An Interview with Tina Shepardson – Author of “Walkout”

An Interview with Tina Shepardson – Author of “Walkout”

WALKOUT
Written by Tina Shepardson
Illustrated by Terry Sirrell
Clear Fork Publishing (2020)
ISBN 9781950169276

Tina Shepardson is an award-winning teacher and debut picture book author of  WALKOUT (2019) and CANINES UNLEASHED (2021), a chapter book, both with Clear Fork Publishing. She is a Debut Picture Book Study Group moderator, a CBA graduate and course assistant, and an active member of SCBWI and 12×12. Find her in Upstate New York with her family enjoying the latest snowstorm with her akitas.

Hi Tina, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk with you today! Tell us a bit about “Walkout,” your debut picture book.

Thank you very much for having me. Walkout shows democracy in action when the main character organizes a safe school’s anti-violence walkout. She invites her best friend Stella to join her, yet Stella is too scared initially. The walkout in their school is for older grades only and these two girls are in the younger grades.

What was your inspiration behind the story?

An article from The New York Times appeared one month following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. It featured thousands of students joining a nationwide protest against school violence with young children in many states wanting to exercise their civil rights. I have been through many tragic events over the years starting with Columbine and thought perhaps there was a way to help educate children on an issue that has continued to grow.

For those that may not know, what is a walkout and what is its purpose?

A walkout is the act of a group of people leaving a location such as a workplace or a school to show an expression of disapproval or protest. The purpose of a walkout is to demand legislators take action in response to a particular issue.

Stella and Maddie have different feelings about joining the march. How do the best friends handle differing opinions?

Yes, they do. Maddie and Stella learn from one another’s differing opinions by listening to each other, being open to each other’s point of view, and resisting the temptation to judge. They each allow the other to express themselves with respect.

School violence is sadly a reality in today’s world.  What is the right age to start talking to children about school violence?

That is a great question. I don’t know that there is a definitive age, as it depends on the child, but I believe you have to figure out before you talk to a child what story you would like him or her to tell themselves. The younger the child, the simpler the story or message.

How should one go about this sensitive issue when talking to kids?

As parents and educators, I think first need listen to what kids are saying. What have they heard or seen? What are their feelings, questions? This helps us to gain a better insight and understanding to where they are coming from.

How does “Walkout” introduce children to the concept of Democracy?

The kids are introduced to Democracy when they can speak up in a peaceful manner together by creating signs and displaying them at a common time. They use their freedom of speech to be a voice of change.

What is the most important message you hope young readers take away from “Walkout?”

I hope readers gain the message that we are always stronger together. Even if we do not always agree with one another, we can still respect each other’s opinions, and stand up for what we believe in peacefully and respectfully.

How did you find your illustrator, Terry Sirrell?

Dr. Mira Reisberg of the Children’s Book Academy saw Terry’s artwork and felt his vibrant and animated style would be a wonderful match for the text and she was right! Mira was Walkout’s editor and she had an amazing eye for every detail.

What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?

Oh my gosh! This was my first time, first book, therefore every aspect of the process was brand new. Terry worked so hard, hours and hours! Each time he shared images of the characters or scenes I was so excited to see them all come to life. The story took on an entirely new meaning when I could put faces to the names.

What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?

Keeping the language simple. I have taught English Language Arts to 5th and 6th grade students for over 30 years. The language is more complex so writing for ages 4-8 requires more thought.

What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?

I really enjoy books that share some type of lesson in a way that is disguised within the story itself. I adored Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel, and Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White growing up.

Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?

I have used Christopher Paul Curtis’s novels with students for years. His books are rich with description and vivid language. His books take difficult situations in our history and cause readers to think about their actions, the actions of others, and how our history shapes us. He accomplishes all this with such compassion and humor.

What do you enjoy outside of writing?

Family and food, speaking mainly of desserts of course. We really enjoy time at our camp, spending time outside with our college bound daughter and akitas. There is always some form of a yummy chocolate dessert in the day. Growing up in Central NY, you learn to enjoy the snow. We have so much fun with our dogs in snowy weather.

