A few years ago, Kim Radtke Bannister’s 8-year-old nephew was a brother-to-be. His father, divorced and remarried, was expecting a baby boy with his new wife.
“He was really kind of at an age where he was wondering, ‘Is this going to be my brother?’ He had a lot of unanswered questions and was worried he’d be losing his place and rank in his father’s heart,” Bannister says.
She wanted to assure him that, “Yes, this is your brother, and you will have such a major role in his life,” she says.
So she sat down with him and asked him to explain to her all the things he wanted to teach his little brother.
“I asked him a lot of questions,” she says. “We made it fun.”
As they talked, Bannister took notes, which she eventually compiled into a little book, with stories, anecdotes and Bannister’s hand-drawn pictures. Her nephew was so proud of it he took it to school.
“His teacher loved it,” Bannister says. “He read it to his class, and he read it to his brother.”
And with that, Bannister’s business, Little Words, was born.
At the urging of friends and with the encouragement her nephew gave her simply by being proud of their project, Bannister decided to do another book for some friends expecting their first child. And then another. And another, and so on.
“It’s a labor of love,” she says. “I just think it’s so important for families to spend time reading to their children and have their children read back to them.
“And it’s also important just to pass down special events, special memories, special times. It’s the history of a family.”
Family is something Bannister has learned more about since she started Little Words. Engaged and childless when she began, she’s now married to husband Nevin, and has two children, 2-year-old daughter Sawyer and infant son Ford.
“I’ve learned over the years, through my parents and my grandmother — who’s still alive at 103, by the way — that you can never hear too much about your family,” she says, “because it’s who you are.”
Despite the duties of motherhood and some freelance writing and community work, she has become more serious about Little Words during the past couple of years. Samples of her books are now featured at neighborhood business Bebe Grand, where the owner ordered six for her own family members.
Bannister also took a crack at breaking into the coveted market of the rich and famous. She researched the life of John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, and sent them a book for their daughter Ella Bleu’s second birthday.
“Her [Kelly Preston’s] assistant called and said, “She loves the book and wants to send you a thank-you note,” says Bannister, who still keeps the handwritten note on her desk.
But most of her books are done for regular folks, for special occasions or “just because.” She has completed books for parents to their children, children to their parents, grandmothers to their grandchildren, spouse to spouse, friend to friend and so on.
“They can be tailored any way you want them to be,” she says. “It’s taking your history, your lives, and creating it into something you can use.”
To date, Bannister has done more than 70 of her Little Words volumes, writing and illustrating them herself. With their growing popularity, clients now have a four- to six-week wait to receive completed books.
Not surprisingly, the books don’t come cheap. Bannister does a softback (7-by-8 inch, around 12 pages) and hardback (9-by-10.5 inch, around 20 pages) version. From interview process to completion, each book takes Bannister from 8-10 hours. The smaller books run about $200; the larger, $250.
Julie Cimino, a neighborhood resident who commissioned a book from her daughter, Jordan, to her husband, Brion, for Father’s Day, says she’s very happy with the result.
“Brion can be hard to buy for, and I was looking for an original idea,” she says. “Kim created an adorable story that incorporated many of the special moments my husband and Jordan share. The book has become a treasure and, after months of looking, I finally found a gift that my husband appreciates and admires. In a world of mass production, the book is truly an original.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.