- Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
“A is for Austin, our local home base. It’s the beautiful setting where this story takes place.”
So begins Lori Otto Samocha’s love letter to her hometown. In “W Is for Weird: An Austin Alphabet,” Otto Samocha writes of the things that make Austin unique. “I always felt, as all Austinites do, that there’s something special and unique about the city,” she says. “There’s a sense of charm, a sense of honesty.”
Her love of Austin is strong. The advertising writer has never left home. She went to Westwood High School, then to the University of Texas for her undergraduate and master’s degrees. After living around Austin, she moved back to the Northwest Austin neighborhood where she grew up.
While she doesn’t have children, some of her friends do. She wanted the book to be a primer for the next generation of Austinites, living here or living elsewhere, but with Austin roots. “There’s a lot of Texas books out there, but Austin isn’t Texas,” she says.
In colorful puffy letters with illustrations by Lauri Johnston of what that each letter represents, the book tells what makes Austin, well, Austin. The first three letters were easy: A is for Austin, B is for bats, C is for Capitol. Other ones were more tricky. She did her research, both by asking friends and by delving into the history of Austin. That’s how V became for Violet Crown, the nickname that notes Austin’s purple-hued sunsets.
Sometimes she had to get creative: X became for Crossroads at SXSW. Y is for y’all.
It took her about a month to figure out what each letter was but three years to turn the ideas into a self-published book. “We both have day jobs,” she says of herself and Johnston. “This was our passion project.”
She hopes families will use it as a guidebook to go explore the city. She also hopes schools will use it as the basis of a field trip curriculum, maybe even developing a passport to the city to check off all the things they see that are also in the book.
She would love to do a second version of the book with all the words she couldn’t get in — especially Mount Bonnell. M for music and B for bats were already taken.
But first, she’s reading the book on Saturday at BookPeople during story time, and Johnston is leading an art activity for kids to create their own Austin letter.