Annie’s Special Day – Author Interview

Annie's Special Day1332073678Annie’s Special Day

Clara Bowman-Jahn, author

Claudia Wolf, illustrator

eTreasures Publishing, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and up

Themes: Birthday, Counting Concepts, Time

Opening/Synopsis: “Already awake and excited, Annie heard the alarm go off.  The clocked showed 7 o’clock in the morning, and the sun painted her bedroom walls and toys with a golden glow.”  It’s Annie’s birthday and she is determined to make the most of each hour.   Follow Annie through her day as every hour is filled with a new activity.  At four o’ clock her brother plays and sings Happy Birthday to Annie.  At 5 o’clock, her mommy is preparing her special birthday meal.  At 7 o’clock  Annie’s friends arrive for a sleep over and surprise her with presents.  At 8 o’clock birthday cake is served.  Her birthday celebration goes well into the night and  ends with sunrise.  Will she manage to mark each hour?

What I Like About this book:  Clara Bowman-Jahn has written a delightful concept book for children learning to tell time.  Each illustration features a clock.   This is a book that kids will want to read over and over.  The story is written with simplicity, so a child could read it on his/her own.  Claudia Wolfe’s illustrations are colorful, lively and expressive.  They really are beautiful and  capture each hour of Annie’s special day.

Author  Interview with Clara Bowman-Jahn

I am so delighted to chat with author Clara Bowman-Jahn on my website today about her very debut book.  It is a treat for me because I feel like I have followed her journey this past year from contract to publication and promotion.   Now it’s here and I’m holding the finished product in my hands.  It will ultimately be a Christmas gift for my six-year-old great-granddaughter.

Clara Bowman-Jahn author photo(1)Welcome Clara!  Tell me a little about Annie’s Special Day?

It is a concept book.  Instead of relying heavily on plot it is primarily teaching a concept about telling time and clocks.  Each page shows a different clock rather than focusing on a story line with a character solving a problem or conflict.   It helps teachers and parents show children how to tel time in digital as well as analog clocks.  It is similar to the old Hickory Dickory Dock book,  but different in that it is a child going through her day with her activities in 24 hours rather than a mouse on a farm.  Most children don’t live on a farm anymore and don’t recognize the activities that take place to keep a farm running like they did 40 years ago.

What did you think when you first saw the cover and illustrations?

I was so impressed with Claudia’s talent.   She captured my vision and did a such a beautiful job.  I was thrilled.

When did it sink in that you are an author?

A month ago my sister attended an author presentation I was giving.  She kept telling me I had done a great job and then contacted my brother’ family and told them.   It brought the author role home to me.  My family didn’t know me as an author — it’s something new for them.  But her telling them instead of me, was a big plus.

Do you have a special interest in writing books in a certain genre?

Well, I actually write memoir as well as picture books.  It just so happened that I finished this particular picture book and had a contract for it first.  I guess I have concentrated on picture books and you can see why in this blog post of mine.  I feel the definite need to set goals and manage my time so I can meet them.  I’ve scheduled time for both genres on my calendar, setting time aside for writing and setting time aside to do the business part of writing.

What is your writing process?

I’m a panster!  I have an idea and jump in and begin to write.

What did you learn about writing Annie’s Special Day?

That I can’t write a book in just one month.  It takes me years.  But, the experience of writing and publishing has definitely been worth it.

Anything special on the horizon?

I have a book I’m prepping for a query.  And I’m writing another picture book.   I’ve just returned from the mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference where a took a class on memoir.   I just can’t turn away from memoir altogether yet.  There’s still a story to be told there.

You may purchase Annie’s Special Day is available from the eTreasures Publishing website and Amazon.  You can also visit Clara Bowman-Jahn on her Facebook author page.


