What is Hugo’s story?
It’s quite a tale to tell,
I’ll tell you and you’ll not forget,
You shall remember well…
“Hugo the Huguenot,” by Jennifer DuBois Bruntil
As school programming coordinator for Historic Huguenot Street, it’s Jennifer DuBois Bruntil’s job to make Huguenot history accessible for kids that range in age from preschool up to high school. Older students can view the orientation video at the site’s visitor’s center, but the story of the Huguenots’ arrival in New Paltz after fleeing religious persecution is a difficult one for younger children to understand.
DuBois Bruntil, herself, is a 12th generation descendant of Louis DuBois, one of the original New Paltz Huguenot patentees. She remembers hearing the stories as a child from her grandmother, who, “could close her eyes and remember all the people in order.” But even with a family connection, the story of the Huguenots is a tough one to get kids to care about. So ever since she began working at Historic Huguenot Street last year, DuBois Bruntil has made a point of finding ways to make the story relatable to young children.
She first came up with a cartoon character she named “Hugo the Huguenot,” making him representative of all Huguenots. When she gave presentations to the kids, she showed them how Hugo got into a boat and sailed across to the New World. “They really got it then,” she says, and that made her think. Surprised that Historic Huguenot Street didn’t already have a kid-friendly children’s book to introduce them to the topic, she thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write one.’
After all, she’d always enjoyed playing with words and rhymes, and she already had the protagonist, Hugo. Home one night and playing around with the idea, she came up with a few stanzas. Later showing them to author A.J. Schenkman – town of Gardiner historian and consulting historian to Historic Huguenot Street – she asked him if he thought there was a children’s book in the rhymes she had come up with.
He was encouraging, and introduced her to a friend, illustrator Matthew Kelly, who had written and illustrated his own self-published children’s book called “Our Crayon Company.” Kelly had devised his tale to amuse his kids, incorporating details from his job working at R&F Handmade Paints in Kingston in creating a story of animals that ran a crayon factory. Kelly had funded the printing of his book through Kickstarter, which inspired DuBois Bruntil to go the same route.
The two are now collaborating on the project. Kelly’s illustrations are painterly; softly evocative watercolors that are interesting for adults to look at as well as kids. The Kickstarter campaign that the pair have put together will have just started as this edition of the newspaper goes to print (www.kickstarter.com/projects/652098140/hugo-the-Huguenot), with 30 days to raise the $4,000 it will take to print 250 hardcover books. As is the usual case with Kickstarter campaigns, donors will receive incentives based on their generosity. A donation of $25, for example, will reward the giver with a hardcover book once they’re printed. Other incentives include prints of the original artwork.
The plan is to print as many books as funds raised will allow, past the minimum goal of $4,000. Historic Huguenot Street is interested in carrying the book at their shop once it’s printed, and its writer and illustrator hope to see the book eventually sold in local bookstores. “I’d like to go to local libraries and read it during story hour, too, and get it to people that way,” says DuBois Bruntil. “But we can’t do that until we get the funds to print it.”
They’ll be using ColorPage Printing in Kingston to produce the books, with the idea that the entire book is local, from its history to its author and its illustrator to its printer.
“My goal is for children to walk away with a better understanding of the Huguenot story,” says DuBois Bruntil, who taught sixth grade for eight years in New Paltz before taking the position at Huguenot Street. She also plans to include a teaching page at the end of the book with vocabulary terms.
“Part of the reason I wrote it in rhyme is that rhyming words help kids learn to read. It’s dedicated to my own children, but also the children of New Paltz, and anybody that comes here. We hope adults will enjoy learning the history from it, too. Matt did his own research on how people looked and dressed, and we tried to make it as authentic as we could and respectful of everyone in it.”
New Paltz was not only much bigger then, DuBois Bruntil points out — spreading across 40,000 acres from the Hudson River to the Ridge, and from Wallkill to almost Kingston — but was a very multi-cultural society right from the start. “By the time the Huguenots came to New Paltz, they were looking to tie back into their French heritage. They took a lot from the culture of the Dutch, because they married into that, and they’ve lived in Germany. They got their patent from an English governor, because the English had taken over. So on the street, even once it’s been settled, there’s Dutch spoken, and French, English… so, very quickly, there’s a lot of things happening in this one area of New Paltz.”