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Retired Brecksville-Broadview Heights teacher and former pupil write, illustrate children’s books

BRECKSVILLE, Ohio — A retired Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School teacher has published his first children’s book, with help from one of his former pupils.

David Lubinger, who taught sociology, law and honors American history, recently published “Jill Gets a Brother,” a story about a young girl who adopts a dog. It’s based on his experience with his own family, specifically his daughter Jill and their dog Jake.

Adam Slivka, a 1999 Brecksville-Broadview Heights graduate who took Lubinger’s history and sociology classes, illustrated the book. Lubinger and Slivka had remained in contact over the years through Facebook.

Lubinger’s self-published book has been on sale since May 1 at several local stores, including Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights and Fireside Book Shop in Chagrin Falls. The book can also be ordered online at Mac’s Backs-Books on Coventry in Cleveland Heights, at any Barnes Noble store and on Amazon Prime.

So far, 120 copies of “Jill Gets a Brother” have been sold, with proceeds going to animal shelters and sanctuaries.

The book is the first in a series under the main title, “The Adventures of Jill, Jake and Stimlin.” Stimlin is another family dog. Four more books are on the way.

Lubinger said his aim was to portray to children how Jill and Jake loved each other.

“I wrote these stories to honor the memory of Jake and Stimlin, as well as to share my family — my ‘why’ — with other people, to show how important dogs are as family members,” Lubinger said.

Searching for his niche

Lubinger retired from teaching in 2014 because he wanted to write books. Finding his niche took time, though.

First, Lubinger envisioned a book about how people overcome tough times, but the people he planned to interview never followed through with him. Then he started writing a memoir about his relationship with his father, Herbert Lubinger, who died at 61 in 1993, when the younger Lubinger was 37. Lubinger and a friend even drafted a concept for a possible TV show.

Then, in 2017, Lubinger signed up for a series of writing and publishing workshops — led by Amanda Flower, an award-winning author of mystery novels for adults and children — at the Hudson Library Historical Society. One of the workshops examined the art of writing children’s books.

“Writing for children wasn’t on my radar,” Lubinger said. “I’m more of a nonfiction, history, sociology kind of person. But then I thought about my daughter and my dogs. I could write books about them.”

When his daughter Jill was a girl, Lubinger kept several pets. Once, they had a total of 14 animals in the house at the same time. It’s no wonder Jill Lubinger, today 25, is studying to be a veterinarian.

“We had unconditional love for the animals, and I thought I could share my love for my family and the dogs,” Lubinger said. “That’s my life. That’s why I do everything.”

Lubinger read and jotted down notes on dozens of children’s books and read a couple of books on how to write them. He learned that text for children should rhyme and/or incorporate rhythm and repetition.

Flower, at her workshops, taught that children love reading about other children and animals. Lubinger also consulted with industry insiders about publishing.

In January 2018, Lubinger began writing his series of five children’s books. About four months later, he showed all of his work — including the memoir about his father, the TV treatment and a book he had started about people with tattoos — to Flower.

She told him everything showed promise, but advised him to find a publisher and illustrator immediately for “The Adventures of Jill, Jake and Stimlin” series. It was that good.

Lubinger found an illustrator in July 2018, but the partnership didn’t work out, leading to an 18-month delay in his project. In February 2020, he started a search for another illustrator.

“The first person I thought of was Adam, because I had seen some of his art on Facebook and I always thought of him as a great person and artist.”

Initially, Lubinger only sought Slivka’s advice on finding an illustrator. But Slivka believed he could handle the task himself and asked Lubinger to give him a chance.

A versatile artist

When Slivka was a pupil in Lubinger’s high school history class, he drew pictures for assignments that were of such high quality that Lubinger saved a few of them.

After high school, Slivka attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where he studied computer and hand-drawn animation. He graduated in 2001 and ended up in New York City to work on a pilot for a children’s cartoon show.

“I don’t think it ever made it to air, but it was an experience,” Slivka said.

Slivka moved back home and worked as a freelance illustrator, taking any assignment he could get, designing tattoos, T-shirts and concert posters. He also displayed his acrylic paintings at local arts shows and featured his work on Facebook. Meanwhile, he worked for his family’s asphalt paving business.

Upon reading Lubinger’s stories, Slivka knew that illustrating the books was within his ability.

“It seemed in my wheelhouse,” Slivka said. “Generally, everything I had drawn was more comical style. It’s fantasy, horror. It’s not children’s book kind of stuff, although it wasn’t a far leap for me to do that.”

Lubinger conveyed his vision to Slivka, saying he could do whatever he wanted to the picture backgrounds, but insisting he make the characters cute and lovable. Lubinger also provided plenty of old photos of Jill, Jake and Stimlin. He was amazed when Slivka showed him his initial illustrations.

“His art has brought the characters to life,” Lubinger said.

Slivka bore down on the project in late February 2020, but it wasn’t easy. His and his partner Megan Bing’s daughter, Evelyn, now 1 ½, was born about this time. Then Slivka underwent major surgery to repair a collapsed lung. He didn’t finish the illustrations until March 2021.

“But he got it done, and did it the way I envisioned it,” Lubinger said.

Time to publish

Deanna Adams — another award-winning author whom Lubinger met when she appeared at the South Euclid branch library — advised him to sign with a traditional publisher. The problem with that approach, Lubinger thought, was that a publishing firm would find its own illustrator, and he would lose control over how the book looked. He decided to self-publish.

Lubinger and Slivka used IngramSpark, an online service that allows authors to self-publish. Slivka compiled the book digitally, placed an order for the first 50 or so copies and received printed versions two to three weeks later.

Slivka has agreed to illustrate at least the next three books in “The Adventures of Jill, Jake and Stimlin” series. They both consider the book series a passion project.

“That’s the term that we use, because we are passionate about family and animals,” Lubinger said.

Read more from the Sun Star Courier.

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