Clara’s blog tour schedule: a post from Annie’s Special Day  illustrator, Claudia Wolf on November 20 the illustrator story of Annie’s Special Day from Clara’s side. on November 14, author Clara Bowman-Jahn’s publishing story of  Annie’s Special Day on November 15  the idea to story by Clara Bowman-Jahn of Annie’s Special Day on November 19

Clara, if Annie’s Special Day is any sign of your writing talent, we can expect to read more books from you in the future!  I enjoyed the book and wish you many happy book sales!  Thank you for being a guest on my blog today. — Patricia

Oh, What a Christmas! by Michael Garland

Michael Garland, author and illustrator

Scholastic Press, September 2011, Fiction

Suitable for:  Preschool and up

Synopsis:  Everything started off the same magical way Christmas always does.  Santa and his reindeer took off from the North Pole, loaded with presents for all the boys and girls around the world.  Now, Dasher!  Now Dancer!  Now Prancer and Vixen!  On, Comet!  On, Cupid!  On, Donner and Blitzen!  Santa called out as the sleigh raced across the starry sky.  Then POP! RIP! S-T-R-E-T-C-H!  The harness that attached the reindeer to Santa’s sleigh was tearing.  With one final BOING! it snapped in two!  Ho! Ho! –oh, no!” 

The reindeer fly off into the night.  Santa and his sleigh full of toys plummet to the earth and crash into the side of a barn.  A sleepy sheep peers from the barn…along with  a pig, a goat, two cows,  a horse and a hound dog.  Santa’s eyes twinkle as he surveys the barnyard animals.  Maybe he has found a solution so the children of the world won’t be disappointed.  This is a wild and adventurous Christmas Eve sleigh ride, packed with a lot of humor, sound and action!

Author Interview With Michael Garland…

Michael Garland writes and illustrates Christmas books that are bold, colorful, expressive and beautiful eye-poppers. They will delight children of all ages.  Oh, What A Christmas! is no exception.  I am happy to have Michael join us to talk about his craft.

What was the inspiration behind “Oh, What A Christmas!” and what do you want young readers to take away from this story? 

The inspiration came from the seed of an idea.  What if Christmas didn’t go as planned  What if Santa’s journey was derailed somehow?  I want young readers to use their imaginations and think what they would do in Santa’s place.  The inspiration for my other Christmas books is the same, to invent some new piece of Christmas mythology that will be exciting and interesting to children and add to the enjoyment of the holiday.

Explain how you illustrated “Oh, What A Christmas!”   What methods do you use in your illustrations?

I start all my books with quick thumbnail sketches that form the layout dummy.  Then I make a refined dummy with more finished sketches before I present it to the publisher as a proposal.  The publisher, editor and art director add their input.  When that’s all done, I start rendering the final art.  I scan my sketches into my Mac computer.  I scale them to size and begin painting them in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet.  I also use scanned textures, patterns and old engravings as part of the overall work.

Was Christmas a special time for you as a child?  Do you have a special memory, story or tradition you’d like to share?

The anticipation of Christmas was always the best part.  My Christmas memories are all about family.  Buying presents for my brothers, sister and parents.  Making a wish list for myself.  We would always decorate the tree together.  My 86-year-old mother still creates beautiful handmade ornaments that benefit her church.

When did you realize you could draw?  Did someone special encourage you?

From as early as I can remember, I could draw.  My parents were the first to encourage me with lavish praise, but it wasn’t until I arrived at kindergarten, that I realized I could draw better than anyone else.  The teachers would always hold my drawings up to show the class (never my math test).  It was the thing that set me apart from others.  It made me special.

Where have some of the ideas come from for many of your books?

The ideas for my books come out of thin air or from a word or a phrase I may have heard, or an event I may have witnessed.   I have a constant flow of ideas for stories.  For every one idea that gets published, I have five or six worthy, developed concepts that never see the light of day.

What is your most popular book/s or series among children?  How many books have you published this year?

