WILKES-BARRE — When Terri Libenson was in middle school at Wyoming Valley West, she was also a student of Dallas artist Sue Hand.
If you need to verify that, visit Hand’s studio. There you will find Libenson’s entry on one of the ceiling tiles — a Michelangelo-like tradition Hand has kept for all her students over the years.
Hand said Libenson climbed a ladder and wrote this on the ceiling tile:
“Favors figures and faces.” Libenson also drew a beautiful face next to the words, Hand said.
Libenson — already well-established as a cartoonist for syndicated comic strip “The Pajama Diaries” — is now a best-selling author as well. She will appear at Barnes & Noble in the Arena Hub Plaza at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, to sign books and greet people.
The 47-year-old penned “Invisible Emmie,” described as a middle-grade novel, with her own childhood experiences in mind.
According to Libenson’s website, the book is “the story of two totally different girls — quiet, shy, artistic Emmie and popular, outgoing, athletic Katie — and how their lives unexpectedly intersect one day, when an embarrassing note falls into the wrong hands. All the crushes, humiliations, boredom, and drama of middle school are compressed into one surprising day in this extraordinary novel.”
Hand said she could tell early on Libenson had the talent to achieve great things in the art world.
“Terri was here for seven great years — from sixth grade through her senior year in high school,” Hand said. “She loved drawing people and faces.”
Hand said Libenson was an all-around fun and pleasant girl who was nice to be around and who everybody in the class loved.
“Terri is absolutely one of the best kids who ever went through here,” Hand recalled. “She was ultra-gifted and hardworking. Her work ethic was phenomenal.”
Terri grew up in Kingston on Westmoreland Avenue, daughter of Meral Libenson and the late Ben Libenson, owner of Union Paper and Supply in Wilkes-Barre.
“We used to say that Terri was born with a pencil in her hand because as soon as she could she was about drawing things,” Mrs. Libenson said. “She was always very artistic. Terri would draw a few lines, not like it and get another piece of paper. We used to say thank goodness your father was in the paper business.”
Mrs. Libenson said Terri was a little on the shy side, but gained her confidence from middle school through high school, where she “really blossomed.”
Terri has two siblings: brother Brad Libenson is a physician in New Hampshire and sister Tina is the administrator of the planning department for the city of Denver, Colorado.
Brad went to Wyoming Seminary, and Tina and Terri went to Wyoming Valley West High School.
Terri said she based the main character of her book, Emmie, on herself at age 13 — extremely shy and unwilling to raise her hand in class, preferring to express herself through drawing.
“It wasn’t a terrible time, I was just terribly shy,” Libenson said. “I didn’t open my mouth so I expressed myself through art. It was what I was good at — where I shined.”
Libenson said she modeled Emmie after herself because she feels there are a lot of kids who maybe aren’t overly shy, but who just kind of go each day under the radar.
“I wanted the book to be relatable for them,” she said.
Libenson is grateful to her parents for always encouraging her to pursue art, never saying anything negative about her interest in drawing. Her friends also offered encouragement, as did Mr. Davis, her art teacher in high school.
“Sue Hand really encouraged me to enter competitions and to do programs,” Libenson said. “I feel very fortunate to have had a lot of people around me encouraging me.”
Libenson, whose comic strip appears in some 200 newspapers across the country, said “Invisible Emmie” was released in May.