by Ardeana Hamlin

of The Weekly Staff

In April, the work Josh Alves, 32, of Glenburn does at home as a children’s book writer and illustrator took him and his wife Amy to Bologna, Italy, where he received an award for his interactive, digital story, “Surprise.”

In January, Alves pushed the “send” button on his computer to enter his story in a competition in the adventure book category sponsored by TigerCreate, an online company in Germany.

“I came up with a concept I thought would highlight interactivity and I thought of a surprise party for animals,” Alves said of “Surprise.” Children can touch an animal on the screen and it will react — touch the bunny, for example, and it runs away; touch the bear and he hits a pinata and roars.

Several weeks later, Alves said, an email arrived on his smart phone that had in the subject line, “… happy to tell you.”

“I opened the message and discovered I had won the contest,” he said, “and not just won — it swept the competition, it came in first in every category — innovation, interactivity and kid favorite.”

His first response at receiving the news: “Was I the only entry?” As it turns out, he wasn’t, but he was the only winner and that meant he had won a trip to Italy to the Bologna Children’s Fair, and a custom skateboard.

“The book debuted there, it was presented [to the public] for the first time there,” Alves said. “The contest was judged by a panel of book professionals for innovation and interactivity. German children were the judges in the kid’s favorite category. The top entries in the contest were presented to the children and they were asked to place stickers next to their favorite.” Most of the stickers were placed beside “Surprise.” Remarkably, the book was presented to the children in English, which they could not speak or read. The book earned their stickers because the children liked its interactivity and illustrations.

Italy, Alves said, is a place he and Amy have always wanted to go, but figured they would have to wait until their four children, ages 10, 7, 4 and almost 2, were grown.

“Now, we had the opportunity to go and we really appreciated that,” he said. “It was quite a trip, we saw beautiful places. We extended our time in Italy and went to Florence and Venice. It was amazing. The architecture in Florence was breathtaking — massive, ornate and beautiful. We climbed to the top of the cathedral dome and had a panoramic view of Florence. It was my first time in Europe. I never felt more like an adult — traveling on our own in another country, trying to speak Italian, navigating the transportation [system].”

Alves, who was born and raised in Rhode Island, said he always doodled and has been drawing for as long as he can remember. “I even illustrated word problems in math class — my teacher gave me points for creativity even when I got the answers wrong. I wanted to be the next Bill

Watterson [creator of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip],” he said.

After he and Amy married and came to live in the Bangor area to be near her family, Alves worked for the Bangor Daily News for 10 years as a graphic designer, new media marketing and revenue manager, and creative services manager. His first comic strip, “Zeek And Dent,” was published by BDN in 2004 and he drew 500 of those strips. In 2005, he discontinued “Zeek And Dent” and created a single panel cartoon, “Tastes Like Chicken,” which ran in The Weekly for approximately five years.

“I always considered myself as more of an artist than a writer,” Alves said. “I didn’t think of writing children’s books until my wife suggested it after my daughter Lily was born. Now I think of myself as an author-illustrator.”

The other thing that has happened with “Surprise” is that TigerCreate has allowed the book to be available through the Apple App Store and the iBook Store.

“With the app version, grandparents or others can record themselves reading the ‘Surprise’ story. There’s a coloring page on the app version and it has the story in three languages — German, Italian and English — my first multi-language book. Certain interactive elements are available only on the app and not on the iBook version,” he said.

Currently, Alves is working on projects that have been simmering for a while — a second Lily Bristol book and a chapter book about an elementary school super sleuth. He also is working on posters and The Maze Game for Treworgy Orchards’ annual corn maze in Bangor.

To learn more about Alves and his work, email josh@joshalves.com, or go to joshalves.com or facebook.com/joshalvesdraws.