So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

Yes, thank you for asking. CANINES UNLEASHED, a chapter book about a dog named Hank who adjusts to doggy daycare is my next project. It’s a really cute story releasing in 2021.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

The best advice came from a friend in my early 20s that applies to both life and writing. Everything you do is a process and to enjoy the process especially when it is difficult. There is no start and finish, you journey them one day at a time being open to change along the way. In my 20s, I understood it, but now in my 50s I am truly living it and being present about enjoying the process. As we all know, that isn’t always easy.

Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?

I am definitely emerging myself, and think opening your mind to the wonderful writing community, resources, and supportive individuals is one step to helping you see what writing can be. Take your writing one step at a time. There is so much to learn and everyone goes at a pace that fits their lifestyle. We do not write alone, we have so much help from other authors, critique partners, courses, instructors, a real village if you will. Be there to help others as well. I have met so many lovely writers that have gone out of their way to help me, and I look forward to helping them as well.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Have fun! There are many times you feel overwhelmed, you aren’t sure which step to take  next, you wish things would happen faster. Enjoy every one of these moments and keep growing!

Tina, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!

Connect with Author Tina Shepardson!

Website: www.tinashepardson.com
Blog: https://wonderwords100.wordpress.com/
Facebook: @TinaMShepardson
Twitter: @ShepardsonTina
Instagram: @hank_madeleine

Connect with Illustrator, Terry Sirrell!

Website: www.tsirrell.com
Facebook: @terrysirrellillustration
Twitter: @TSirrell
Instagram: @TSirrell

Purchase Walkout!

Clearfork Publishing
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

An Interview with Jennifer Butenas, Author of A Family Walk

Jennifer Butenas taught early elementary school before choosing to stay at home and raise her three children.  She has a Masters in Education with specializations in Curriculum, Instruction and Literacy. Currently she resides in southern New Hampshire where, in addition to story writing, she enjoys photography and designing children’s gift cards for select children’s shops. Inspired by the antics and adventures of her family, she believes in capturing the joy and happiness of the simple things in life.

Hi, Jennifer! Thank you for joining us today on Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your new book, A Family Walk.


The underlying message of A Family Walk is promoting mindfulness. This busy family carves out some quality time after dinner and before bed to spend together and to just be.  Children are drawn to the melodious rhymes and the rich, colorful illustrations; parents appreciate its hidden message.  The end pages mimic the look of a family photo album with year-round pictures of the family’s celebrations and special times.  I hope younger readers will remember their own special family moments while enjoying the bright, colorful illustrations, the cadence of the rhyme, and the cherry red bird on each page.

The read-aloud crowd loved spotting the red bird in my first book. So, we had to bring him back in my second. An older child might extend their enjoyment by photographing or drawing their own unique moments and creating their own scrapbooks.  I think  A Family Walk is especially relevant now as we are asked to stay in our homes. It’s the perfect opportunity to make the best out of our situations because a family walk is something we all can do and this simple healthy act brings about so much joy.

What was your inspiration behind the story?

Kids inspire me. I’ve been writing since I started teaching elementary school in 1997.  My stories are a way for me to teach children something positive about life. Our children’s world has become more complicated and challenging.  While school and a wide variety of formal sport and arts programs are wonderfully enriching, children are often overbooked.   I think there needs to be a balance.  With too many things on our plate, it is a struggle to enjoy each moment.  We’re always thinking about what comes next or where we’ve been.  I want for children to be present and appreciate each moment whether playing baseball, learning ballet or just hanging out on the front porch.  This story reflects that.  I think connecting as a family is very important too. Family is the foundation for each child. Spending quality time together builds a foundation of love and belonging.

What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience?  

The reaction I would like to see is children living life with purposeful mindfulness and parents to encourage quality family time.  I hope they will stop to think about some of their favorite moments in time. And, that parents will be inspired to start a conversation with their children about being together and enjoying each other’s company.

What messages do you hope readers take away from “A Family Walk”?

The message I hope readers take away would be that when you’re present in each moment it brings a feeling of calm and peace. That message translates into action, like a daily family walk, which provides kids with a foundation of love and belonging.

This is your second picture book – can you give us some information about your first book?

