one child at a time.”
Len Bielefeldt, artist and proprietor of the art supply store Art Box in Geneva, is equally impressed by the local talent provided by Lichtenheld.
“He has a kindness and a gentle soul that makes him perfect for what he does,” Bielefeldt says. “Add his enormous talent and work ethic, and you get a New York Times best seller.”