How Happy Is a Lark?: A Journey of Language, Creativity and Collaboration

Written and illustrated by two Michigan creatives, “How Happy Is a Lark?” has been capturing the imaginations of readers young and old.

This whimsical exploration of common sayings and their imaginative flip-sides is the brainchild of author Gail Kuhnlein and illustrator Jenny Kalejs. Their collaboration has brought to life a narrative that is both educational and humorous, blending the beauty of language with vibrant illustrations.

Curious Cat painted by Jenny Kalejs. Photo provided by Gail Kuhnlein.

The idea for the book was sparked by a simple moment of introspection.

Kuhnlein recalls, “Several years ago… I thought to myself, ‘I’m as happy as a lark!’ Followed by the thought, ‘how happy IS a lark?'”

This fleeting thought, combined with the clarity from a recent meditation session, led to the inception of her first published picture book. Kuhnlein’s personal journey, including celebrating her 35th anniversary with her husband Tim and overcoming a health crisis, adds depth to the narrative.

She fondly mentions, “So we are often two larks flitting to and fro.”

A serendipitous collaboration

Gail Kuhnlein working at her computer. Photo provided by Gail Kuhnlein. Photo taken by Tim Kuhnlein.

The collaboration between Kuhnlein and Kalejs was nothing short of serendipitous. While searching for an illustrator, Kuhnlein discovered that Kalejs, a colleague from the University of Michigan’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, had experience with children’s book illustrations. Kuhnlein shares, “After extensive Internet searches for an illustrator, I found the perfect person just a few feet away.” Their collaboration was seamless, with Kuhnlein providing the manuscript and ideas, and Kalejs bringing them to life with her hand-drawn and hand-painted watercolor illustrations.

Kalejs reflects on their partnership, stating, “Gail had a real vision… She provided notes on her ideas, I would sketch something up and get her stamp of approval, and she trusted me to take care of the rest.”

Jenny Kalejs painting the cover. Photo provided by Jenny Kalejs.

“The story itself is light and whimsical, so watercolor is a perfect fit,” Kalejs adds.

Engaging the Community

The local communities of Ann Arbor and surrounding areas have embraced “How Happy Is a Lark?”.

Kuhnlein expresses her gratitude for the support, mentioning that the book is available in local libraries like the Ann Arbor District Library and the Ypsilanti District Library. She also highlights the importance of accessibility, stating, “It’s really not about the money, what makes me happiest about my book being out in the world is thinking about children enjoying it.”

Both Kuhnlein and Kalejs are open to future collaborations. Kuhnlein reveals a potential sequel, while Kalejs expresses her enthusiasm for working together again. Kuhnlein’s personal connection to the book is evident when she shares a touching memory of reading it to her late father, who was also an author. She believes the book is part of his legacy and reflects, “He was my inspiration to write and publish a children’s book.”

A message for readers

Gail Kuhnlein holding “How Happy Is a Lark.” Photo provided by Gail Kuhnlein. Photo taken by Tim Kuhnlein.

For those yet to explore the pages of “How Happy Is a Lark?”, Kuhnlein hopes they will rediscover the joy of language and be inspired by its playful narrative. She wishes for the book to “rekindle a sense of playfulness with our language and may remind adults of some common old sayings they may have forgotten.”

Kalejs echoes this sentiment, hoping the book “inspires a bit of playfulness, and encourages kids to tell other stories about our invented world.”

In addition to the local libraries, you can purchase a copy at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Brewed Awakenings Cafe in Saline, and This, That and the Odder Things in Ypsilanti.

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