My first book is called A Moment In TimeA Moment In Time is a sweet, confirming book about a family that discovers some of the best moments are the unplanned ones.  Captured for all time with a camera, the family dances on the lawn, listens to music, snores in a rocking chair and feels the freedom to just be themselves.  For the youngest reader, the bold, alluring illustrations draw the kids.  As I mentioned, they love to try to find the little red bird throughout the book. It is written with a beat that gets kids up and moving. It is a great read- aloud book. This vacationing family doesn’t need to be packing it all in or doing a list of planned events, when all they need to do is be.

How long did it take you to write “A Family Walk?”

It took me a few months to complete the story.  It’s exciting once I get an idea, sit with it, work with it and try to tell the story in rhyme.  It’s enjoyable each day to wake up and know it’s waiting for me to work on!  When I have it just the way I like it, I will send it to my editor who checks it for meter and grammar and gives suggestions. After that I spend a few more months really polishing it up.  The illustrations take about a year in total to complete. The whole process is about a year and a half.

How did your experience writing and publishing “A Family Walk” differ from your first book?

The only difference was my illustrator.  The illustrator of A Moment In Time, Charlotte Cheng, had chosen a different path, and so I needed a new illustrator.  I belong to a professional writing organization called Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. On their website you can browse through pages of talented illustrators who have samples of their work online. I searched for someone whose work made me feel warm and happy. I like whimsical and cartoonish style.  Luckily, I found Shennen Bersani. Given her popularity, I was quite honored she made time to illustrate A Family Walk. She is one of the kindest, caring and talented people I know.  Aside from having a different illustrator, the process was very similar to my first book.

What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life?

It was a wonderful experience.   The illustrator really makes a written story come alive.   I gave Shennen my ideas, and she combined them with her own.  We had many conversations.  It was an easy process.  She created sketches for me to look over, and after the sketches, she added color to magically make the characters and their surroundings come to life. She created art that you just want to jump into and walk around. 

What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?

I don’t look at it as a challenge but rather a project that will take its own course like a brook winding through the mountains.  There’s no right or wrong way; it just has an end goal.  My goal with each book is to give children a fun story that they can relate to and that teaches them to view life through a mindful lens.  This in turn helps them to be happier, content and creative. You can always find the silver lining in everything you do.  As I tell my daughter, always ‘look for the happy.’

What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?

I love reading children’s picture books.  My favorite memories are when my three kids were little and we’d take an extra-large, overflowing tote bag of picture books from the library and snuggle up on the couch or anywhere comfy and read.  If not children’s books, I tend to gravitate towards nonfiction because I love learning.  I like to read books that help me to be a better person and enrich my own life or my family’s. My favorites are parenting books, religious books and health and fitness.

Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?

I’ve always been inspired by Dr. Seuss. I love the way he tells a story in rhyme. I love his whimsical illustrations. His stories have cadence, are fun, and have an underlying meaning or purpose.

What do you enjoy outside of writing?

I have a teaching degree and during the week I volunteer in our local elementary school teaching reading which I love.  I also make children’s gift enclosure cards and sell them at local children’s shops up and down the east coast.  I enjoy quiet, simple activities like spending time with my family, hiking, walking on the beach or taking a long walk in town with a friend. Or, I’m quite happy just staying home playing board games.

So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

Yes, I am working on edits and revisions right now.  It’s about the same family of characters, and again, they are sharing some mindful moments together.  The setting of this story is at the beach.

Where can readers purchase your books? 

Both A Family Walk and A Moment In Time can be purchased at any bookstore. It’s also available for everyone on Amazon.  Another great place to read it is at your local library!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

The best piece of advice was you can do it.  Before I published I just had a computer full of manuscripts.  My mother was at Faneuil Hall in Boston one day and came across a self-published author who was selling her books at a kiosk. Knowing that was one of my goals my Mom asked this author questions about the process which she passed along to me.  The author and I connected through email, and she shared a lot of great information about the process of book publishing. She encouraged me and convinced me I could do it too.  In turn, I love to share the process with other aspiring writers.  A lot of people before they start think it’s overwhelming, but I tell them “you can do it.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?

