Ashley Chestnut getting students up to speed with history in ‘Down in the Ham’ series

Ashley Chestnut getting students up to speed with history in ‘Down in the Ham’ series
Author Ashley Chestnut holds the "Down in the Ham" book she created two years ago. Since then, she's created two more books for children to learn about the Magic City's downtown. (Keisa Sharpe)

For Ashley Chestnut, her home state of Georgia runs deep in her bones. She moved to Alabama to attend ministerial school and after completing classes was hired by the Church at Brook Hills.

Birmingham has “grown on her.” Several years ago, Chestnut decided to really get involved in her new community.

From the scenery to its food scene, the Magic City checked all the boxes for Chestnut’s home away from home. But there was one particular area where she wanted to have an impact.

Ashley wanted to inspire children from Birmingham’s neighboring communities to visit Alabama’s largest city. The result two years ago was a documented list of history lessons in “Down in the Ham – A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham.”

Local author sheds light on events and history ‘Down in the Ham’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Inspiration in unusual places

The notion to write a book about Birmingham, combined with a coloring book, didn’t come the way one might think.

She was hours away, more than four hours in fact, visiting friends in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, her friends’ children were boiled over with excitement about visiting downtown Greenville to find, of all things, mice sculptures.

They’d read a book and couldn’t wait to find these animals that had been brought to life in the pages of literature.

In her downtime driving back home, Chestnut fondly remembered the excitement of the kids – and then it hit. Why not recreate a book about Birmingham’s downtown with hopes of fueling excitement among young readers?

Chestnut wasted no time putting her idea into action – to inspire children to love and explore their city.

It’s in the art

The words came fairly quickly for her book, but Chestnut knew it was not done until she secured an illustrator to make it come to life.

She saw the artist’s work before they even met. While at an auction, she noticed one particular piece. It not only caught her eye, but she wanted to reach out with the idea that this artist would be the perfect “fit” for her book project. And that’s what she did.

Artist Abby Little Jessup had a full plate, but after hearing from Chestnut, she knew “Down in the Ham” was a project she should illustrate.

Their collaboration is not only making history, but led to a fast friendship.

Birmingham’s Vulcan gives a tour in the book, but it packs other family-friendly activities for adults and children.

More fruitful works

The original “Down in the Ham” series not only includes the children’s book, but also “Color the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book.” Children can read about and then color sites in the Magic City.

Other communities haven’t been left out of the fun, either, with their latest project. “Around the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book” reaches beyond Birmingham to highlight communities from Homewood to East Lake and everywhere in between.

It was released in June – two years after her first book.

Chestnut’s books can be found in the gift store at Vulcan Park and Museum atop Red Mountain or can be ordered online at downintheham.com.

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