Sylvan Dell is proud to introduce one of our great new spring releases, Home in the Cave! Written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Shennen Bersani, Home in the Cave is the educational tale of Baby Bat and his adventures in the cave he calls home. Through his exploration, Baby Bat not only learns about other cave critters, but he learns a lot about himself as well!
Janet Halfman is the award winning author of over thirty children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Home in the Cave, A Little Skink’s Tail, and Fur and Feathers. In this interview, Janet Halfman shares her literary and creative experiences as she discusses her life as a children’s author with her fans and readers.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I like the surprises that occur as I’m writing my first draft of a story. Sometimes the characters just seem to come up with ideas on their own, such as Sophia does in Fur and Feathers when she adds her own special touches to the animals’ coats. But I think my favorite part of writing is the revising. I love finding just the right word to bring a character or action to life. I love making each sentence sound and flow just right.
What topics do you most enjoy writing about?
I enjoy writing about animals and nature. I never cease to be amazed at the intricacies of each animal’s life and how all of life is intertwined. For example, when researching and writing Home in the Cave, I was amazed to find out how important bat droppings or guano are to the other animals in the cave.
When did you become interested in writing?
I have loved to write all my life, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college and took a writing course by mail that I decided I wanted a career as a writer. To accomplish that, I went back to school and got a second degree in Journalism (I had originally studied to be a Spanish and English teacher). The second degree led to jobs as a daily newspaper reporter, managing editor of a national magazine for kids who live in the country, and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. When my position at Golden books was eliminated about 15 years ago, I set out to become a children’s author, my original dream!
What is a typical writing day like for you?
First, I check my e-mail and social media sites to see if there is anything I need to take care of right away. Then, If I’m working on a story, most of my day is spent on that story. To create the best story, I have to completely immerse myself in it and let it become part of me. Then ideas come to me while I’m taking a walk, or making supper, or doing any number of things. When I’m not working on a story, I promote my books through social media and other ways, look for new markets, fine-tune my old manuscripts, read picture books, etc. I work in an upstairs home office next to a window overlooking a huge, old maple tree. I spend 50 to 60 hours a week working on writing or business related to writing. And I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world—to have reached my dream of being a children’s author!
What is the most frequently asked question you encounter as an author?
People often ask me how long it takes to write a book. I tell them that each story is different. Many require lots of research. Even for a fiction picture book, I often have a pile of research books sev-eral feet high, in addition to research I do on the Internet. And often story ideas bounce around in my heard for a long time before I start to write them d
own. People also ask how I found my illustrator. I tell them that the publisher usually chooses the illustrator. The publishers know which of the many illustrators they work with will be best for the story. Usually, the artist and illustrator do not even meet. That way, the writer can do her creative thing and the illustrator is free to do his or her creative thing. And I’ve never been disappointed. Often an illustrator adds some touch that never even entered my mind. For example, in Little Skink’s Tale, illustator Laurie Allen Klein showed a caterpillar changing into a butterfly throughout the book. Children love finding this additional surprise!
Most of your books are about animals and nature. Why is that?
I grew up on a farm in Michigan. My dad loved farming, and I think his love for animals and nature rubbed off on me. After supper, the whole family would often pile into the pickup to go to the back forty to see how much the corn or soybeans had grown. Today, whenever I go on a walk, I have to pause several times to watch a dragonfly or butterfly, check out a new blossom or try to find the bird that’s singing. I’m constantly amazed by the stories that nature has to tell.
What tips do you have for parents regarding instilling a love of read-ing in their children?
Parents and other caregivers can give children so much by starting to read to them at a very young age. Reading opens up so many avenues for chil-dren and is a wonderful bonding experience between caregiver and child. A child who is read to is much more likely to become a reader. And a child who can read well is likely to have an easier time in school. Also, a story is a great way for everyone to wind down after a busy, hectic day.