You can do it!  The process is easy if you make a list of each step involved from idea to finished product. You have to be organized and patient, but you can do it.  I’m happy to help anybody who has the desire and needs encouragement or advice.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The positive feedback I get from readers of my books and comments on my cards is so rewarding. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to encourage mindful family moments and honored to be recognized in wonderful organizations like Readers Views. Thank you for shinning a light on A Family Walk. I feel like with the state of the world right now with all kids being home it’s the perfect time to make room in your day for A Family Walk!

Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!

Thank you!

HOW TO CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR – JENNIFER BUTENAS

I like to search for or create inspiring messages for followers.  I feel it’s important to spread and pass along positivity.  You can find me here:

Website: www.theperfectmomentllc.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theperfectmomentllc/ 
Twitter:  @JenniferButenas
Instagram @theperfectmomentllc

And – Learn more about the illustrator, Shennen Bersani here:

Websites: www.Shennen.com and www.achoowhypollencounts.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/shennen.bersani
Twitter: @ShennenBersani
Instagram: @shennen14

Interview with Deedee Cummings – Author of “In the Nick of Time”


In the Nick of Time
Deedee Cummings
Make A Way Media, LLC (2019)
ISBN 9781951218201
Reviewed by Eve Panzer for the Barefoot Librarian and Reader Views Kids (11/2019)

As a therapist, attorney, author, and CEO of Make A Way Media, Deedee Cummings is passionate about passing down the life lessons that were instilled in her mother, Andrea Mast Pecchioni, who passed away in 2003 from breast cancer.  All ten of Cummings’ diverse picture books, poetry books, and workbooks are not only fun for kids and adults to read, they also work to teach coping skills, reinforce the universal message of love, encourage mindfulness, and facilitate inclusion for all.

Cummings has spent more than two decades working within the family therapy and support field and much of her writing shares her experiences of working with kids in therapeutic foster care. As a result, her catalogs of published books for kids are filled with positive, hopeful messages.  Using therapeutic techniques in her stories to teach coping skills, Cummings also strives to lessen the stigma that some people feel when it comes to receiving mental health assistance.

Hi, Deedee! Thank you for joining us today on Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your latest book, “In the Nick of Time.”

This is a story about a little brown boy who saves Christmas. My family loves Christmas, but after years of collecting Christmas books we could not find any more with characters that looked like my children. Also, we never found one that resembled our children with one of our favorite storylines: a child that gets to help Santa save the day. So, I wrote the book I could not find.

Here is an article with more info that was in USA Today

What was your inspiration behind the story?

I wanted my son to see one of our favorite storylines in a book with a character who he could directly relate to. My 10-year-old son Nick is the inspiration for this story.

Tell us about your main character, Nick.  What motivates him? And what about Cooper?

Nick is a fun and fiery kid whose biggest worry is when his next video game will arrive. He is fun, happy, healthy, has all he needs, and loves life. He does not recognize that one of his classmates (Cooper) is homeless and needs help because Nick always thought you could look at a person and tell if they were homeless or not.

What cultural and/or societal lessons will young readers learn about reading “In the Nick of Time”?

Young readers will learn a multitude of lessons:

  • Bullying and choice of words
  • Empathy, compassion and kindness
  • What poverty looks like
  • Service to others
  • What is homelessness and what are shelters

What does your writing process look like?

I am a family therapist and a lot of the stories I write just come to me after I have worked with a client of a family on an issue. I think that the message I have received that day is one that needs to be shared and I sit down and write that message.

How long did it take you to write “In the Nick of Time?”

One day. Of course it was reviewed by others and edited a few times, but because the message had come to me so clearly, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

How did you find your illustrator, Charlene Mosley?

I had a lot of difficulty finding an illustrator. It is not easy. I met Charlene by chance on Twitter.

Link for more information on Charlene Mosley

What was it like working together to bring your story to life?

It is work. It is not all fun, but it is fun to see it all come to life. It is really miraculous honestly when you find a great illustrator.

What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience? 

I just want them to think about something that maybe they thought nothing of before. I want them to read my books and reflect on how they can be a more compassionate person, not just to others, but to themselves as well.

What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?

Ensuring that the story I write is one that they can relate to, understand, and carry with them- maybe for life.

What do you like to read?

