‘Just believe in yourself’

Cranston author, illustrator embark on rewarding collaboration with pandemic-focused children’s book


As a first-time author, Lauren Ruggiano has found a new way to channel her voice.

Chris Woodhouse, meanwhile, has used his skills as an illustrator to bring her words to life visually.

The two Cranston residents partnered for the children’s book “Please Keep Your Distance,” release in June, which seeks to impart lessons about being respectful and practicing good hygiene when it comes to the pandemic. Their collaboration has proved rewarding creatively – and they hope their story helps inspire others to pursue their dreams.

“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Ruggiano said of her advice to other aspiring authors. “Whatever it is, if you’re diligent and you want to do it, I believe you can do anything that you want to do in life.”

Last summer, Ruggiano, who previously worked as an assistant manager at Alex and Ani, found herself out of work as a result of the pandemic. The time off, she said, afforded her the chance to “take a little detour” and pursue writing – something she has done through journaling over the years but never pursued in a professional capacity.

When considering ideas, she said, the book’s subject and title “just came to me.” An online description for the book reads: “A first-time reader, children’s book guide for the Covid-19 virus.”

Ruggiano describes it this way: “It’s basically a children’s book guide about handwashing, checking up on loved ones if they’re sick, just kind of like a straight to the point book.”

“Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn,” the 10-page book begins. It goes on to include messages about hand-washing and social distancing.

“Know that better days are ahead,” another passage reads, “and remember that true friends stay together.”

Even as the pandemic has receded locally and restrictions have been lifted, the author and illustrator hope the book can provide a useful resource for families and educators – especially given the spread of the delta variant, the continued lack of a vaccine for young children, and the uncertainty over what school will look like in the fall.

Woodhouse, too, was at a transitional point when he connected with Ruggiano. His career has involved time as a graphic designer, including several years at ESPN in Connecticut, followed by a pivot to museum management, which he came to Rhode Island to study. The financial crisis of 2008, however, forced an end to a job in that field, and he has since pursued more freelance work while serving as a caretaker for a family member.

“It was just a perfect time for me to have a side project,” Woodhouse said of last summer, when he connected with Ruggiano.

The endeavor was a first for Woodhouse, who has done book covers for other independent authors but hadn’t previously illustrated a full book like “Please Keep Your Distance.”

The connection between Ruggiano and Woodhouse was serendipitous. Ruggiano said she had been searching online for illustrators when she came across Woodhouse’s name and work. Given their shared Cranston residency, meeting up was simple.

“I looked at Chris’s artwork, and I thought it was just eclectic and just really, really talented,” Ruggiano said. After he developed some initial concepts, her belief that she had found her collaborator was solidified.

“I just thought it was amazing,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is meant to happen.’”

“It was a great experience,” Woodhouse said. “It is my passion to draw, to illustrate.”

Ruggiano and Woodhouse chose to publish their book through Barnes & Noble, and it is available now through the company’s website, barnesandnoble.com. A few copies are also available at Twice Told Tales in Pawtuxet Village, with plans to distribute additional copies to local gift shops and bookstores. Family and friends have been “super supportive,” they said, and there are hopes a publishing company may pick the book up.

Woodhouse urged other authors and illustrators to “do your homework on the publishers” and “find the right publisher that fits what you’re looking for.” He also urged illustrators in particular to engage in self-promotion, as he does via Instagram (@chriswoodhouse_art) and through his website, chrisrwoodhouse.com.

Ruggiano, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, said she plans to work on other children’s books with a focus on dealing with sensitive or difficult topics.

“I think in the future, for sure, there’s going to be a round two of a book,” she said.

Ruggiano also shared her advice for others seeking to pursue their writing.

“Basically, my advice would be, just get yourself out there,” she said. “Make phone calls. Be diligent. Work hard … I think networking is the best thing you can do, and word of mouth, and just believe in yourself.”