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RHS teacher, student team up on a ‘Christmas gift to Rosemount’

The book started with a story, which is the usual way this sort of thing happens. But this one is a little bit different.

Just about a year ago, Rosemount High School teacher Chuck Brooks was working on the weekly column he writes for this paper. It was a modified, Rosemount-centric version of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas that he called ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in Rosemount.

As he wrote, he could picture very clearly the images he was describing, of Rosemount residents gathering at RHS, of the band playing and the choir singing. Of picturesque snow falling over the city.

He started thinking he’d like to turn the poem into a book, illustrated with the pictures in his head.

“I just thought it would be kind of a fun Christmas gift to the city,” Brooks said.

So, Brooks started asking around the school. He was looking for a student who was a good artist, preferably an underclassman. Someone he could work with to bring those images to life. The name he got in return was Andre Nelson.

So, Brooks called Nelson into his classroom. He asked him to read the poem. Nelson liked it, but he was a little confused about why he was reading it. When he finished, Brooks asked Nelson if he’d like to illustrate it.

“I didn’t have to think very long,” Nelson said. “I thought it would be cool to illustrate a poem about Rosemount.”

Nelson was introduced to art by his grandmother. He works only in watercolor and paints mostly landscapes. Brooks’ story, with its buildings and its crowds of people, was an interesting challenge.

“I knew right away it would consist of people and places and things, not owls and raccoons and oak trees,” Nelson said.

Nelson worked with his grandmother to plan the book, and he met with Brooks several times over the course of the past year, showing him the ideas he’d generated and taking feedback. All along, Brooks said, they had “eerily connected” visions of what the story should look like.

By March they had a storyboard. Then, Nelson could start painting. He did the work over four sometimes dreary months, painting snowy scenes in the middle of summer. He’d send text messages to Brooks from time to time of pages as he finished them.

While most Minnesotans probably groaned when snow continued to fall well into the spring, Nelson was excited. It allowed him to get onto the roof at RHS and take reference photos of what the grounds looked like covered in snow.

There are little Rosemount touches all over the book, from signs of local businesses, to images of the Irish marching band, a rose on their drum to signify their upcoming trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade. On one page, there are name tags that bear the names of people who have been part of the RHS community over the years.

Brooks said people he has shown the book have loved it. Some have gotten tears in their eyes.

“The people who are true Rosemount people and have that in their blood. The people who are at the football game this next Friday night … I think those are the people especially who will love having an identity in a book,” he said.

Brooks got a proof copy of the book last week. The final versions will be available soon. He and Nelson will both sell the book, and Brooks plans to sell them at Rosemount Floral. He has talked with the Rosemount Area Arts Council about promoting it.

There are 500 copies in the first printing. However many he sells, Brooks is happy to see the images that were in his head put onto paper.

“I’m super pleased,” he said. “I’m proud of it, and I’m ready to share it.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606