Creator of "Tango" books inspired by dream

People who talk of fulfilling their dreams usually are talking about hopes, wishes, goals, desires they formed while awake.

But Sally Atkinson is living a literal - and literary - dream.

Several years ago, the Carson City woman dreamed that she was writing a children's book about an orange kangaroo. When she woke up, she said Saturday, she wrote down her dream and told husband Dan she knew what she had to do.

"I dreamed the entire story, and I dreamed that I was writing it," Atkinson said. "I felt it so strongly and it was so vivid that I told Dan I just had to get it out. And he encouraged me."

Atkinson did write that book, "The Tales of Tango - The Brave Lesson," and its success led her to write another and another, with possibly more to come.

Saturday, Dan Atkinson was showing his continued encouragement by donning the bright orange (and hot and stuffy) Tango the Kangaroo suit and visiting with youngsters in the Carson Mall, while Atkinson and artist Lee Netzel of Carson City autographed books outside Kennedy's Books.

Savannah Destiny Dennis, age 4 and headed for kindergarten in a year, had read the "The Brave Lesson" and the second volume, "The Sticky Situation," in the library. But Saturday she got an autographed copy of the third adventure, "The Fair of the Pharaohs," as well as the last Tango activity book in stock.

And a short visit with Tango himself, of course.

Atkinson said getting the first book published was an education.

She and Dan already had looked for an illustrator and been referred to Netzel, who teaches painting at Austin Arts. Though Netzel had never done this type of illustration before, the Atkinsons were pleased with her sketches and watercolors. Netzel painted 34 illustrations in six weeks.

The book was shopped to publishers and Atkinson received a collection of "very helpful rejection letters," she said. She and Dan decided to self-publish, and in 1996 The Tales of Tango were no longer a dream.

"When you are a self-publisher, you also become promoter and publisher," Atkinson said.

They began taking the book to libraries and independent book stores. A Reno costumer for casino shows, Marcie Barr, created the Tango suit for Dan and the groups began visiting school classrooms.

"Each book teaches some lessons and values, about respect or fairness or honesty," Atkinson said. "They also teach children about new countries. The first was set in Australia, the second in England and the newest in Egypt."

Atkinson said that, as a child in a military family, she loved to travel, though she has not been to the locations of her stories. For accuracy about settings, she hit the libraries and read about the area.

"That's how I learned that male kangaroos do not have pouches, after all," Atkinson said. And sure enough, Dan - er, Tango - is pouchless.

Promoting the books has led to more travel for Atkinson. She said Dan rode the buses with her in Chicago in costume and that everyone enjoyed the incongruity of an orange Aussie aboard.

"People warned us about Chicago, but we had the greatest time there," Atkinson said. They have also been to Hawaii as well as communities throughout the West. To market to stores in the east, they send sample copies of the books and frequently get orders in return.

"We found we prefer to self-publish, so we kept with it for the next two books," Atkinson said.

Her husband said they prefer to keep control of as many elements of the process as possible, such as selecting Netzel as the artist. "If we had a big publisher, we probably could not have chosen an artist. And we just love Lee's vision of Tango," Dan said.

With their control of the process, the Atkinsons are able to make sure Netzel gets a portion of the sales, too.

And Netzel, who won the pastels category of the recent Nevada Day art contest with some of her "serious art," now gets three months to illustrate a Tango book.


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