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Behind the Pages: Old Manatee A to Z

This Good News Story written by Jamey Hitchcock is a Realize Bradenton production funded by the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Manatee Community Foundation.

A new children’s book, Old Manatee A to Z, written by Ryan G. Van Cleave and produced by Realize Bradenton, focuses on the City of Bradenton and touches on the people, plants, landmarks, and animals of the area as well as business and industry.

“It is a beautifully illustrated history book that can be enjoyed by children and adults,” said Jodi Carroll, special projects manager at Realize Bradenton. “It provides a broad historical perspective of the place where the City of Bradenton was founded. When children and adults learn about the history of a place, it creates a foundation of knowledge to understand more clearly what the city has become today.”

The project was a collaboration of local historians and experts including Reflections of Manatee, the Manatee Village Historical Park, Manatee County Historical Records Library, Manatee County Central Library, and local naturalist Karen Willey.

Old Manatee A to Z is an entire educational resource collection which includes a children’s book, coloring book, 4th grade curriculum/lesson plan, and read aloud video about the history, people, plants, landmarks, and animals of the area where the City of Bradenton was founded. Manatee County Public Schools have received 6,000 copies and another 1,000 have been distributed through Soar in 4.

Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of the book. He is a local children’s literature author and faculty member at Ringling College of Art and Design. Having transitioned into writing children’s literature about five years ago, he was enthused by the project.

The Riverwalk East expansion will soon provide access to Old Manatee, the area where Bradenton was founded.

“If you want to really change the lives of people with your writing, it’s young people who are the ideal audience,” he said. “They’re incredibly open and honest. It only takes me hearing a kid say something clever or seeing one do something curious and I’m already thinking of stories.”

Van Cleave’s task was to transform the information provided by the local historians and experts into content that was age appropriate yet still reflected the sometimes complex subject matter. “Because of the nature of this project, I had a lot of input at various early points from all of our stakeholders,” he said. “But since this book was all about history, having expert help feeding me information made my job easier. It’s not always the case when working with a committee.” The author also understood the book was created not just as a history lesson, but to spark the community’s interest in the City of Bradenton.

The book was illustrated by Don Brandes, a local artist and illustrator who is a member of the faculty at Ringling College of Art and Design. Don’s work is featured on several of the Public Art Postcards along the Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton.

“I could not have done all of this research on my own. It would have taken twice as long or more,” Brandes said. “With that groundwork, I found more information which allowed me to accurately depict the important details of the subject matter. I hope that a sense of pride in the rich history of this area is fostered by the variety of subjects in the book.”

Early on in the development of the book, Realize Bradenton held focus groups with children ages 5-10. Referred to as the book scientists, the children were asked a variety of questions and gave valuable feedback which helped to shape the final content of the book. Two of the book scientists were Ashley Ciferno’s sons, Julian and Emilano.

“My kids and I got to review early drafts of the book and provide input on the illustrations and stories,” she said. “It was such a fun experience and really special for them to be involved in the editing of a real book. I was simultaneously working on another history project with Realize Bradenton at the time, so it was really neat to see the artist’s interpretations of the stories.”

Ciferno also understood the importance and long-term potential of the book project. “There aren’t many, if any, resources for kids about local history,” she said. “This will help people to feel connected to the area which will lead to a sense of pride and belonging. That’s community. Feeling connected and proud leads people to better their community and take care of each other. It sounds a bit dramatic, but really, it’s just little things like this book that build community.”

“Imagine having projects like this all the time!” she added. “People get to be part of a project, they feel important, learn about their history and community and get to meet new people. I’d love to
see this happen more.”

Old Manatee A to Z book and coloring book are available for purchase online at or at ArtCenter Manatee’s LiveArtfully Boutique located at 209 9th St West Bradenton, FL 34205.  

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