An image of Kyla Ilic amongst her books and artwork
Kyla Ilic | Photo: Courtesy of Kyla Ilic

Kyla Ilic

Local publisher believes in the power of good storytelling

Stephen Hunt

When she was a student at the University of Victoria, Kyla Ilic had a unique roommate.

It was a rabbit.

Now, Kyla is the owner of Calgary-based Pippin’s Press, a boutique publisher that publishes children’s storybooks—the first one, appropriately enough called The Peculiar Habits of Little Rabbits—that Kyla writes, illustrates and actually designs and prints.

But the inspiration for the name of the company came from that first college roommate rabbit.

“I grew up with rabbits,” Kyla says. “That’s kind of where the name Pippin came from. 

“He was a real house rabbit. He lived with me during my college years and was a wonderful companion. Late at night while I was studying in my UVic sweatshirt he would be on the couch with me, both eating our salads, while I was cramming for an exam,” she adds.

“I called him Mr. Pippin. He was just always there. I had him for close to 10 years and he just kind of was that creative child-like innocence, simple. He was a white rabbit and had such a cute little face and was always so full of energy and always wanted to see what I was doing.

“He became the symbol for the press—the curiosity of that child-like nostalgia—so that’s where the name came from.”

Kyla is a natural-born storyteller who grew up an only child on a farm on Vancouver Island. Talking to her about her creative life as an author, illustrator, publisher, and artisanal bookmaker is fascinating and inspiring and a little awe-inspiring.

Kyla founded Pippin’s Press in 2015, to inspire an appreciation of art and to foster children’s creativity. She hopes to inspire children into liberating their imaginations and igniting a belief in themselves.

It was at UVic where she realized the best teaching tool of them all is a good story, well-told.

“Stories stay with us,” she says. “They transcend us into different cultures and worlds that we would never otherwise view.”

Not only does Kyla write stories, but she knows about paper and book binding. She can talk about the imaginary world of her characters, but she can also detail the challenges of hand-sewing a book, and how you have to be careful when you stick a needle through the spine that your thumb isn’t waiting on the other side.

“One of the things I ask myself with books,” she says, “is why do I have to go down the traditional route of publishing, when I really enjoy making my own artisanal books. I really enjoy sourcing the paper myself, learning about how paper is made from the various paper mills I buy from—what their philosophies are concerning the environment and stuff—and then creating it myself?”

“It’s why I love storytelling so much! I get to be myself on this journey of making books, art and writing children’s stories.”

Kyla says the inspiration for her drive to share her stories came in part from Beatrix Potter, a 19th century British author from the midlands who wrote, among many children’s stories, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

“I read every one of her books. I still have her books, I still have her collections,” she says.  “She was a business woman and an entrepreneur and she was kind of from the same situation—an only child who looked at her own environment and created these stories out of her childhood.”

An image of Kyla Ilic reading a book
Kyla Ilic | Photo: Courtesy of Kyla Ilic
‘Horses are amazing creatures’

And if Pippin the rabbit was the inspiration behind the company’s origin story, there’s little doubt where the inspiration for one of her more recent stories comes from, Milly Goes Western.

That’s a horse called Shooter, Kyla’s constant companion as a girl growing up on Vancouver Island.

“I found myself without realizing it, painting him,” she says. “He was goofy too, he was impatient, he didn’t like to stand for too long to get tacked up, or if you weren’t paying attention to him, he would let you know—so all these characteristics came out without actually realizing too much of it. Until I was like, wow, it’s Shooter—without first seeing that when I started the story—and then Milly, getting into trouble.”

Horses have been sidekicks in westerns for decades. Horses are the co-stars of CBC’s long-running, shot in southern Alberta hit TV series Heartland

Kyla has a knack for explaining why.

“Horses are amazing creatures,” she says. “They have this ability to connect with you. They mirror back to us our emotions. You can learn so much from training and riding horses.”

Speaking to children in classrooms about her children’s press unlike any other drove home to Kyla how unique it is.

“I attended a couple careers and passions days for elementary schools, where they bring in people to talk about their careers and what kind of professions are out there to give the kids an idea about careers,” she says. 

“One of the things that really stood out to me,” she adds, “was just the fact that I was an author who writes and publishes my own children’s books that way, it was: you made that book? That’s your book. You’re doing that. Wow. I didn’t think you could make your own book. Who would want to see a book that I made?”

Boutique stop for artists

Kyla relocated with her husband to Calgary from British Columbia in the early days of the pandemic, moving here at possibly the weirdest time ever in recent history.

She has expanded her business while continuing to act as a one person content creation company.

Basically, she’s offering artists in the community access to her high quality paper, printing expertise, and artisanal experience.

“I want to be a boutique stop specifically for artists, where I’m printing their artwork for shows and galleries.”

As far as the future goes, there’s a new holiday book out.

“I’m finished working on a little pocket poem book,” she says. “It’s a Christmas book about two endearing kittens waiting up for Santa Paws.”

She may have relocated to Alberta in the middle of a pandemic, which would weird out anyone, but Kyla has, in addition to her husband, brought along her own source of creative comfort.

“They’re rabbits I have now,” she says. “Axel and Abby. They’re six. They make amazing pets, because they’re quiet yet very social and really easy to litter train.

“They are the press mascots. And they’re so expressive, too. 

“They’ll wiggle their nose around, they’ll even grunt at you if they’re mad at you,” she adds. “It’s like wow! So they bring a lot of characteristics for the characters in my books too, without meaning to.

“You know the saying that you’re the sum of the five people you talk to the most?” she asks. “Well I’m like, what if that consists of rabbits?”

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

Have a story to share? Email us at submissions@calgaryartsdevelopment.com.

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