Local award-winning children’s author and illustrator Merrill Rainey refers to himself as a paper engineer.
“I’ve always enjoyed building things and figuring out the paper engineering of how things go together,” he says. “It’s always intrigued me.”
Growing up in Elyria, Rainey was the youngest in a family of seven siblings.
“There was never a dull moment growing up. We did a lot of imaginary play, a lot of building things, which leads to what I do today,” says Rainey. “When I talk to kids now, I tell them when we were bored as kids, we spent that time building with LEGOS and drawing. I used to do a lot of crafting with my mom. I remember a lot of hot glue gun burns. It doesn’t hurt as bad as it used to, but maybe it’s from all of the callouses I’ve built up over the years,” he adds with a laugh.
His early experiences with art helped shape his decision to study visual communications and design at Kent State University, where he learned the finer details of graphic design and illustration. Later, it was his experience as a father that helped guide him down the path to becoming a children’s author.
“One day, I was at my son’s school. He was in the second grade. We were doing a simple holiday pop-up card and they couldn’t fold a sheet of paper in half, and a good number of them were struggling with cutting. I was thinking, ‘What the heck?’ By eight years old, these are primary hand skills that you should have. I started to see a need, to see if I could make a difference in some form or fashion.”
He began working with US Kids magazines to develop a feature called “Color, Cut, Play” with characters and buildable scenes that kids could interact with after simple assembly.
“Obviously, there was a need from a mechanical standpoint,” Rainey explains, but “there was a need from a creativity standpoint. Where else could we go from here? I self-published the Superhero edition of ‘Color, Cut, Create,’ which did really well. That book was geared towards giving kids the learning opportunity to show them that what I am doing with these paper toys is not all that difficult. They can learn from that, and they can basically go out and build their own paper toys and projects.”
His newest Color Cut Create books are published by Odd Dot, a subsidiary of Macmillan Children’s Publishing.
Award-winning board books
In addition to his paper engineering books, Rainey has also published board books for young children. One of his books, “ROAR! I’m a Dinosaur!” was recently awarded one of the Good Housekeeping Best Kids’ Board Books for 2022. This interactive book allows children and adults to hold the book up to their faces and pretend to be a dinosaur.
“They are books that get you seeing things differently. It is a book, but when you hold it up as a mask, you’re seeing it from a different point of view,” Rainey says.
Future events and projects
Rainey continues to work with children’s magazines as a contract illustrator and designer, all while maintaining a busy schedule filled with book festivals, school visits, and workshops. Currently, he is working on a “Color, Cut, Create” concept book for younger children. He was also chosen by Holiday House books to illustrate a re-release of the classic book “Giants Are Very Brave People” by Florence Parry Heide. His hope is that his books and projects will have an impact that will be remembered for years to come.
“That’s the goal. To have a purposeful piece going out into the world and hope that it connects or helps.”
Q and A with Merrill Rainey
Family: Wife, Brooke, and son, Chase (age 12) and daughter, Zoey (age 8).
Favorite Restaurant: Dino’s Diner in Maumee for breakfast.
Best Donuts: Mama C’s Donuts
Favorite children’s author or illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg.
Hidden Gem in Toledo: The Children’s Library in the Main Toledo Library downtown.
Favorite way to spend a day off: Antiquing with the family or spending time outdoors hiking and camping.