A Conversation with Janet Halfmann, Author of “Home in the Cave”

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.

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Sylvan Dell’s “Fur and Feathers” is a 2012 Teacher’s Choice Award for Children’s Books Winner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning Magazine has selected Fur and Feathers by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein, as a 2012 9th annual Teacher’s Choice Award for Children’s Books winner! 

The Teacher’s Choice Award is determined by a team of teachers from across the United States.  They judge the entries and provide reviews.  Sylvan Dell’s book, Champ’s Story: Dogs Get Cancer Too!  had the privilege of winning the Teacher’s Choice for the Family Award in November of 2011.  This is the only award that requires its judges to be both a teacher and a parent.  Winning titles are chosen based on qualities such as originality, creativity, safety and durability, and high-interest level and motivation for children. 

In Fur and Feathers, a young girl named Sophia dreams that strong winds whisk the fur and feathers right off her animal friends.  She decides to share some clothes with them, but as it turns out, her clothes don’t work so well on animals.  She offers to sew each one the “right” coat, and the animals line up to explain what they need and why.  Polar Bear needs white fur to stay warm and hide in the snow.  Fish needs scales, but with slime.  How will Sophia make a prickly coat for Porcupine?  This book brings animal coverings to life in an imaginative way.

Janet Halfmann is the award-winning author of more than thirty children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction.  Her other recent titles include Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Good Night, Little Sea Otter, Little Black Ant on Park Street, and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story.  Janet is a memeber of the Society of Chidlren’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Before becoming a children’s author, she was a daily newspaper reporter, children’s magazine editor, and a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books.  For more information, visit her website: http://www.janethalfmann.com

Laurie Allen Klein has been a freelance aritst for nearly 20 years.  Over the last several years, she has worked as the on-staff artist for a marine park, where she does everything from painting life-size sea animal murals, to illustrating children’s activity books.  In addition to Fur and Feathers, Laurie also illustrated Where Should Turtle Be?, the award-winning Little Skink’s Tail, and If a Dolphin Were a Fish for Sylvan Dell.  Her website can be visited at http://www.lauriekleinart.com/.

Get to Know Author Janet Halfmann

Janet Halfmann is the award-winning author of many books, including the Sylvan Dell titles Little Skink’s Tail (Gold Mom’s Choice Award, Teachers’ Choice 2009), Fur and Feathers (Gold Moonbeam Award), and the upcoming 2012 Sylvan Dell title Home Sweet Cave.  Janet very kindly agreed to answer some questions for SD about her books, and her life as an author.

 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and what drew you to children’s picture books in particular? 

 I’ve loved to write ever since I was a child, but didn’t realize that I wanted to be a writer until after I graduated from Michigan State University, with plans to teach English and Spanish. While home for a year with our first child, I enrolled in a children’s writing course by mail, and soon was hooked. I had some success selling articles to children’s magazines, like Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill, but I wanted a full-time writing job, so I got a second degree in journalism. That led to stints as a daily newspaper reporter in Wichita, Kansas; managing editor of a national children’s magazine based in Wisconsin; and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books, also based in Wisconsin. When a new owner moved Golden’s activity-book division to New York City, I decided to strike out on my own and write children’s books, my original dream. 

 From the very beginning, I liked writing picture books best. I prefer telling a story in a few words, and I like being able to make every word in a manuscript sing. I also enjoy writing for the picture-book age group. Many of my books are about nature, and when writing for ages 3-8, I can include lots of science and make the animals come alive without getting into all of the technical details. I think it is just more fun!

 Where do you find inspiration for new books?

 My ideas come from all kinds of places: from my children’s and my childhoods, from observing my grandkids and other children, from places I visit, from what people do and say, from nature, from things I read . . . the list goes on and on. Often research for one story leads to inspiration for another.  For example, I got the idea for Little Skink’s Tail (Sylvan Dell 2007) while researching a factual book I wrote about lizards. I was fascinated by young skinks, who often have bright blue tails that they snap off to escape an enemy—and the tail grows back! I thought that a little lizard who loses her bright blue tail and must deal with that would make a fun and educational story.

 For Fur and Feathers (Sylvan Dell 2010) and my upcoming book Home Sweet Cave (Sylvan Dell 2012), I got my basic inspiration from the wish list for manuscripts on the publisher’s website. From there, I added inspiration of my own—a huge sewing box like I always had handy when my four children were growing up for Fur and Feathers, and my and others’ fear of change (plus fascinating things I learned about bat poop) for Home Sweet Cave

 What are some of your most frequently asked questions when doing signings or school visits?

 People want to know 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 several feet high, in addition to research I do on the Internet. Also, story ideas often bounce around in my head for a long time before I start to write them down. 

 People also ask how I find my illustrator. I tell them that the publisher usually chooses the illustrator, and most of the time the artist and illustrator don’t even meet. That way, the writer can do her creative thing and the illustrator is free to do his or her creative thing. Often an illustrator adds some touch that never even entered my mind. For example, in Little Skink’s Tail, illustrator Laurie Allen Klein showed a caterpillar changing into a butterfly throughout the book. And in Fur and Feathers, Laurie dressed the animals in the kid outfits she thought would look the silliest. She also put Little Skink in the new book. Kids love these surprises!

 How long does it take until you feel a manuscript is ready to be submitted to a publisher? Any particular process you go through to make sure it is perfect?

 As I mentioned earlier, the time it takes to write a book varies greatly. Sometimes a manuscript is ready in a month or so, and sometimes it takes years. A lot depends on the amount of research needed, and whether that information is readily available. I’m working on a picture book biography now that I already have been researching off and on for two years.

 Once a manuscript is almost perfect, I read it aloud many times, often pretending that I am reading to one of my grandchildren. Reading aloud helps me make sure every sentence and word flows smoothly and does what I want it to do. I also ask my husband and my grown children to read the manuscript. I spent a lot of time helping my children become good writers while they were growing up, and now they are great at finding things that don’t work in my stories. 

 Any advice for authors interested in having their book published?

 Read, read, read, especially the kind of books you want to write.

Write, write, write, every day if possible, and write about what you enjoy.

Revise, revise, revise, until every word sings.

When you feel every word in your manuscript sings, research publishers to see who does your kind of book and send it off. Then forget about it and start something new. (Most writers have a huge stack of rejection letters.)

 Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and get involved in their state or regional group. You can learn so much by going to writing conferences, workshops, etc. and listening to successful writers. It’s also very helpful to chat with other writers in person or in online writing groups. 

Learn more about Janet at her website http://www.janethalfmann.com or http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/authors.htm

Check out Janet’s Sylvan Dell titles on the SD website:
Fur and Feathers http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=FurFeathers
Little Skink’s Tail http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=23