Everything. Books, magazines, articles on the web. I am currently reading The Water Dancer by Ta’Henisi Coates. This book inspired me to buy two more books because I wanted to learn more about the subject, so just today I got in the mail: She Came to Slay and The Underground. I guess I hope my books cause people to do this too. To think long past the time they put the book down and want to continue to learn more.

Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?

Growing up my favorite books were Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. I loved these books, but I do think I am more inspired now to write books with diverse characters because I really did not have that growing up.

What do you enjoy outside of writing?

Reading! I think that reading makes me a better human. Oh, and I like to play Plants vs. Zombies. Don’t ask me why.

So what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

Yes, I have seven more books that will be published in 2020 and a seven-part series about a young girl who chases her dreams that I am working on as well. All of these books will move from picture books however, to middle grade and YA.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

To write. Now. Don’t wait. Just write. Even if it’s not good. Write.

Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?

Don’t give up. I think it is just very easy to do. There is a way to make your dream happen. It will require time, work, effort, and sacrifice, but if you give up you have lost a dream.

Deedee, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!

Thank you!

Interview with Cindy Helms – Author of “100 Things”


Cindy Helms is an artist, author, and illustrator based in Denver, Colorado. She uses a variety of mediums for her creations but prefers drawing using simple pens and colored pencils. After many years as an IT manager, another many years designing and building sets for musical theater, and another many years as a stay-at-home mom to two boys, two cats, two dogs, two rabbits, two hamsters, and an unsuccessful attempt at two fish, Cindy has turned her attention to creating children’s picture books.

Hi, Cindy! Thank you for joining us today on Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your latest book, “100 Things.”

I released 100 Things last year (2018) and was more relieved to have finished this book than I was when I finished any of the others. The artwork was so intricate and detailed, and I wanted illustrations that were never boring with new things to see on every page. This was a real challenge and the process was quite intense. Two-page spreads in particular caused me so much grief: Kid’s bedroom, which I wanted to keep in line with the overall farm house vibe while showing his personality; and the page where Kid freaks out with all of the options he is accumulating in his head because this was a very abstract concept to visualize on a five-year old’s level.

The 100th day of school is quite a celebration for young students.  What inspired you to write about this day and how does your book put a new twist on the theme?

I actually wrote this book when my oldest son was in kindergarten facing this 100 things assignment. That was in 2006. My son’s idea was to draw 100 faces on poster paper. But I couldn’t stop offering up suggestions for all the other things he could take: cotton balls, nuts, cereal bits, nails, etc. And before we knew it, we were out of control thinking of all the possibilities. It was a bit like a Sesame Street clip with the Count laughing ecstatically about everything that could possibly be counted. When it came time to turn the story into a book, I didn’t have Kid’s final project solution nailed down. I just knew that all 100 ideas somehow needed to make it into the classroom because that was what was unique about Kid, his imagination. Most kids use 100 of the same item, but for Kid it was so powerful to realize that his own brain had the potential to generate an infinite amount of ideas and suddenly the number 100 did not seem so big after all.

You have several books for young children.  How long have you been writing and what calls you to write books for children?

Yes, 100 Things is my fifth published book. But I have a box full of stories and crazy characters. The funny thing is that I have been writing creative stories since around 2nd grade and I’ve loved to draw, color and paint for even longer.  It never even occurred to me to combine them together. It was not until I was all grown up (in my 40’s) when people started to ask me why I had never written a children’s book when all of the material was right at my fingertips. All I could think was, duh! It was so obviously a fit for my skills and personality. Once I decided to give it a try, so many things started to fall into place. I started to meet people who could help me with various aspects of the process and moved along one step after another until poof Outside, Inside was released in 2015.

Our young readers love your illustrations just as much as your stories! When did you start drawing?

I have always loved the look of a black line on a white paper. Making a simple mark was so attractive to me. When I was in college, though, I never considered this kind of mark-making to be “real” drawing. Drawing was for people who went to art school and spent hours drawing naked people. As an adult I did end up taking drawing classes and suffered through the nude figure studios. This helped me redefine what drawing was for me. Now I believe that everyone can draw. If a person knows how to write their name on a piece of paper, then they have the potential to draw. I also think that tracing counts as drawing. For people who are intimidated by a blank paper, tracing lines over something helps develop drawing skills, build familiarity with the tools and learn proportions. Drawing for me is an anti-stress activity and I take drawing time very seriously. I dedicate time every week to drawing and have many, many drawing journals to snag ideas from.

