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It's hard to read Judy Sierra and Marc Brown's picture book, "Born to Read," without smiling to yourself as you explore the colorful pictures and skip through the story of protagonist Sam, who uses his reading skills to master new skills and save his town from a giant.

Already, the book has made the New York Times best-seller list, and it's something that seems destined to climb higher. Sierra uses witty rhymes that give the book an energetic rhythm, while Brown's illustrations are colorful and fun.

During separate interviews last week, the pair talked about their book, but also emphasized the importance of reading and how they believe engaging children's books are a door to literacy for young children. On Friday, they will be in Salt Lake City at the King's English bookshop to sign copies of "Born to Read."

"The number of people in this country who are illiterate is staggering," said Brown, who has often emphasized reading as part of his well-loved "Arthur" the aardvark book and television series. "I think we have a responsibility on a certain level to do what we can to promote literacy in the country and make sure everyone can read."

Growing up, both Sierra and Brown had a strong background in reading. Sierra worked as a children's librarian and also did live entertainment as a puppeteer and storyteller. As a child, Brown would listen to stories his grandmother made up to entertain him.

He believes the gift of storytelling came to him as a "genetic gift" from his grandmother and great-grandmother. His ideas for "Arthur" came from stories he would tell his oldest child during bedtime.

For Sierra, she wants parents and kids to understand there are hundreds of books they can read and enjoy and learn from. In "Born to Read," her character, Sam, uses knowledge he learned from books to win a bike race, learn about nutrition and help save his town.

"I hope that kids who read it will be motivated to ask for books that they don't know even exist," said Sierra.

One of the inspirations for her book came while listening to a schoolteacher explain the different things children can do if they learn to read at a young age. It took Sierra about four years to complete the manuscript, then another year for Brown to paint the illustrations.

Brown said it was a challenge for him to create the illustrations for "Born to Read." Unlike his "Arthur" paintings (which he has been doing routinely now for 30 years), the requirements for Sierra's manuscript were a little more complex, time-consuming and "painterly," Brown said.

"It's a long process, just developing the characters," he said. "When I read a manuscript, I see it cinematically in my head and start drawing and refining the drawing in my head as I read it over and over again."

For Brown, he is hopeful children will love the book.

"I feel like I've had a great, good fortune to be a part of this book and it's something that I feel very proud of," he said.

If you go

What: Book signing for Born to Read, with author Judy Sierra and illustrator Marc Brown

Where: The King's English bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East

When: Friday, 4 p.m.

E-mail: [email protected]