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Read out Loud: An Evening with Benjamin Cheever and Tim Grajek

Where words and art create imagination.

In our present culture, families are bombarded with summer blockbusters and high-tech video games to fill their entertainment hours. These options also spend a great deal of our entertainment dollars. And while we do gain new experiences by participating in them, these sources of activities cannot compare to the interactive spontaneity of a live performance.

On a balmy summer evening, the Warner Library in Tarrytown welcomed an overflowing crowd that came to hear the reading of a new children's book, "The First Dog," written by Benjamin Cheever and illustrated by Tim Grajek, both local artists.

This evening of "old school" family fun opened with Ben Cheever's self-deprecating humor about looking for a job after graduating college. When the job search became a difficult road, Cheever fantasizes:

"I begin to dream about someone else to represent me, preferably an able someone who's gone to an Ivy League College, someone tall, who could read music, someone with a rich deep voice. Tonight it is happening."

"The First Dog," is the story of the first dog known to human kind, as in Adam and Eve's dog. Here is where you put aside preconceived notions and put on your imagination cap.

This story is a fun re-telling of innocence, paradise and memory. It's about dog's inability to be self-conscious. It is told with whimsy, joy and without apology. And for those of us who listened, it has wonderful wink and nod lines.

Eve talking to God: "Is that enough?" asked Eve. "Do you have any idea how many marriages end in divorce?"

"Let me finish," said God, and He held His hand up impatiently. "You can also keep the first dog… It'll be bad," said God. "Very bad."

The illustrations are lush, richly colored with bold able-bodied figures. They hearken of Picasso's paintings and Rodin's sculptures.  And in them there is an eye for story telling.

At the Warner the illustrations were projected on a screen. Tim Grajek, the illustrator, and a bit of a renaissance man, played a jazzy banjo, did a few sound effects and generally rocked out while Alan Sklar, a voiceover artist, read the book with a animated fervor.  The crowd loved it.

And like the pairing of a great wine, cheese and artisan bread, Ben, Tim and Alan delighted the imagination buds of those gathered at the Warner Library—the young, the middle aged and the old alike. 

Benjamin Cheever has worked as a reporter and editor. He has written numerous novels among them: "Famous After Death," and "The Plagiarist, the Partisan." This is his first children's book.

Tim Grajek is an Illustrator, and cartoonist for the Washington Post. Tim has also contributed to Time, Newsweek and the New York Times. To see more of Tim's illustrations go to his website timgrajek.com.

Alan Sklar is an Actor, Narrator and voiceover artist who has recorded many novels. His website is www.alansklar.com/.

Margaret Fox's photographs were used  for the article.  See Margaret's photography at www.magaretfoxphotography.com.

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