IN A TIME when Civics and U.S. History are taught less and less in schools, author and illustrator Emilie Kefalas is going forcefully in the other direction.
The SCAD alumna, now living in L.A., has written and illustrated her own children’s book, “A Capitol Dream,” in which a little girl takes an imaginative tour of the unique statuary in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. — some of which come alive.
The young protagonist in the book is also named Emilie for a reason.
“I’ve always loved U.S. history,” Kefalas tells us. “Five years ago I was a Congressional intern. It was an experience I’d always wanted to try. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I loved being at the center of all the action. I had stars in my eyes. I loved every minute of it.”
As an intern, Kefalas was trained to lead tours of the U.S. Capitol.
“One of the duties of a Congressional intern is to lead tours of the Capitol Building, for those who book the tour through that member’s office,” she says.
“It combined my love of storytelling and of performance. Being able to be in that space, imbued with the memory of so many important leaders, never, ever gets old.”
Kefalas left D.C. for opportunities elsewhere, but that driving passion remained. It was reawakened by none other than her own mother.
“I really missed being an intern. So one day my mom said, ‘You always said how much you loved giving those tours. Why not a children’s book based on it?’” Kefalas remembers.
“The truth is that there’s no much material in those tours that’s geared to children. One of my favorite things about this project is translating the tour into language that a child can easily access.”
In A Capitol Dream, little Emilie is led through key portions of the Capitol Building by three important figures: George Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Most of the book takes place in the National Statuary Hall, exploring the vast amount of statuary of the Capitol – there are two from each state, plus others.
The U.S. Capitol was completed in 1800, but its distinctive dome was added 50 years later, along with other additions, including expanded chambers for the House of Representatives in the south wing and the Senate in the north wing.
“I wanted to look for figures that were physically represented in the statuary. Washington has one of the more lifelike busts near where he was supposed to be buried. He laid the cornerstone of the Capitol! So he really has to be in there,” Kefalas says.
“Frederick Douglass lived in D.C. and loved it very much. His is the only statue that doesn’t belong to a specific state — his belongs to the District of Columbia,” she says.
“I toyed with whether to include Stanton or another woman, like Susan B. Anthony. She is responsible for a really important milestone in women’s suffrage.”
Little Emilie visits spots in the Capitol such as The Crypt, the building’s oldest room, where Washington was intended to lie after his death (he is instead buried at Mount Vernon). There is a stop at the “Whispering Gallery,” with its amazing acoustics.