Casper Author, Illustrator Win "Outstanding Juvenile Book For 2023" At National Western Heritage Awards

Casper's Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen were honored for their book "The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show" as the top "Juvenile Book For 2023" at the Western Heritage Awards earlier this month.

Wendy Corr

April 29, 20235 min read

Casper author and illustrator Rowdy Randy Authors 4 29 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen didn’t know each other growing up, even though they graduated in the same class from Natrona County High School in Casper.

“We graduated with 450-plus people, so the only way you'd know somebody was if you had a class with them or an activity or something, and Zak I just never crossed paths,” Rislov told Cowboy State Daily.

Rislov went on to become an elementary school teacher who branched off into writing children’s books. Pullen became an illustrator, creating art for clients like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other major publications.

But a few years ago, the pair collaborated on a children’s book titled “Rowdy Randy,” a story about an adventurous horsefly in the Wild West. Their follow-up book, “The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show,” was honored by the Western Heritage Awards as the Outstanding Juvenile Book for 2023, and the author and illustrator traveled to Oklahoma City earlier this month to accept the award.

Becoming An Author

Rislov went to college in Casper, then Laramie, graduating in 1999 with a teaching degree. Although she was certified as an elementary school teacher, she ended up teaching special needs kids at a local child development center.

“I've always had a place in my heart for special needs children,” said Rislov. “I grew up with brothers that were special needs.”

But she felt pulled toward writing children’s books, so in 2010, Rislov gave up teaching to devote herself to being a mom and a full-time author.

”I feel like most teachers do (something like this) in retirement, but my husband was on board, and we just kind of went for it,” she said.

The “Rowdy Randy Wild West Show” adventure was Rislov’s sixth book of the eight she’s written so far, and the second collaboration with her former classmate Pullen.

  • Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen wrote and illustrated "The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show," which was awarded Outstanding Juvenile Book at the recent Western Heritage Awards.
    Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen wrote and illustrated "The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show," which was awarded Outstanding Juvenile Book at the recent Western Heritage Awards. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Casper duo Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen in Oklahoma City for the Western Heritage Awards.
    Casper duo Casey Rislov and Zachary Pullen in Oklahoma City for the Western Heritage Awards. (Courtesy Photo)

Becoming An Illustrator

After graduating from Natrona County High School, Pullen attended Casper College, where he first began to consider a career in art. He said an instructor there, Nancy Medura, introduced him to the path he would eventually take. 

“She told me that an illustrator was a visual storyteller who gets paid,” Pullen said, adding that “kind of bucks the trends of starving artists.”

Pullen went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, and soon after, he and his wife packed up a U-Haul and headed for the East Coast, where he had many professional opportunities.

“I've worked for almost every magazine that you could name and a lot of newspapers,” said Pullen. “I was working for The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal — a lot of magazine covers and interior illustrations.”

But because much of his work was already done remotely, Pullen and his wife decided to move back to Wyoming to be closer to family.

“Our son was born in 2003, and we moved back when he was little so he could be next to grandparents and aunts and uncles,” he said. 

Collaborating On ‘Rowdy Randy’

When she got the idea for the Rowdy Randy book, Rislov said the owner of a Casper bookstore connected her with Pullen to bring her characters to life.

“I went to the local Wind City Bookstore downtown, because your bookstores have a wealth of knowledge of how things work … especially from the distribution side, because they're hooked up with all the authors and illustrators,” said Rislov. Wind City owner “Vicki Berger hooked me up with Zak Pullan.”

Rislov said that when she looked at Pullen’s previous work, she knew he was the right kind of illustrator for her book.

“I wanted to represent the animals in Wyoming that everybody comes to visit,” she said. “There's a lot of books to buy in those stores in Yellowstone National Park, but I didn't think there was any — except for photograph books — that displayed our animals beautifully. And look how many millions of people from around the world come to see Yellowstone.”

The first Rowdy Randy story was published in 2019, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and it created such a following that Rislov and Pullan decided to continue the concept.

“Rowdy Randy won book of the year and all sorts of awesome accolades and awards,” said Pullen. “And then Casey started mentioning a sequel, and so we got to work.”

Casper author and illustrator Rowdy Randy Book 4 29 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Western Heritage Awards

Until this past year, Rislov hadn’t been aware of the Western Heritage Awards, an annual event put on by the National Museum of the Cowboy in Oklahoma City. It was at a writer’s conference last fall that she heard about the program and submitted “The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show” for consideration. 

In February, Rislov was notified that she and Pullen had won Outstanding Juvenile Book, and the collaborators flew to Oklahoma City for the two-day celebration of Western heritage.

“It’s a huge event,” Rislov said. “I was starstruck. I've never been to something like that. It didn’t matter if I was meeting sponsors or Lou Diamond Phillips or Craig Johnson. Everyone was so friendly, really kind.”

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Wendy Corr

Features Reporter