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Former MAC director pens young adult book

Leo Franz releases 'Mimi and the Magic Pea,' featuring daughter's illustrations
by: Claire Oliver Leo Franz

MULTNOMAH - Even in his retirement, the former director of the Multnomah Arts Center is keeping his passion for the arts alive with the release of his book 'Mimi and the Magic Pea.'

Leo Franz worked as a director at the Multnomah Arts Center for 30 years, including eight as its principal director. His daughter Sophie, the book's illustrator, is now an art instructor there as well.

While he spent about three and a half years completing 'Mimi and the Magic Pea,' a portion of its story has been around for more than a decade.

Fourteen years ago, Franz's daughters penned a children's book called 'Mimi and the Magic Pea,' which Tessa, then 10, wrote and Sophie, then 14, illustrated. Franz said the story was simple, but he was so impressed with their work he looked into publishing it, contacting publishing houses and researching self-publishing the book directly through a press.

His efforts weren't met with any immediate success, so 'Mimi and the Magic Pea' sat on the back burner for about 10 years.

After retiring four years ago, Franz set out to create his own version of 'Mimi and the Magic Pea,' incorporating his daughters' original work - including Sophie's original illustrations - and giving it 'flesh,' creating the book on shelves today.

'I had pretty good idea of what I wanted to write, so I hope it doesn't become too sidelined,' Franz said of his daughters' work. 'My whole life, I've been an advocate for children and the arts.'

But 'Mimi and the Magic Pea' is not strictly a children's book.

Franz said the book is meant primarily for young adults but can be enjoyed by all ages. He said he had a lot of readers take a look at the book during his writing process and that he's received positive feedback from both 10- and 93-year-olds.

Franz said he chose the route of self-publishing so he could enlist his daughter Sophie's talents as an illustrator, releasing the book through Xlibris.

'I'm very pleased with what I came up with,' he said.

'A family's odyssey,' his book tells the story of Mimi, her parents and her two younger siblings. When Mimi's parents decide to move their family to the country, a battle ensues as Mimi fights to stay where she is.

The story stems somewhat from Franz's own past, he said, as when he was a child, his parents wanted to move to the country, but his older brother convinced them not to.

As an adult, Franz, a St. Helens resident, said he succeeded in moving his family out of the city.

He also described 'Mimi and the Magic Pea' as a retro-story, as it depicts kids playing outside with little mention of technology.

'It's about kids being kids,' he said.

The book also incorporates a fantasy element, as, throughout its story, there is a witch watching over Mimi with an ulterior motive and a broader plan.

The story takes place in Northeast Portland and the Multnomah Arts Center, although it's called a different name.

Other elements of the story, however, 'are straight out of the 'Twilight Zone,'' Franz said.

Franz, who attended the Kennedy School, said he acknowledged Beverly Clearly in the foreword to 'Mimi and the Magic Pea,' as he thought about how she developed her kid characters while creating his own - there's even a minor character named Ramona.

He said that Mimi and her siblings are believable characters, as they are 'caring yet mean to one another,' like real children.

'Mimi and the Magic Pea' is actually two books put together, Franz said - 'War' and 'Peas and beans.' He said there is a clear implication at the end of the second book that a third will follow, although he hasn't begun working on it yet.

Returning to his Multnomah Village roots, Franz held two signings in September for the book at O'Connor's Restaurant and the Multnomah Arts Center.

Overall, Franz said creating 'Mimi and the Magic Pea' was a rewarding experience; one that he's personally vested in.

'It's a humbling experience to write something,' he said. 'It's not an economic thing at all, I just want people to read it.'

He said he also appreciated the experience for the opportunity it provided to work closely with his daughter.

Franz said he hopes his book will be successful not only for himself but for her as well.

'The major challenge to see where it's going to go from here,' he said.

'Mimi and the Magic Pea' is available at Annie Bloom's Books as well as online. For more information and to purchase a copy, visit http://mimiandthemagicpea.com.