“Writing a children’s book about Peoria has always been on my bucket list,” explains Liz Klise, who can now check that off her list. Once Upon Peoria is a picture book about her hometown, told in verse with 44 pages of full-color collage illustrations. It takes a light-hearted stroll around town with stops at some of the city’s most notable and beloved attractions, especially those with appeal to children.
Alongside well-known spots like the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Pettengill-Morron House, the book highlights unique sights like Vanna Whitewall, the Frank Lloyd Wright and “Frank Lloyd Wrong” homes, and Peoria’s own special kind of gondola. While its primary focus is the present day, there are plenty of references to “old Peoria”—including cameos from Captain Jinks and Jumer’s cinnamon rolls.
“I chose the title to echo the classic fairy tale opening, ‘Once upon a time,” Klise explains. “Our area actually has quite a few fairy tale aspects: a castle on a hill, a very tall lady named Vanna Whitewall, planets found in unusual places, a towering stuffed bear, a talking Christmas tree, and so on.”
Besides featuring today’s iconic landmarks, the book serves as a time capsule of her own childhood memories. “Things like Spalding, Schradski’s, Szolds, Shakey’s, Sipp School, Salty Sam, Sandy’s, and the Second Chance—and that’s just the S’s,” she notes. “And I couldn’t help but include a lot of places that resonated with me personally.” They include Hunt’s and Lums (she waitressed at both restaurants), the Academy of Our Lady (her alma mater), and the Inglaterra Dance Hall (where her grandparents met).
An award-winning poet, Klise’s work lies at the intersection of writing, education and visual arts. While the research and writing came to her with ease, the artwork took a little longer. Originally it was done in watercolor, but she wasn’t satisfied with the visual tone. “Once I landed on the idea of doing collage, the bright colors made all the difference,” Klise notes. To learn more or to purchase a copy, visit onceuponpeoria.com. PM