What other mediums do you enjoy?

Painting is super fun and I originally started out as an artist by painting murals for friends and sets for theater productions. When my kids were born, I tried to keep painting and I can’t tell you the amount of brushes and tubes of paint that were ruined because I was interrupted from my easel and by the time I returned to what I had been working on, the paint was dried and everything was destroyed. So I turned to colored pencils and pens out of necessity. I love papier-mâché too. I have made some really fun and bizarre creatures in this medium. I have a recipe for making my own goop and love to get my hands completely gross. These projects are for my own enjoyment and can be pretty time consuming, so they have taken a back seat to the books and drawing projects.

How do you pick the topics for your stories? Do the words or the pictures come to you first?

My first books where 100% picture driven. I had the characters in a setting already drawn and I accepted a challenge to put a story together. To add to the challenge, in my first book Outside, Inside, I gave myself a 35-word limit as well. I figured if Dr. Seuss could do it then so could I. I had no idea how hard it was to create something that way. But 100 Things is 100% story-driven and it took me years to decide on an illustration style to pair it with.

Picking topics for me comes from the themes I want to convey to the kids.  Friendship and creativity are really important to me. Friendship is a lifelong skill that kindergarten kids are just beginning to test out. Creativity is a capacity that we are all born with and when we hit kindergarten age, we are being drained of this precious resource and filled with expectations of conformity. Anything I can do to plant seeds towards fostering both I feel is a huge success. So my books all have some kind of link to these two themes.

Once you have an idea, what kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Cindy’s Studio – 100 Things Work in progress!

I spend a while organizing page spreads and storyboarding. Varying perspectives and keeping the design fresh is one of the most important aspects of communicating a story to this age range. Kids are very savvy consumers of pictures and stories and I respect that in them. For picture books, design is every bit as important as the story and the characters. Most of my research involves reading some of my favorite picture books again and again trying to figure out ways in which other authors have solved design issues and illustrative plot glitches. I also hash out stories with my sons. They know instantly when a story has a good twist and what it takes to put one in when it is missing.

How long on average does it take you to write and illustrate a book?

There is a quote that I keep close at hand that helps answer this. I wish I knew who said it so I could give credit, but it reads to the effect that, “A drawing takes ten years of contemplation and ten hours manipulation.” That ratio is about right. I am thinking about stories and presentation all the time, constantly churning over ideas. Then it takes proportionately very little time to produce the artwork. Depending on the complexity of the images, the artwork takes anywhere from three to six months.

What do you like to read?

Children’s books, of course. Really. I love “reading” illustrations. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then there is a high value on the quality of the artwork. I love to read art history books for the same reasons. They are picture books for grown-ups. I am actually a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books. I review art history books as well as children’s picture books on that forum. I also love to read biographies. That’s what most art history books are, monographs of artists. Not only is this fun, but it keeps me inspired.

How many children’s books have you read? 

Thousands. Or more. It would be insulting to the kids to claim I was a children’s book author if I haven’t done my research in the field. It helps that I was a babysitter in my teens and have raised two boys of my own, which presented plenty of occasions to read with kids. We have spent countless hours in libraries and story hours surrounded by stacks and stacks of books. That time is invaluable and also gives a really good indication of what kids connect with or are drawn to, what themes seem overdone and what might be missing or underrepresented.

What is your favorite book from childhood?

Well, I will be really dating myself answering this question but Dooly and the Snortsnoot by Jack Kent and Mr. Pine’s Purple House by Leonard Kessler, oh and there’s The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. I still love them. I have a page on my website showing all of my favorite children’s books.

What sets your books apart from other stories in the genre?

What drives me crazy in this genre is the number of books that are preachy and moralistic, where every word, every story has to teach a lesson as if we were still stuck in the Victorian era of education. I think stories can just be good stories and that is what I strive for. Telling a great story in such a way that demonstrates rather than force feeds is so much more powerful. Even this age range can tell the difference. I really hope this is something I am accomplishing with my books.

What do you enjoy outside of art and writing?

