ARTIST: Isybilla Gee works on the Issy Books series.
ARTIST: Isybilla Gee works on the Issy Books series.

Archived Story

Issy’s World: 5-year-old illustrates children’s book series

Published 5:55pm Saturday, March 2, 2013


Dr. Jennifer Calfee had no idea her 2-year-old’s art was anything exceptional.

“I was a dumb mommy. She knew it,” Jennifer said nodding to her mother, Pat Calfee. “But, I thought it was normal.”

At 2, Isybilla Gee was drawing ducks, birds and sunsets. Jennifer said people were in awe when they saw her daughter’s art.

Pat “Gigi” Calfee, a retired k-5 curriculum coordinator, recognized her granddaughter’s talents. At Jennifer’s suggestion, Pat started writing books using the characters Issy, who was 4 by that time, created.

Issy would give her “Gigi” names like Oscar the Octopus and Snappy the Crab and she would write a 10-sentence story using sight words appropriate for children Issy’s age.

Jennifer would sit down with Issy and go over the story. She would ask Issy how she thought the scene in the sentence would look and Issy would start to draw it.

Once their initial story was complete with 10 works of art by Issy, Pat started looking for a publisher. She hit a dead end when each publishing house expected the family to use an agent.

Pat’s business partner had published several teaching resource books. They approached her publisher at Brigantine Media to ask him to refer them to a children’s book publisher. He asked to see the book then said he would publish the series.

Pat and Issy’s first book was “Mattie and Miss Rat.” Issy drew and painted each of the watercolors. The graphic artist assigned to their series loved Issy’s painting style and duplicated it for the rest of the series.

Pat and Jennifer chose not to have Issy paint all of the pictures after discussing it with the 5-year-old.

“It would have been very labor intensive for her,” Pat said. “We want it to be fun for her. We want to nurture her love for drawing, not stifle it.”

Issy drew 100 pictures for the 10-book series and Pat wrote each of the stories. With the exception of the Gee family (with Issy, her sister, Sophie and parents) in “Meet Issy” and Issy’s dog, Max in “What Max can Do,” all of the characters came from Issy’s imagination.

She and her Gigi plan to do another series. Jennifer said she already has a long list of characters that Issy has created.

The reading levels of the books will continue to grow as Issy does and the family will continue to create the books as long as there is a demand for them and Issy still wants to draw.

So far, art is not a career ambition of the Eastern Elementary kindergartener. She wants to follow in her dad’s footsteps. Issy spends Saturdays with the microbiology professor in his East Carolina University lab.

Issy visits schools with her Gigi and reads her books to them. She says there is nothing scary about it.

“It was kinda like reading by yourself, just with people watching,” she said.

Starting this month, Issy books will be available at Barnes and Noble and on For more information, go to or search for Issy Books on Facebook.

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