Gloucester stars in children's book

·4 min read

Sep. 22—"CODA was Sian's love letter to Gloucester, this is mine," says Thyra Heder of her new illustrated children's picture book, "Sal's Boat," which she'll be reading in a special event this Sunday, Sept. 25, at The Bookstore of Gloucester.

Younger by seven years than her Academy Award-winning sister Sian, Thyra — for 15 years an acclaimed Brooklyn-based illustrator and prolific story board artist — worked closely on the pre-production leg of "CODA," which was shot almost entirely in Gloucester, a city the sisters have loved since childhood.

"When we were children," says Thyra, who grew up in Cambridge, "in the summers we'd visit family friends who had a house in Gloucester, Gloucester to me was just one of the most magical places in the world. It was a place I always loved, but never got to really spend time in until 'CODA'."

A film born out of her sister's own childhood memories of Gloucester, "CODA" was months in production, and as well as story boarding the more difficult shot sequences, Thyra was much involved in location scouting, a job that took her out to the beloved coves and quarries and beaches of her childhood.

"I was there working on Sian's movie, but meanwhile I was getting inspired by Gloucester to make a 'movie' of my own," says Thyra, who studied filmmaking at Brown University. "I think cinematically," she says, "and Gloucester is a very cinematic place."

The "movie" taking shape in Thyra's mind starred a little Gloucester boy named Sal — a composite of Thyra herself and her nephew, Sian's son Milo — who gets it into his head that he is going to singlehandedly build a boat. "Milo and I both love projects and we both are stubborn," says Thyra. In Sal's case, his stubborn streak gets him into quite a fix as he attempts to not just build a boat but a boat house.

"When we'd drive up from Boston and get to that point on Route 128, where you look from the bridge across the water, that floating boat house told me I was in Gloucester," says Thyra by way of explaining why Sal's dream boat was a houseboat.

But when Sal's dream of actually living out on the water — "just the waves and me" — lands him wildly out of his depth, the boat-savvy residents of Gloucester — lovingly portrayed as a place where everyone helps everyone — save the day. "Everyone showed up to work," reads Heder's text, and Sal's dream boat is successfully launched.

"Sal's Boat," released in late summer in an illustrated hardcover edition, is Thyra Heder's fifth illustrated childrens' book, but her first to be set in Gloucester. It is, as she says, very "cinematic," and her love of Gloucester brings its pages to life.

Heder's four other picture books for children are available worldwide through Abarms Books for Young Readers. Her online comics are published on Medium and Spiralbound and her illustrations have appeared in Vogue, The New York Times, and Vice. As a concept illustrator she has produced visuals for Swarovski and Bergdorf Goodman, and for the films "CODA," "Barry," "The Sesame Street Movie," and HBO's "Scenes From A Marriage." She was a Sundance Screenwriting Fellow in 2015 and awarded the San Francisco Film Society Hearst Grant the same year. She teaches storyboarding at Drexel University, is a guest lecturer on picture books at the New School, School of the Visual Arts, and Pratt Institute.

"Everything I do starts with drawing," says Heder. "I use drawing as a camera, as a diary, as a means to tell a story or a joke, a way to connect and offer up my version of the world. I see it as both an athletic and empathetic medium, best when you meet the energy of your subject with your own.

"I feel the same way about picture books," she continues. "A good kids book is read over and over and has the unique and sneaky ability to exist where other art forms might not, in the most intimate domestic moments. I consider it a great honor to be welcomed into a child's emotional life and imagination and it is not a position I take lightly!"