I enjoy spending time with my sons. As they are growing up and heading off to college, the times spent together get fewer and farther between. Like most parents, my family is my joy and I treasure our times together. I like to travel too, and get outside as much as possible. This winter I have found myself on the ski slopes at least once a week (living in Denver, Colorado this is a great perk) and I have some of my best ideas out in the mountains so I can even justify it as a working outing!!

If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer/illustrator as an adult, what would you do?

Mostly I would have had more confidence in myself. As a kid I was highly susceptible to what others thought of me, the comments they made, and what they thought I should become in life. I couldn’t stand to be teased and I wanted to fit in so badly that I gave up much of who I was. I wish I could go back and not let that impact me as much as it did.

So what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

My next book is called Rebelberry Pie and is scheduled for release this spring, in just a few weeks (sneak-a-peek on my website!!). This new book will fit nicely with the characters from Outside, Inside, Who’s New and Polygonsters. I have a slew of stories on my task list so there is definitely more to come.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can learn more about you and your works?

www.CindyHelms.com has all of my books as well as a section on What Is Cindy Reading and recent art projects I have completed. I love to get messages through the website as well and respond to everything that comes to me from that site. I recently received a message from a local kindergarten teacher thanking me for writing 100 Things! I was so thrilled to get that.

Where can readers connect with you on social media?

I do not have social media accounts. This was a big decision for me but most five-year-old’s are not on social media, so I try to spend my efforts where my target audience is hanging out – at school. 100 Things recently made it in to every elementary school in the city of Denver.

WOW – that’s wonderful! Where can readers purchase your book?

Amazon!!! And there are plenty of links from my website to the Amazon pages.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

The best advice I ever got was to NOT try to copy someone else. The quickest way to get recognized is not to blend in but to stand out. I took the time to find my artistic voice, get comfortable with it and put it to use.

Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging authors and artists?

Yes. Don’t wait for someone else to validate your instincts or your interests. If you want to draw, then draw. If you want to draw a certain way, then draw a certain way. If you want to paint or cook or write, or whatever it is, then do it. Be diligent about what you want to do, commit to it, invest in becoming better and don’t be thrown off by critics or people who don’t understand your desires. Be careful who you let influence you and guard your artistic integrity. All of the great artists from Picasso to Dali, to Matisse and Cézanne, each one was fiercely independent.

One thing that I had to get over as an artist was to know when to let go of a project. Once I create something, then release it into the world, I own the copyright, but it becomes part of the greater public creative collective. Just like parents have to let their kids grow up, enter into the world and become who they need to become. Our creative babies need to be allowed to do so as well.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank you for the work you do with Reader Views Kids. I have been using this resource for several years and I love being able to reach out directly to the kids. This is one of the only places where the kids can have their opinions voiced and that, for me, is what matters. Success in children’s book publishing is to be able to give kids something they can relate to, grab on to, and grow with.

Thank you, Cindy! It’s been wonderful getting to know more about you and your work!

100 Things by Cindy Helms

The 100th day of school is a BIG deal. When Kid finds out he has an assignment due tomorrow, he is excited. This is the first important project of his school career. But as he thinks about how to do his project, he becomes overwhelmed with options and has trouble deciding. 100 Things engages the imagination and shows creativity and ingenuity. With a charming, playful personality, and an inquisitive companion, Kid demonstrates how to have fun AND get the job done.

Read the Review

Learn more about Cindy Helms!

Website: www.CindyHelms.com
Goodreads:https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14200328.Cindy_Helms
Amazon Author Central:https://www.amazon.com/Cindy-Helms/e/B013VJ4IS6

Interview with Clay Cormany – Author of “The Bullybuster”

The Bullybuster
Clay Cormany
Independently Published 2019
ISBN 9781790644032 

Clay Cormany is the author of two YA novels. His debut, Fast-Pitch Love, combines the angst and thrill of teenage romance with softball competition. His latest novel, The Bullybuster, puts a unique spin on bullying, technology and revenge. 

Before writing Fast-Pitch Love, Clay spent over 25 years as a writer and editor for Ohio’s State Board of Education. His creative work has appeared in numerous central Ohio publications, including the Columbus Dispatch and Spring Street, Columbus State Community College’s literary magazine. He has also edited numerous books, including a three-volume biography of Christopher Columbus and A Death Prolonged by Dr. Jeff Gordon, which received coverage in the New York Times and on PBS.

