By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer

(Wayzata, Minn.) - It goes without saying that parents take pride in their children's accomplishments. Take Sallie Skinner of Wayzata, Minn., for example.

Her son, Ryan, is a Fulbright Scholar who just last year completed a doctorate in ethnomusicology, specializing in West African music and culture at Columbia University. He is also an award-winning children's picture book author and illustrator, and now an assistant professor of music and African studies at Ohio State University.

Sidikiba's Kora Lesson, a coming-of-age story based on Ryan's experiences while living in Mali as an exchange student, won the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA) prestigious Ben Franklin Award last year.

"Ryan has always loved to write and he takes everything to the max. I'm so proud of him," said Sallie Skinner.

Shortly after the book was published, Sallie, an artist in her own right, decided to create a special gift for her son.

"I loved his colorful illustrations and thought how wonderful it would be to design and hook a rug for him, based on one of his illustrations," said Skinner, who has considered the craft her passion for the past six years. "I chose the illustration he titled 'Celebration,' as it seemed to capture the essence of his book and the joy that the Diabate family took in their music."

Young Sidiki Diabate, the main character in Ryan's book, came from a family of musicians. It was his destiny to learn how to make and play the kora, a 21-string harp made out of a calabash gourd and wood from the Guenou tree, a species native to West Africa. Making beautiful music with the unusual instrument has been a labor of love, not to mention a rite of passage for Mande musicians in West Africa for centuries.

Now Sallie Skinner's own labor of love, which took more than six months to create, is getting some much deserved attention of its own. The rug, titled "Celebration," has been chosen as a finalist for "Celebration of Hand-Hooked Rugs XX." It is one of just 45 rugs from across the nation being recognized as the best of the best in the entire United States of America.

"I'm thrilled. Absolutely thrilled by the award recognizing my collaboration with my son," said Skinner. "The rugs in Celebration are truly amazing. I never expected to win, but entered at the urging of my friends."

In August, "Celebration" will go on display at the historic Sauder Village, located in the northwest Ohio town of Archbold, and Sallie Skinner is planning to head over there with it. A photograph of the rug, along with a write-up about it and the artist, will be published in the Celebration XX magazine, which will be published in August 2010.

Being named as a finalist for "Celebration of Hand-Hooked Rugs XX" isn't the only recognition Sallie's beloved rug has earned. Last year, it won a blue ribbon, as well as the overall Sweepstakes award, at the Minnesota State Fair.

# # #

About Sallie Skinner

Sallie Skinner is a former social worker and preschool teacher who is now spending her free time as a fiber artist. She is also collaborating with her son, Ryan, on a new series of children's books she is writing and he will illustrate.

About Sidikiba's Kora Lesson

The children's picture book, written and illustrated by Ryan Skinner, sells for $25.00 and includes a bonus audio CD of seven songs arranged and performed by Sidiki Diabate himself. Books are available for purchase at

About Ryan Skinner

Ryan Skinner is an author, illustrator, musician and ethnomusicologist. For the past 10 years, he has conducted extensive research on traditional and modern music in Mali, West Africa. Skinner is a longtime student of kora master Toumani Diabate. He has performed and taught kora music in Europe and the United States. The recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, Skinner recently completed a doctorate in Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He will begin teaching music and African Studies at Ohio State University in Fall 2010. His first book, Sidikiba's Kora Lesson, which he both authored and illustrated, won first place in the multicultural category of the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA) Benjamin Franklin Awards last year.