Rich Bergman publishes his seventh children's book to inspire creativity and awareness of social injustice.
A writer of children's books, Rich Bergman's subject matter is anything but fantasy.
Consider the Lakewood Ranch resident's first of his seven books, "Not As Much As I Love You." The entire book was written off off a very special moment at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.
It came in 1996, at a time when he was acting as a nanny for his two granddaughters in Washington, D.C.
"One day when they were 3, I took them to the zoo, which I did often," said Bergman, who now lives in Watercrest. "I asked them, 'Do you love all the animals in the zoo?'
"My granddaughter Talia (his other granddaughter at the zoo was Ariella) said, 'Not as Much as I Love You.' I wrote the poem that night."
It didn't become a published children's book until 2014 when Bergman, who is now 81, decided he wanted to give his grandchildren "something to remember me by."
The decision to publish that first book started an avalanche of creativity. Bergman has just published his seventh book — "Alice McGraw Likes to Draw."
While Bergman's motives for all his books remains to inspire creativity in children and to educate them about injustices in the world such as prejudice and bullying, he wrote "Alice McCraw Likes to Draw" to honor the late Sandra Hanan, who shares a byline with Bergman on the book. Before her death she had shared her ideas for the book with Bergman, who decided to see it come to fruition. He called Sarasota's Hanan "a great philanthropist."
The dedication in the book reads, "This book for children is dedicated to the loving memory of Sandra Hanan, "Mimi," who never encountered a child she did not love. She brought joy and happiness to every child she met."
Bergman wanted to bring happiness to children in 2014 when he published "Not As Much As I Love You" using a relationship he had forged with the Ringling College of Art and Design. Students and graduates did the illustrations to bring Bergman's stories to life. "Alice McGraw Likes to Draw" was illustrated by Giovanna Dasso, a Ringling College graduate.
He hoped his first book would push his grandkids, and any other child who reads it, to be creative and to do things outside their comfort zone.
Bergman never intended to be a writer, but it couldn't have been a total surprise that his life had taken another turn outside his own comfort zone.
A pharmacist and teacher who lived in Louisville, Ky., much of his life (1964-2004), he also had success in the auto glass industry, becoming a national vice president for Safelite auto glass. He also owned his only string of glass shops following his Safelite days.
However, there always had been much more to Bergman, who moved to Sarasota in 2004 after meeting his wife, Rebecca, than his occupations.
He has been a Holocaust teacher for more than 50 years and he is an advocate for any child who is neglected, bullied or abused.
Besides his work for the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, he is a co-founder of Embracing Our Differences and currently sits on the board.
All his life he supported organizations that have protected children, so much so that his children began calling him "Don Quixote."
He smiles and nods his head. "I attack windmills," he said. "I always have fought prejudice. And I don't like bullies. I want to stand up for justice."
His ideals often are reflected in his work.
Growing up poor in Chicago, he was 3 when his father left. When he got to high school age, he was the only Jewish kid on campus.
"I always have been little and I was Jewish," he said. "Yes, I was bullied."
That bullying led to him writing two books about Rocco the Platypus — "Rocco the Platypus Gets Bullied" and "Rocco the Platypus Meets Herman the Bully." He chose the platypus because it has a "tail like a beaver, a bill like a duck, and webbed feet like otters." In other words, Rocco doesn't fit in with any one group.
"No one wanted to play with him," Bergman said. "That happens to a lot of children."
While six of his seven books are picture books, he wrote the 288-page "Ricardo's Extraordinary Journey" that was published in 2019. He calls it historical fiction meant for kids ages 9-15. It was set in the 1300s and followed a 14-year-old boy in Spain who left home to find his fame and fortune. Along the way, he discovered his Jewish heritage.
After seven books, Bergman is not about to stop. He currently is working on his eighth book. Any money he earns from his books goes to charity.
His writing and his many philanthropic duties keep him busy, but Bergman said he walks twice a day with Rebecca and also works out every day to maintain his energy.
Together with his wife, they have five children and eight grandchildren. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have turned to Zoom conference calls once a week to visit with their family.
"It breaks my heart," he said.