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AN AMAZING STATE — “Amazing Alabama” author and illustrator Laura Murray sold copies of her book at Sunday’s quarterly meeting of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society. Above, CVHS President Malinda Powers and 5-year-old Lexi Barninger get copies of the book. Lexi was accompanied by her grandmother, Regenia Barninger. (Photo by Wayne Clark)

Georgia author promotes Alabama coloring book

VALLEY — Laura Murray, author and illustrator of “Amazing Alabama: A Coloring Book Journey Through Our 67 Counties,” grew up in Georgia and had a limited knowledge of Alabama’s history when she set out to complete her book several years ago.

She talked about what went into the book at Sunday afternoon’s quarterly meeting of the Chattahoochee Valley Historical Society.

“Because I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t take Alabama History in the fourth grade like everyone does in Alabama schools,” she said. “All I knew about the state was that Huntsville was where NASA was and it had a big part in putting men on the moon. I didn’t have a store of knowledge about the state.”

Murray grew up in the Athens, Ga., area, where her father was a traveling salesman. She said he tried to make up for those week-long absences by taking her and her mom on drives through the country on weekends.

“We had a large, green Ford pickup truck with green and orange seats,” she said. “Dad would take us to places like Dahlonega, where we panned for gold. Many times, we’d go down country roads and had no idea where we’d end up. Everything was an adventure with my dad.”

Going to those different places and seeing the colorful sights and sounds of country life triggered her imagination. She expressed that through drawing and coloring.

“I loved to color as a child,” she said. “I filled up a whole bookshelf with my coloring books. Coloring has followed me my entire life. I still like to collect coloring books when I travel. It’s a means of people telling you what they believe is important about their town.”

Driven by her love of coloring and country places, Murray started asking around several years ago if there was a coloring book about Alabama. Everyone she asked didn’t know of one. “Well, why don’t I do one?” she asked herself.

In June 2016, she approached a publisher about the idea.

“They loved it,” she said.

At the time, she had no idea how much work — and how much traveling around the state — this would involve.

Murray credits her husband, Steve, for “being my editor, my cheerleader and my fact checker.”

The Murrays took trips to such places as Coffee County, where there’s a monument to the boll weevil insect, Elmore County, where this is a meteor crater in Wetumpka, and Jackson County, which is home to more than 100 species of snails.

The page on Chambers County features the Langdale Power House on the river in Valley, the Joe Louis Barrow statue and the historic Presbyterian Church (which houses the Pilot Public Library), both located in LaFayette. She also includes towering trees to underscore the importance of forestry.

The publication of “Amazing Alabama” is well timed. Alabama had the first of two bicentennials in 2017, with another one coming in 2019. Alabama became a U.S. territory in 1817 and a state in 1819.

Murray’s hope is that the coloring book gets people talking about Alabama.

“One lady bought a copy of the book and put it in the glove compartment of their camper,” she said. “She told me that she and her family were going to visit every county in the state and color that page while they were there.”

When it comes to coloring, Murray advises people to stay away from Sharpies.

“They bleed through the page,” she said. “Use Crayola’s, colored pencils, watercolor or gel pens.”

She also has some basic rules. Murray recommends that people practice; go slow and create something special; keep coloring pencils sharp and don’t press too hard; always test markers; experiment to keep it fun; and don’t always follow the rules.

Being creative, she said, is all about experimenting.

The success of “Amazing Alabama” has motivated Murray to make a follow-up coloring book about her native Georgia. She’s not currently planning on doing one for the state’s 159 counties. Some of the pages, she said, will feature regions that include several counties. Each county in the region will be featured in some way.

At the conclusion of her presentation, Murray autographed copies of the coloring book. An interesting item on the autograph table was a framed picture of a porcupine.

“I colored it when I was very small,” she said. “It was on my parents’ refrigerator for years.”