WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING:  Educator turns love for kids into successful career as children’s author

Family fables, animal antics shine in Casey Rislov’s ‘Rowdy Randy’ book series

By Sarah DiMuro

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Casey Rislov spent many days riding horses and attending rodeos as a child growing up in Casper. But she never imagined she would create a children’s book series about a feisty female horsefly who did both.

For Rislov, education seemed the logical career path. Her father, Ronnie, taught drafting and engineering  at Casper College; her mother, Randy, taught sixth grade at Fairdale Elementary. As a biology major at the University of Wyoming, Rislov flirted with becoming a physician assistant but ultimately earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Montana State University, which led her to the front of the classroom, where she read a lot of children’s books. 

Casey Rislov, Wyoming’s award-winning children’s author, poses with the two books in her “Rowdy Randy” picture book series about a hell-raising cowgirl who also happens to be a horsefly. (Courtesy photo from Casey Rislov)

“I love teaching, being in the classroom and being around the kids,” Rislov, 47, told the Wyoming Truth. “It brings me so much joy to see the excitement on their faces as they learn new things.”

While reading to her students at Wyoming’s Child Development Center in Casper, Rislov came up with concepts for her own books. She kept a notepad near her bedside table so she could jot down ideas. Still, she didn’t consider the writing life; teaching was in her DNA.

But in 2010, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and given months to live, Rislov quit her job so they could spend time together. And despite Randy’s growing weakness, she always managed a smile when her daughter discussed her new goal: to become a children’s author.

In 2011, after Randy passed away, Rislov self-published her first children’s book, “Time Together, Time Well Spent!From there, she turned to Vicki Burger, then-owner of Wind City Books in Casper, for advice about the independent book publishing business. Burger connected Rislov with Zachary Pullen, a celebrated Wyoming illustrator who shared industry insights and eventually signed on as her collaborator.

“It’s so funny, Zak and I actually graduated from Natrona County High School [in Casper] together, but we didn’t know each other,” Rislov said. “Never had a class together, as there were over 500 people in our graduating class. And now here we are, working together.”

Honoring mom

Rislov published four more children’s picture books, tackling topics such as love, loss and friendship. But she wanted to focus on the uniqueness of the West and asked Pullen to team up on “Rowdy Randy.”

Casey Rislov, a former teacher turned children’s book author, loves visiting local elementary schools and reading to students. Pictured here dressed as a cowgirl during one of her visits, Rislov takes her audience through the second book in her series, “The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show.” (Courtesy photo from Casey Rislov)

“She’s a go-getter,” Pullen said. “The greatest thing is when you find a writer that is willing to be a true advocate for the book, and I knew that Casey would make those phone calls, knock on the doors and really do all she could to promote the book.”

Rislov writes at home—always with pencil and paper while her sons are at school—and spent seven months on the first draft of “Rowdy Randy.”

The book, about a hell-raising horsefly named Randy, was published by Book Bridge Press in 2019. Randy is a cowgirl, who, much like Rislov’s own mother, exemplifies persistence and strength, stating, “I am the toughest cowgirl around.”

Rislov knew her way around horses and had watched her sister Carly compete in rodeo events, so she was able to capture Western culture in print. With its lively language and realistic animal art, “Rowdy Randy” is targeted to 5 to 10-year-olds, but adults will get a kick out of its ode to the West and depiction of animals native to Wyoming. Even the elusive jackalope makes an appearance. 

Rowdy Randy” sold over 6,000 copies and was selected by the Wyoming State Library for the 2021 Library of Congress National Book Festival “Discover Great Places Through Reading List.” This success prompted Rislov and Pullen to team up for “The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show,” which was published by Book Bridge Press in October 2022.

Marketing machine

After the launch of the second “Rowdy Randy” book, Rislov hired a puppeteer in New York City to create a costume for the Rowdy Randy character. When she visits schools, Rislov sometimes brings along a friend to wear the costume to further engage her young listeners. (Courtesy photo from Casey Rislov)

To promote her books, Rislov returns to her teaching roots. Until 2016, schools tapped state funding to buy students their own copies of the books Rislov read to them. After funding was cut, she asked local businesses to pick up the tab.

“When the books are handed out, I always tell the students, ‘You see, local businesses have bought you these books, as they know how important reading is. So believe your teachers when they say reading is important,’” said Rislov, noting that a third “Rowdy Randy” book is in the works.

With the publication of “The Rowdy Randy Wild West Show,” Rislov has upped the performance element to her visits, often donning a cowboy hat and other gear to bring a touch of the Wild West to the classroom. On occasion, she also brings a sidekick outfitted in a full Rowdy Randy costume. 

Miranda Berdahl, the current owner of Wind City Books, is impressed with how Rislov connects with her fans.  During book signings at Wind City, “Casey is always over-the-top kind, accommodating the kids in any way she can,” Berdahl said. 

And what do her own rowdy rascals—Alex, 13, and Asher, 10—think of Rislov’s books? “They love Randy’s big personality, and of course, all the animals,” said Rislov, adding that her husband, Chris — owner of Fairground Homes in Casper — reads early drafts and helps brainstorm ideas.  

In addition to the “Rowdy Randy” series, Rislov collaborated with Wyoming photographer Ron Hayes for “Let Me Tell You About My Mom,” a children’s picture book that will be released on Feb. 23 by Book Bridge Press. It introduces young readers to mama animals (and their babies) that are indigenous to the West and prairie regions of the United States.

Rislov’s main goal for her books is “to leave important messages behind and support schools and libraries by reminding kids that reading and writing [are] creative and fun.”

What advice would Rislov give to aspiring authors? Believe in the story they have to tell. “Even if you have a similar story or idea, or you think it has been done before, your viewpoint is different, making it your own special story,” she said. 

And in the words of Rowdy Randy: “Act big and dare to be mighty.”

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