My most  popular book to date has been the Mouse Before Christmas.   Miss Smith and the Incredible Storybook has been my most popular series.  It continues to resonate with teachers, librarians and kids because it is about the adventure of reading.   Miss Smith and the Haunted Library was the first time I made the NY Times best seller list as an author.  I’ve published four books this year:  Super Snow Day, Grandpa’s Tractor, Miss Smith Under the Ocean, and Oh, What A Christmas!

You do a lot of school visits.  What do kids ask you?

I enjoy school visits.  Children want to know where I get my ideas.   I get my ideas from everywhere.  I explain to kids that ideas are like seeds.  You plant them and let them  grow, as if you are a farmer.  They want to know how I make a book, so I show them with my book dummies.  They ask me what is my favorite book.  It is always the one I’m working on at the moment.  I want that book to be the best book I’ve ever done.

You have received fan feedback about the use of your books with children who have special needs.  Would you share those stories?

I received a letter  from the mother of an autistic child.  The boy was never interested in books until he was given Miss Smith and the Incredible Storybook.  For some reason, he made a connection and was able to start the process of learning to read.   He liked to create different voices for the characters.  Another letter came from a teacher of developmentally disabled children.  The teacher would use my book, How Many Mice? as an aid to teach counting, addition and subtraction.  One boy asked about me so often that the teacher contacted me.  We arranged for the boy, his mother and the wonderful teacher to visit my studio.

Are there any new books you are working on that you would like to share?

I have a new book coming out in the spring 2012 called Fish Had A Wish.  It’s about a fish who becomes bored being a fish.  The fish wishes he could be something else, but by the end of the story the fish comes around to thinking that it’s pretty nice to be a fish.  It’s and easy reader meant for early readers.  I’m writing a young adult fantasy novel.   I also have some picture books in the works.

Note:  Michael’s  other Christmas books include Mouse Before Christmas, Christmas Magic, Christmas City, and An Elf for ChristmasHe also illustrated James Patterson’s Santa KidMax Lucado’s Alabaster’s Song, and Gloria Estefan’s The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the BulldogMichael has written and illustrated over 30 books and has illustrated more than 40 books.  He also is an artist who paints beautiful landscapes.  Click on  Michael Garland ‘s web site, for a complete list of books,  information about school visits, and a link to his art gallery.  He is married, has three grown children, and lives in Putnam County, New York.

Thank you Michael for sharing your thoughts and your luminous artwork.  I wish you every success with Oh, What A Christmas!  — Patricia Tilton

“E-mergency” by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer

E-mergency is illustrated and written  by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer.  It was inspired by Ezra, a 15-year-old student and an expert animator, who created a short animation video titled  Alphabet House.  Kids of all ages and adults will enjoy the wit and humor, and laugh out loud when they read E-mergency.  Lichtenheld used ink, pencils and pastels to create his very detailed, bold and colorful illustrations.  Brilliant and funny!

All the letters of the alphabet live together in a big house.   The letters  rush downstairs for breakfast one morning, when E tumbles down the stairs.  It’s an E-mergengy!  A takes action and asks J to call 911.  The EMT’s arrive and take E to the hospital.  But, who will take E‘s place?  The obvious choice is O, who is well-rounded.  All the letters jump into action.  An announcement is made on television shows and in newspapers to alert the public that E is out of service and O will stand in.  “Pormanont injury could occur if pooplo uso E.”  D and C “travol to Washington to alort the govornmont.”  For some reason, E, is not recovering and the other letters must find the culprit who has been “disoboying tho lottor law!”  E-mergency is a cleverly crafted and illustrated book.

Author Interview With Tom Lichtenheld

Tom has joined us today to discuss the intriguing story behind E-mergency and his collaboration with Ezra Fields-Meyer.   Released Oct. 19 by Chronicle Books,  E-mergency has been named one of the Best Picture Books for 2011.  It also received a starred review the Booklist.  He is the author of 15 books, three of which have been NYT bestsellers:  Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, Shark Vs. Train and Duck! Rabbit!  

How did you first learn about Ezra and his “Alphabet House” video?

