While having a conversation about dream jobs, 14-year-old Ayla Larson from Alexandria told her college-aged cousin, Megan Lenz, that one day she wanted to illustrate a book.

That day ended up coming way sooner than the 9th grader could’ve ever imagined.

While online, Lenz had learned about an author – Christy Adams – who was in need of an illustrator. Lenz sent Adams a private message and included some drawings.

“Those sketches were gorgeous and I knew immediately that she was the one I would hire,” said Adams. “Our working together was actually a godsend.”

These drawings, by Ayla Larson of Alexandria, are used in the book, Adventures with Lolly. It was the first time she has illustrated a published book. 
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
These drawings, by Ayla Larson of Alexandria, are used in the book, Adventures with Lolly. It was the first time she has illustrated a published book. Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

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Lenz then provided the necessary information to Brett Larson, Ayla’s dad. Brett then contacted Adams, who told him she was looking for someone to illustrate her first children’s book, Adventures with Lolly.

Adams, an author from Tennessee, has published at least four other books and has been a ghostwriter on 16 others. Adventures with Lolly is the first children’s book in a series of five.

The main message of the books is acceptance, Adams said.

“Accepting others, no matter what they look like, who they are or how different from us they are, is vital to closing the gap we've seen expand in the past few years,” she said. “I believe that if we start early, even as young as preschool, we can make a difference in how future generations treat each other.”

The cover of Adventures with Lolly, which was illustrated by Ayla Larson, a 14-year-old from Alexandria. 
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
The cover of Adventures with Lolly, which was illustrated by Ayla Larson, a 14-year-old from Alexandria. Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

She’s hired

Ayla’s dad sent Adams some more sample drawings and then she asked for Ayla’s pricing sheet.

Brett said they had to explain to Adams that Ayla was only 14-years-old, that she had never actually worked as an illustrator before. She’s just an average teenage girl who attends New Testament School and loves to draw. She definitely did not have a pricing sheet.

He said that he told Adams she could make them an offer and that this was truly, just a great opportunity for his daughter.

Ayla Larson, the daughter of Brett of Renae Larson of Alexandria, works on a drawing for a book she is illustrating for Christy Adams, an author from Tennessee. 
Contributed photo
Ayla Larson, the daughter of Brett of Renae Larson of Alexandria, works on a drawing for a book she is illustrating for Christy Adams, an author from Tennessee. Contributed photo

“I knew she was young, but I had no idea that she was only 14,” said Adams. “I honestly thought she was 16 or 17 years old. Her illustrations have so much detail that I just assumed she'd been drawing for many years. Everyone I've told can't believe she's so young either.”

Ayla was hired.

Brett said Adams told them she was “blown away” by the drawings.

“I was excited,” said Ayla. “I told my friends and they all ordered the book.”

The process

With her colored pencils – Crayola and some other brands – Ayla got to work. She said Adams sent her the script for the book and that she would provide her with notes about each page and what the expectations were.

Depending on how elaborate the drawings were, Ayla would take anywhere from a couple of hours to two days to draw the characters and scenes from the book. Once she was happy with the drawing, they would take a picture of it and send it to Adams. Once she approved it, the drawing was then scanned and uploaded to Adams to use for the book.

The original plan was to illustrate all five books before they were published, but the drawings took a little more time, so Ayla said Adams decided to release the books one at a time.

A page in the book about Ayla Larson, who is a 14-year-old from Alexandria. 
Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press
A page in the book about Ayla Larson, who is a 14-year-old from Alexandria. Celeste Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

For most of the summer, Ayla worked on her illustrations for Adventures with Lolly. And on Sept. 22, the book was released on Amazon.

And Ayla’s dream of illustrating a book came to fruition.

“She did everything I asked for and then some,” said Adams. “I feel that her gift will definitely take her places in her life that she can't even imagine right now. She has an enormously huge future ahead of her.”

Always an artist

Brett said his daughter has always loved to draw. She has been known to make flip books using sticky notes. And many of her classmates have found sticky notes in their lockers with drawings from Ayla.

But using her creative talents isn’t only about drawing. She loves to cook and apparently is the resident chef of the Larson household.

“It’s 'food art' to her,” he said.

Ayla Larson
Ayla Larson

Ayla said she loves to make quesadillas because her sisters – Ashley, 16; Aubrey, 11; and Alaina, 10 – like them. She also likes making homemade peanut butter ice cream and loves to make sandwiches or other items with whatever food is in the house.

Brett said over the summer, she designed a whole menu that looked professional.

“She made it just to offer her sisters’ lunch,” he said.

As for her future plans, Ayla said she wants to just keep drawing and has plans to go into something art related. For now though, she’s working on illustrating her second book. This one revolves around Tucker Turtle, who is an overweight, extra large turtle who is clearly different from all the other turtles.