He is a tutor at Columbus State Community College and a committee member for the 1Girl Project, an initiative that seeks to develop the leadership potential of middle school and high school girls. He also supports literacy and arts programs, especially in his home community of Worthington. Clay tries to live by the Golden Rule and hopes to leave the world a better place than he found it.

Welcome Clay! Thank you for joining us today at Reader Views Kids! Tell us about your book, The Bullybuster.

What would happen if some bright students who were being bullied built a robot to defend (or avenge) themselves against their tormentors? The Bullybuster answers that question and shows that revenge often causes innocent people to be hurt. The story also features a budding interfaith romance between a student newspaper reporter and a Jewish girl who is a top-notch Physics student.

What inspired you to write this story?

Two of the biggest issues today are bullying in schools and the expansion of technology into nearly every phase of human life. In writing The Bullybuster, I saw the opportunity to bring those issues together in a story that also makes a strong statement about the danger of revenge.

How long have you been writing and what called you to write in the Teen/YA genre?

For over 25 years, I was a speechwriter and editor for Ohio’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Even before I retired in 2008, I started writing my first YA novel, Fast-Pitch Love (Astraea Press). I enjoy writing in this genre because through my characters I can be a lot more confident and “cooler” than I actually was as a teenager.

How do you think writing for a YA crowd differs from writing for a more mature audience?          

YA readers need to identify strongly with the characters in the stories they read, and they need to see the characters struggling with problems similar to their own. Older audiences don’t necessarily have these needs.

Talk about a couple of the main characters in the story – what motivates them?

Owen, the protagonist, wants to start a romance with Erica. At the same time, he wants to solve the mystery of who or what is attacking bullies at his school. He faces a major dilemma when these two goals come into conflict.

Erica, too, would like to start a relationship with Owen, but she also wants to stop the bullying some of her classmates are suffering.

Do you identify with any of the characters?  Who and why?

Having worked in education at the state level for many years, I can somewhat identify with Wilma, the high school principal. I know that like other principals, she has to be an expert multi-tasker and answer to a wide variety of people, including angry parents and a superintendent.

What was your biggest challenge in writing The Bullybuster?

I had to walk a fine line between making the story’s robots believable and not overloading readers with technical details about them.

What distinguishes your book from others in the genre?

The Bullybuster is more “cerebral” than most YA books. Although it avoids technical jargon, the book uses robotic terminology accurately. The robots in the story push the envelope a bit but are grounded in sound physics. The book also stands out for its blend of an interfaith romance with mystery and a touch of sci-fi.

What do you hope is the main take-away from reading The Bullybuster?

Bullying has both short and long-term effects, but taking revenge against bullies can get out of hand and hurt innocent people.

How do you come up with the topics for your YA novels?

Fast-Pitch Love was inspired by my son’s mishaps and adventures in little league baseball. The Bullybuster emerged after I read a series of articles on bullying in schools and then watched a segment of the movie Robocop.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

It took me nine years to complete Fast-Pitch Love. During much of that period, I worked full-time as a writer and often did not feel like writing when I got homeAs a result, the novel spent a lot of time on the shelf. The Bullybustertook about three years to finish. Being retired made a big difference.

So what’s next, do you have another story in the pipeline?

I don’t have any immediate plans for another novel, but I will be writing some short stories soon that will deal with cancer.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy biking and running. Indoors, when not writing, I like to read. My current reading challenge is to graduate from the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle by reading 12 books on their approved list. Most important of all, I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and seeing the world through their eyes.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

Write because you love to do it or because you have a story that you must tell. Don’t worry whether it will sell or not. If your writing brightens the life of just one person, it will be worth the effort.

Read the review of “The Bullybuster”

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CLAY CORMANY AND HIS BOOKS: 

Visit his website at www.claywrites.info
Visit his Author Page on Amazon 
Visit his Goodreads Author Page

CONNECT WITH HIM ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
Twitter: Clayton Cormany @Speechwriter2
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/The-Bullybuster-413427342764124https://www.facebook.com/Fast-Pitch-Love-249475425209772