Tom Fields-Meyer, a freelance journalist, decided to write a memoir about raising his son Ezra, who has high-functioning autism. As part f his research, Tom read other memoirs, among them Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.   Tom contacted Amy for advice and mentioned in passing that Ezra had an idea for a children’s book about animals.  Amy mentioned it to me and told me Ezra had done a video on YouTube called Alphabet House.

I viewed the video and was immediately intrigued by the idea of a letter being injured, wondering what would happen as a result.  Of course, everyone knows a person can’t work when they’re in the hospital, so I figured the same would be true of a letter; it would have to be taken out of commission while recovering and temporarily replaced by a substitute letter.  Chaos and hilarity would certainly ensue, especially if the injured letter was ‘E’, the most frequently used letter in the English language.

I contacted Tom and asked if Ezra would be interested in seeing what I could do to extend the story into a book, and he was very excited by the prospect.  From there, I wrote a first draft, sketched out the first half of the book, and put together a proposal for Victoria Rock, my editor at Chronicle Books.  Victoria loved the idea, so we were off and running.

Did you work closely with Ezra, and did he have specific ideas about what he wanted incorporated into the book?

Ezra’s big contribution was his video, which established the all-important, fundamental idea about of the story; one of the letters getting injured and being taken to the hospital.  From there, I had a pretty clear idea of what would happen as  a result of the mishap, so I wrote the manuscript then sent it to Ezra so he could see it taking shape.  One of the comments  I got from Ezra says a lot about him;  he asked that I give every letter a role in the story.  I took it to heart and, I think, delivered on it.  We’ve never met in person, but we had a wonderful Skype visit after the book was done, and I feel like I know him just from hearing stories from his dad and reading his dad’s book.

Were there any surprises for you?

After the book was done, Ezra went over it with his uniquely  analytical eye and, of course, found a couple of minor inconsistencies.  For instance, the front endpaper introduces the cast of the book, that being an alphabet, including  a question mark and an exclamation mark.  Ezra asked me why the period wasn’t included, since he appears once in the corner of a page.  I had to admit the oversight, but I wasn’t surprised so much as humbled by his exacting analysis.

I’m sure Ezra learned a lot from you, but what did you gain from the collaboration?

As much as I’m thrilled with the book we created together, meeting and learning about Ezra made the process of creating it a uniquely joyful and inspiring experience.  As I read Tom’s book, Following Ezra, I sent occasional notes to him about what I was learning.

  • I learned that The Social Contract, that unwritten agreement that allows societies to live in relative harmony, is a dauntingly complicated and contradictory arrangement when seen through the eyes of a literalist.
  • It occurred to me that people with autism are just doing in the extreme what the rest of us are doing every day; trying to find order in a disorderly world and seeking experiences that make us feel alive.
  • I remember thinking this after I read “The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime,” and learning about Ezra confirmed it;  we all exhibit traits of autism to varying degrees.  Who among us hasn’t been limited by some kind of social awkwardness, lack of self-awareness or irrational, ritualistic behavior?  Speaking for myself, there are times when I’ve felt like Ezra might be not only more well-adjusted than I am, but also more insightful!
  • I gained a new respect for Judaism, for its emphasis on memory, rituals, and healing a broken world.
  • Most of all, Following Ezra made me realize the healing power of patience, creativity, family, and community.

The Wall Street Journal  recently published an article written by Tom Fields-Meyer called “Embracing Ezra.”

Is Ezra still creating animations?  Is that his dream?

According to his father, Ezra created Alphabet House at age 12.   “Now he’s a tenth grader, and still very interested in animation.  He takes classes at a remarkable program in L.A. called Media Enrichment Academy, which trains special-needs children to use technology to express themselves in all sorts of creative ways.  He spent nearly two years on a detailed parody of the opening title sequence of “The Simpsons.”  He has a great sense of humor and a wonderful talent for drawing funny faces.   More recently he created a short movie based on a Shel Silverstein poem about two cardboard boxes who become friends.   He does dream about a career as an animator.  He also loves animals, and thinks about a career as a zookeeper.  Maybe he’ll end up animating animals.  Or zookeepers.”

What do you like best about your book?

I’d like to think it hits the sweet spot where silliness meets educational value.  I worked with a reading specialist to make sure it includes lots of language lessons within the jokes, so there’s some method to the madness.  If it’s embraced by children and teachers alike, I’ll know I’ve reached my goal.  As far as content goes, my favorite bit is where the letters are gathered around the Liberty Bell and they spell  out “THUD” while one of them says, “It just doosn’t havo tho samo ring to it, doos it?”  I giggled to myself as I drew that one.

Do you have any new books in the works that I can mention?

Yes, I have a book called Zero the Hero, written by Joan Holub, that will be released Feb. 28, 2012.  On my drawing board right now is a super-clever book written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Thank you Tom for the interview!  Best wishes to you and Ezra for a successful book launch of E-mergency!  


Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved

Author Interview with Rukhsana Khan

It is my pleasure to interview Rukhsana Khan, an award-winning author and storyteller.  Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she immigrated with her parents and family to Canada at age three.  She is married, has four children, five grandchildren and lives in Toronto. She is the author of 11 books, with others under contract.  Rukhsana says there are few good children’s books about Muslims.  Her goal is to try to humanize Muslims and create more understanding among cultures. She understands what it is like to be bullied as a child. She feels it is important to write multicultural books so kids of all cultures have stories to validate their existence. Wanting Mor, has received a lot international recognition. Rukhsana will travel November 22 to London, as her novel has novel has been nominated for Britain’s Muslim Writer’s Award.

Wanting Mor is based on a true life story.  Where did you find the story and did you know immediately that it was a story you wanted to write?

Wanting Mor was a direct result of another book I wrote called The Roses in My Carpets.  That book was based on a visit with my Afghan refugee foster child in a refugee camp in Peshawar in 1991/2.  With the proceeds of The Roses in my Carpets I sponsored a library in an orphanage in Afghanistan.  Click here to see the new library.   A few years ago they sent me a report on children in crisis and in the report was the story of a girl named ‘Sameela’, whose mother had died during the war, her father got remarried, stepmother didn’t want her so the father took her to the marketplace and left her there.  She ended up living at the orphanage where I sponsored the library.  Actually, it was a story I didn’t want to write at first.  I thought it was too depressing. Then I wrote it as a picture book.  I thought it would be a companion to my Roses in My Carpets book, only from a girl’s perspective.  But it didn’t work as a picture book.  Then one day I was driving down to visit my mom and I heard a girl’s voice say, “I thought she was sleeping.”  That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it means I need to drop all my other projects and write this book right now.  That became the first line in Wanting Mor.

Were you surprised with the success of Wanting Mor?

Yes, I am surprised by the success of Wanting Mor.  When I was writing it I tossed all caution to the wind and I had no idea if it would ever get published.  I only wanted to find out what would happen to this poor girl.

I shuddered at the thought of Jameela going into an orphanage and wondered if that was a good thing.  What are the orphanages like in Afghanistan?

I have never even been inside Afghanistan.  The orphanage in the story is purely from my imagination, and the pictures I’ve seen of the actual orphanage I sponsored.  But knowing the Afghan culture as I do, I felt pretty strongly that I could represent it in an authentic way.

How does the Afghani culture differ from the nearby Pakistani or the Muslim populations of northwest India?

Yes, indeed.  There are actually quite a few differences between the Pakistani, the NW Indian Muslim, and the Afghani cultures.  The Afghans are a bit more secluded from worldly opinions, I think.  Pakistanis are very influenced by the Indian culture and Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry.

I was happy to see that Jameela, has a cleft lip, as it added so much to the story.  I know that India has the highest number of children born with a cleft lip/palate.  Is this a common deformity among children in Afghanistan?

I’m not sure if it’s a huge problem, but it is definitely a problem.  In writing the story I wanted Jameela to be a deep thinker.  And to be so introspective, you have to be set apart in some ways from the norm.  Unfortunately, being poor and abandoned wouldn’t be enough in Afghanistan, so I wanted to give her a slight deformity.  Nothing too big.

What do you want your readers to take away from Wanting Mor and your other books?

Well, when I was writing Wanting Mor I was really struck by how little Jameela required to be happy.  She has hardly any sense of entitlement.  She literally has only the clothes on her back, and sometimes  a comb.  And, she cherishes them and makes the best of her situation.  And yet, she’s very generous.  When she does acquire some money, she used a lot of it on her friend.  I really want readers to take away a good story from Wanting Mor (and all my books).  They all have things you can take away from them, but I try mostly to focus on just telling a good story.

You’ve been writing children’s books for nearly 20 years.  How hard was it for you to establish yourself? 

It’s been extremely hard to establish myself.  In fact, I still don’t feel established.  I’ve always got a lot of pressure on me to write the next book even better.

Why did it take you a while to write about your culture?

When I first began writing, I thought I had to write about “normal” kids.  I grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  I thought if I do well in establishing myself as a good “normal” writer, then eventually I could write stories nearer to my own experience.  I actually didn’t think such cultural stories would be welcome.  Ironically it was editors who often urged me to send them stories about my culture.  They’d jot down little hand-written notes on their rejection letters.

What was your favorite character to write, and what is your favorite book?

Not sure if I have a favorite character.  I put everything I have into all my books, while I’m writing them, and I love ALL my characters and stories.  But, I do have a favorite book.  It’s Wanting Mor.

You are a talented storyteller.  Did you grow up in a family of storytellers?  Was storytelling something encouraged in your family?  Did you encourage your children to tell stories?

Thank you!   Yes.  I can say that I grew up in a family of storytellers, though none of them were paid for their performances.  None of them are professional storytellers.  People who meet my father and mother are often charmed by their storytelling abilities.  They’re almost a comedy tag team.  Very,very funny!  I grew up hearing my father read the Quran (our holy book) to us, and telling us stories of when he was a kid growing up in Pakistan.  My book Silly Chicken is almost entirely from my mom.  She told me a story of this really dumb chicken that her mother (my Nani) had.  Everything in the story happened, except it wasn’t a dog who ate the chicken, it was one of the neighbors.  He was a really mean guy.  He stole the chicken and ate her.  When my grandmother found the chicken’s long legs on his garbage pile, she chased him around and hit him with her shoe.  But when I began writing the story, I changed it to a dog who ate the chicken because it’s less political.  *g*   I have encouraged my children to be storytellers, but they’ve chosen a much more private life.

I know after hearing you speak at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference last August, that you have a wonderful sense of humor.  Do you have a preference in writing humor over something more serious?

I do love humorous books!  And yet my son says I’m better at the tear-jerkers.  Not sure why.  I love both.  It just depends on the story that needs to be told.

Are there any new books in the works that you would like to share?

I’ve been asked by Scholastic Canada, to write a novel based on a character in a short story I wrote for them.  They’ve also asked me to write a historical novel.  I’m working on a sequel  for Wanting Mor, and a story about a girl who goes to Hajj (the big pilgrimage to Mecca).  I’m also working on another picture book idea, something that will be as good as my book Big Red Lollipop, which was chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best picture books of the year, and won the Charlotte Zolotow and Golden Kite awards for best picture book text.

Patricia:  Thank you so much Rukhsana for this interview!  We hope you win the award for Wanting Mor in London next month, and will look forward to your upcoming books.  Congratulations on your new grandson! 

Khan also is the author of the award-winning the Big Red Lollipop, The Roses in My Carpets, Silly Chicken, King of the Skies, and Ruler of the Courtyard.  Check out Rukhsana Khan’s website for information about all of her books, her blog, articles and school presentations.


Copyright (c) 2011,  Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved