Children’s author Kate Salley Palmer

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“These books are almost handmade.  They’re like my babies,” said Kate Salley Palmer.

Kate Salley Palmer is a children’s book author, illustrator and publisher from Orangeburg, S.C. She is also a political cartoonist whose work is distributed by Artizans, a syndicate in Canada.

Palmer was a political cartoonist before she was a children’s book writer and illustrator.  Her first children’s books, “The Pink House” and “A Gracious Plenty” were published by Simon & Schuster Inc.  Simon & Schuster Inc. is one of the five largest publishers founded in New York City.

Since those first publications, she has written, illustrated and published 10 books through her own publishing company, Warbranch Press Inc.  Warbranch Press Inc. was founded in Central, S.C. in 1998.

A POLITICAL CARTOONIST

“As a political cartoonist, you draw pictures and tell a story,” said Palmer.

“It really wasn’t that big of a part of me,” said Palmer.

Yet her biggest fan is impressed with what amounted to such a small part of her life.  “Kate is both a talented artist and a wicked observer of modern society and politics,” said Herbert J. Hartsook, director of the South Carolina Political Collections in the University of South Carolina’s Political Collections Library in Columbia, S.C.

“That combination makes her one of the very best editorial cartoonists who has worked during my lifetime,” added Hartsook.

Others agree with Hartsook’s claim.  When Hartsook took a tour of former U.S. Rep. Bryan Dorn’s house in 1998, he noticed one of Palmer’s political cartoons of Dorn hanging above Dorn’s bed.

“It was the best Dorn cartoon I had ever seen,” said Hartsook.

Dorn’s grandson, who gave the tour, explained to Hartsook: “Grampa will never give that up.  It’s one of his favorite things.”

Eventually, Hartsook compiled for the library all of Palmer’s political cartoons.

Palmer’s expression through drawing also inspired her son, James Palmer, to become a graphic artist, according to James Palmer who lives in Atlanta, Ga.  He works for The Graphic Cow and does freelance work.  The Graphic Cow is a T-shirt printing company in Liberty, S.C. in 1994.

LEARNING TO WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE FOR CHILDREN

Three decades ago, while her political cartoon career was flourishing, Palmer was browsing through a bookstore and was intrigued by the illustrations and the language in children’s books.

“I fell in love with the new type of children’s books illustrations in the late ‘80s,” said Palmer.

“All children’s books are poetry, whether or not they rhyme,” said Palmer.

She was so in love, she changed careers.

“I checked out every book in the library about children’s book writing,” said Palmer.

Palmer’s interest made her a self-taught children’s book author.

A PUBLISHED WRITER AND ILLUSTRATOR

She has illustrated five books published by Simon and Schuster, Albert Whitman Company and Boyds Mills Press, including “How Many Feet in the Bed,” “Octopus Hug,” “Bear Hug,” “Upstairs” and “Night of the Five Aunties.”  Albert Whitman Company is an independent publisher founded in 1919 and located in Park Ridge, Ill. Boyds Mills Press is a children’s book publisher founded in 1990 and located in Honesdale, Pa.

Palmer admits she hasn’t always been satisfied with her publishers.

“I would go to conferences, and the publisher wouldn’t have enough copies of my books to sell,” said Palmer.

INVESTING IN SELF PUBLISHING
After “The Pink House” and “A Gracious Plenty” went out of print, Palmer got back the rights for the books.

Then she and her husband formed their own publishing company, Warbranch Press Inc. Palmer’s husband, Jim Palmer, is a professor who retired from Clemson University.

“We published ‘A Gracious Plenty’ and ‘The Pink House’ right off the bat,” said Palmer, who is getting ready to reprint ‘The Pink House’ for the fifth time.

“Despite her success as a multi-talented writer and artist, Kate is always humble.  I also admire the fact that she doesn’t sit back and wait, but goes after what she wants,” said Melinda Long, a children’s book writer from Greenville, S.C., who has authored “How I Became a Pirate.”

A SELF PUBLISHED WRITER AND ILLUSTRATOR

After Palmer began publishing her own books, she began writing, illustrating and publishing historical picture books for children, including “Almost Invisible: Black Patriots of the American Revolution,” “Palmetto: Symbol of Courage,” “Francis Marion and the Legend of the Swamp Fox” and “The First South Carolinians.”

Her books about the American Revolution are information and illustration rich, reading like a textbook with captivating pictures on each page.

The books go beyond fact-chunking textbooks, however, and show the historical significance of the topic.  For example, “Almost Invisible: Black Patriots of the American Revolution” tells the story of 28 soldiers, but it concludes on a consequential note.

“These are only a few of the brave African American patriots of the Revolutionary War.  There are others of whom we know little, or nothing.  But they fought for the same ideals of freedom and liberty for which all patriots fought.

Although slavery was not ended until many years after the Revolutionary War, the seeds of freedom did begin to take root.  Some things began to change in the North.  African Americans called for their freedom—and many of them won it because of their service in the War,” wrote Palmer.

Writing historical picture books adds another step to Palmers process of illustrating, writing and publishing: Research.

“You always find more than you can put in a children’s book.  The hard part is deciding what to put in.”

Although “Francis Marion and the Legend of the Swam Fox” is 60 pages long, exceptionally long for a children’s book, the Marion County Chamber of Commerce purchases a copy for every third grader.

Palmer’s success hasn’t come easy.

“Every publishing company has a design department, editing department, marketing department and finance department.  We do all of that here,” said Palmer.

“We design our books so that each page leads to something exciting on the next page.  We give children a reason to keep turning the pages,” said Palmer.

AN ARTIST ALWAYS

Palmer repeatedly referred to herself as an artist.  As she described her artistic process, she echoed the processes, struggles and doubts common to artists.

“Pictures come to me first.  That kind of does the writing,” said Palmer.

The pure idea can never be captured on paper, according to Palmer.

“Nothing ever turns out in art the way you had in mind.  I want to do realistic work, but it always turns out like a cartoon.  I can’t help it.  I’m a cartoonist,” said Palmer.

“I hate every single book I do for six months.  All I see is mistakes and the things I did wrong,” said Palmer.

After the six month period of loathing, Palmer is able to appreciate her work again.

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