First Look: New Children's Book Honors the Life and Art of Young Uvalde School Shooting Victim

'Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist,' written and illustrated by Violet Lemay, reminds us why art is so powerful—and healing

Cover of the book "Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist"

Courtesy of Michael Sampson Books

Alithia Ramirez was a 10-year-old artist who dreamed of studying in Paris and selling her artwork on Etsy. She had big aspirations, plenty of art supplies to fulfill them, and the unwavering support of her family. It's been almost a year since the devastating shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, which tragically took Alithia's life, along with 18 other students and two teachers.

Alithia's story, however, will live on in the pages of the forthcoming book Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist. The book—also honoring the memory of all the victims—will be released on October 10 and is written and illustrated by Violet Lemay. We got a first look at the book's cover and a sneak peek at some of the inside pages.

This senseless act of violence left an indelible impact on the hearts and minds of parents everywhere. Coping with the shock, grief, and feelings of hopelessness was different for everyone. Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist came to be because Lemay turned to her lifelong passion for art to help herself—and others—heal.

Photo of Author Violet Lemay

Violet Lemay

"I felt I needed to do something and the only thing I could think to do was draw the victims for my Instagram," Lemay explains. "It was a big decision. It was extremely emotional because in order to draw the kids, I had to research them, learn about their interests, and look at their photos. I was just sobbing. I gripped the edge of my desk and said, 'Okay, you're going to do this.'"

Once Lemay posted her artwork, Ryan Ramirez saw a drawing of his 10-year-old daughter, Alithia, and left a comment that he liked it. "The very next morning, I was listening to the news and heard Anderson Cooper interview Ryan," explains Lemay. "It was just such a moment. Ryan was describing that Alithia was an artist. That started this thing bubbling up in me. I'm an artist. My husband's an artist. My son, he's grown now, but he's been an artist since he was a baby. I was an art professor for 14 years. So I really get artists—the frustrations, the joys, the importance of it, the angst—it's who I am; it's what I do."

Lemay drew Alithia again, but this time as an artist. That's when she got the inspiration to write the book. "It was like a smack in the head—just a fully formed inspiration—so I quickly sketched out a template for the book," Lemay recalls.

She immediately received the blessing from Alithia's father and her mother, Jess Hernandez, to write the book. Hernandez sent Lemay photos of Alithia's art. As the book started coming together, Lemay would go back to Hernandez with specific questions, such as, did Alithia ever draw the family's 12 chickens? Not only had Alithia drawn them, but she also named them all—so her chicken drawings are included in the book.

Image from inside book "Alithia Ramirez Was An Artist"

Courtesy of Michael Sampson Books

"Jess also told me that Alithia liked to teach her younger siblings how to draw, and mentioned that she was teaching them how to draw a horse. And so I asked if she had a horse drawing—little things like that—I would ask for specific stuff, and she'd send it," Lemy describes,

Knowing what it's like to have a young artist in the house, Lemay wanted to show Alithia being "bold and expressive with her art from the youngest possible age." She asked both Ramirez and Hernandez if Alithia had finger paints for the bathtub as a baby or ever drew on the walls as a toddler.

"So I included drawings of Alithia in the tub just making big, splashy art. And then as a toddler, her drawing on the walls," says Lemay. "I asked her parents what her favorite art supplies were. And Ryan said, 'Whatever lasted the longest,' which I thought was just such a great answer."

Lemay learned that Alithia was particular about her stash of art supplies because her little brother and sister would get into them, leaving the caps off, which would drive her nuts. "So I put that in too," says Lemay.

"But as the book goes on, it gets a little more introspective and more about what art is, how it happens, and what it's for," Lemay adds. "I included diagrams of what I call the 'art voice and process' because Alithia was putting her art voice out in the world. Art starts in your heart, it comes up to your mind and then out through your hands and onto the paper. There's an image that shows Alithia walking along with her crayon, adding color to the scene. As she moves through her day, she's adding color all around her—adding love and life everywhere she goes, through her art and through her heart."

Image from "Alethia Ramirez Was an Artist"

Courtesy of Michael Sampson Books

Creating the right sentiment for the book's cover was especially important to Lemay. It features block letters drawn by Alithia and her self-portrait. "It's a book about a child artist, and it's really a book about all artists and art," she explains. "I wanted the cover to show Alithia's joy, beauty, vivacity, and just the magic of art. That brings your eye over to her self-portrait. I just think it's perfect. It conveys the spirit of the book, for sure. The joy and love of art. And Alithia's heart."

All author proceeds from Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist will go to the Alithia Haven Ramirez Memorial Summer Seminar Scholarship fund. Lemay also helped Hernandez bring to life her idea for Alithia's Art Angels website.

"Jess wanted a way to support young artists. The website celebrates the life and art of Alithia Haven Ramirez and the art of all children," says Lemay. The site also features printable "Spread Kindness" cards, featuring Alithia's artwork. The idea is to print them out, leave them around your community, and post a picture using #alithiaskindness. Hernandez was inspired after she received a small stack of "spread kindness" cards printed in Alithia's honor shortly after her death.

Little Free Library donated a unit in Alithia's honor that will be set up in Texas soon—with a special twist. "Jess wanted Alithia's Little Free Library to not only be for giving and taking books—but also for giving and taking artwork," shares Lemay. "We bought a bunch of age-appropriate art books plus books about Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso and other cool artists to place in there as a starter stock."

When Alithia Ramirez Was an Artist comes out in October, Lemay hopes it will convey to the world that "Alithia had a gorgeous, huge heart, and she was a vivacious girl. I just hope that people remember Alithia and all the victims. I hope that parents and children will just enjoy the book, because it's about art, and all children are artists."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles