Illustrating Happyland: Vidal brings a children’s book characters to life

Vidal illustrates the Happyland series.

An elephant never forgets. Neither does Vidal. With a strong connection to animals, Vidal tends to relate people to the animal that he feels matches their personality. It’s something that’s come in handy as he illustrates the Happyland series of children’s books on the nine Fruits of the Spirit: self-control, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, kindness, patience, peace, joy and love. Vidal, a Vaya Health member with autism, brings the animal characters, the Happy Gang, to life through his watercolor pencils.

Vidal began drawing when he was about three years old. His style has evolved over the last 30 years, but his love for the craft has stayed strong. His inspiration comes from children’s books, and one of his favorite pastimes (before the pandemic) was buying them from Goodwill. He’s even been hired to do caricatures of individuals as their animal personality at events like baby showers. It’s like he’s been practicing for Happyland all along and was willing and ready to work with the author, Alexandra Romualdez Broekman.

“She sends the manuscripts and I illustrate what she wants,” said Vidal. “The Happy Gang are a series of characters that I like to create and draw.”

The Happy Gang started by connecting with old friends. Vidal’s mother, Marlou, is a teacher and used to teach in the Philippines. She was on a group text with some former teacher friends when one asked what her children were now doing. Marlou mentioned Vidal’s art and sent some photos. That friend showed her own daughter, Alexandra, who just so happened to have attended the same preschool as Vidal when they were growing up. It was a perfect match.  

Alexandra’s books teach children how to cope with their emotions. The first in the series, Slow Down, Smiley, centers around Smiley the elephant learning to regulate his reactions when he becomes angry over his drawing not coming out quite the way he wanted. Vidal had an instant connection with Smiley. Although this is Vidal’s first series, he’s no beginner when it comes to illustrating stories. Marlou had seen Vidal’s talent from a young age and always wanted him to be able to create a living out of it.

“I’ve always wanted him to be an illustrator,” said Marlou. “This is a blessing for us because my friend just happened to see his drawings.”

Other friends have written children’s books for grandchildren or schools and asked Vidal to illustrate. He’s drawn everything from Thanksgiving turkeys to kittens. He’s even illustrated a story about the pandemic that Marlou wrote herself for her class as they met virtually.

The first three books in the Happyland series have been published with six more to go. The teachings found in the series reach across the world and so do the people involved. Vidal and his mother live in Asheville, and Alexandra sends the manuscripts from her home in Indonesia. The continued connection Marlou has with her teacher friends led to Vidal and Alexandra working together on the books. Now, they are helping children connect with the characters and emotions that they bring to life in the series.

“It’s about everyone being happy,” said Vidal. “Sometimes they have feelings too, like when they’re sad or mad, but they always have a smile on their face as they work through that.”

Support Vidal by attending a book signing on August 21, 2021 at Bullington Gardens where you can purchase a copy of the book, a tote bag or one of his notecards (pictured above).

The first three in the series are available for purchase on Amazon: Slow Down, Smiley; Keep It Real, Katie; and Softly, Slammy. To help promote Slow Down, Smiley, one of Vidal’s former high school teachers is organizing a book signing for him at the Bullington Gardens in Hendersonville on August 21, 2021 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Stop by to meet the illustrator, purchase a book, notecard or tote bag and help support one of our local members in making their dream a reality.

“Vidal gets encouraged when his work is out there,” said Marlou. “Vidal is actually always happy and always cheerful, just like Smiley and Happyland. He said everybody should live in Happyland. I think that’s Vidal’s message.”

Book Signing
Saturday, August 21, 2021
9:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Bullington Gardens
95 Upper Red Oak Trail
Hendersonville, NC 28792

Book reading and signing by Vidal Tan, illustrator. Books, cards and tote bags will be available for purchase and Vidal will do on-site illustrations by request.

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