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The Book

The littlest leprechaun in the leprechaun town of Shillelagh, Ireland, is Liam. Anyone who notices him at all calls him “Poor Liam” because he’s so small, in this children’s book by Charles A. Wilkinson.  “Poor Liam” feels invisible and insignificant – and he does not like it at all.

This chapter book about building self-esteem will also engage adults. To become more noticeable, Liam tries wearing an outrageous orange hat and growing his beard longer than he is tall. Nothing works until he goes to see the wise O’Houlihan, who explains that to become big, Liam will have to “think big,” and this can happen only through his own actions.

With strengths he does not even know he has, Liam asks for help, finds a job and solves a problem that changes his life forever.

This pleasing story of little Liam, his tribulations and his ultimate success expresses the idea that people can choose to make their lives better, but they must depend upon themselves to make the most of what life has provided.

Cleoward Sy’s irrestible cover and black-and-white illustrations are lively and upbeat. The book is not heavily illustrated, however, so it may be better suited for advanced early readers or to be read aloud.

“Liam” and readers’ reviews of it can be found on Amazon.com.

The Writer

Charles Wilkinson will be better known to readers of the Evanston RoundTable as the thoughtful writer of one of the paper’s two “Room for a View” columns. His thoughtful and expansive pieces (an occasional grumpy one manifests during baseball season) on the human condition have been a part of the RoundTable since its first issue; he recently won a Northern Illinois Newspaper Association award for his “View” piece, “Crisis in Rome.”

Mr. Wilkinson, also a poet, has published “Contemplations in the Sometimes Quiet of a Hospital Room” for adults. He has nearly completed a poetry chapbook titled “Being and Becoming.” His poetry, he says, is about “process, identity, self and growth.” This seems also to be true about “Liam” as well as an earlier children’s book, “The Dumb Thumb.”

“Liam” developed over time, says Mr. Wilkinson. It was originally a “playful tale about growing up” that became a book that “can say [something] to young people.” He says the “difference between earlier and later versions is that I’ve incorporated some issues into the story – [for example,] the woman’s vision about … who wears the [pants] in their village is a symbol of women’s freedom.” O’Houlihan, he says, “didn’t exist in the beginning. Hooley made a difference because he was accepting and encouraging, and his advice is simple enough for Liam.”

Mr. Wilkinson’s own history has been about helping others. He was one of five children – his twin, Noel, among them – born to a “thoroughly Irish” mother from County Mayo and English father from Preston, just outside Liverpool.

At 13, Mr. Wilkinson became interested in the idea of missionary work abroad in response to the talk of a visiting priest at his parochial school. Young Charles  enrolled in a “minor seminary,” a boarding school for boys interested in the priesthood, in Pennsylvania, and was ordained 13 years later, with dreams of working in Brazil.

He had dreams, he said, but the Church wanted him to teach and continue his own studies. “So instead of Brazil, I went to the jungles of Connecticut instead.” He taught in Suffield, near Hartford, and traveled back and forth between there and Evanston, where he took an M.A. and then began a Ph.D. in communications studies at Northwestern. Evanston was also where he met his wife-to-be, Kathleen Galvin.

Mr. Wilkinson decided to leave the priesthood around the time of Vatican II. He says, “By the time I came back to the seminary … a lot had shifted in me.” He says he “grew up” in Chicago.

After his last year teaching in Connecticut, he did leave the priesthood, returned to Evanston, and married Ms. Galvin, a professor of interpersonal and family communications at Northwestern. Mr. Wilkinson taught at area colleges and ended up at NU, too – as associate dean of Continuing Education. After two years, though, he gave it up: “My psyche was withering, because it was all ‘administrivia,’ and I’m a people-person,” he says.

At that point he decided to become a therapist, a marriage, family and communications counselor, which he has done for about 30 years. Now semi-retired, he “has time for writing,” he says, and “wants to make the most of it.”

Charles Wilkinson lives in Wilmette now, but he and Ms. Galvin lived in Evanston for more than 30 years, bringing up their three children, Matthew, Katie
and Kara, who attended Lincolnwood, Haven and ETHS. He still works at the RoundTable, and of that he says, “My voice and my heart are still in Evanston.”