Thursday, April 9, 2009

Author Interview: Janet Halfmann and Giveaway

Back in February, I reviewed a cute children's book with a great message, Little Skink's Tail.  Since then, the author, Janet Helfman and I have emailed back and forth about doing an author interview and/or book giveaway.  Well, we finally got together and today, I have both of those things for you.  Read through to the end of the interview for a great giveaway from Janet!

Please join me in welcoming award winning author, Janet Halfmann to the blog today!

Write for A Reader (WFAR):  When did you know that you wanted to be an author?

Janet Halfmann (JH):  I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but I didn’t realize that I wanted to be a writer until after I had graduated from college with degrees in English and Spanish education. I enrolled in a children's writing course by mail, and I was hooked. But before I actually became a full-time children’s author about ten years ago, I took several detours—going back to college to get a degree in journalism, and then  working as a daily newspaper reporter, children’s magazine editor, and as a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. But now, I’m finally living my dream!

WFAR:  What else have you written besides this picture book?

JH:  I’ve written just over thirty books. My latest is Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, a nonfiction picture book published by Lee & Low Books. It’s the true story of Robert Smalls, a slave who stole a Confederate gunboat and sailed it to freedom, becoming one of the Civil War’s greatest heroes! This amazing man’s courage and determination is an inspiration to anyone facing a challenge. I’ve also written many animal nonfiction picture books for Soundprints, which publishes nature books in association with the Smithsonian Institution, plus many books for the educational market.

WFAR:  What was the inspiration for Little Skink’s Tail?

JH:  I was inspired to write Little Skink’s Tail while doing research for another book I wrote on lizards. I was fascinated by how lizards can lose their tails to escape an enemy, and the tail keeps wriggling. I was especially captivated by young skinks, which often have bright blue tails. So I decided to make a little skink the main character in a fun story. The idea to have Little Skink daydream about wearing other animals tails came from watching my own four kids and now my four grandkids play dress-up and pretend. As I wrote the book, I pictured my granddaughter dancing about showing off each tail.

WFAR:  Are animals a part of your life?

JH:  I’ve always loved animals, since the time I was a child growing up on a farm in Michigan. I had a cow named after me and the farm cats and I were inseparable. We’ve had several cats over the years—our cat Jackie lived nineteen years. Now I have five grandcats and a granddog. I’m fascinated by all kinds of animals and their lives. If you take a walk with me, you’d better be prepared to stop a few times to figure out where all the animal sounds are coming from and whose making them!

WFAR:  Do you have writing mentors or influences?

JH:  I love the nature writers Jean Craighead George and Robert McClung. I also love reading children’s picture books. I often stop by my local library and read all the new picture books on the shelf. I’ve learned a lot about writing from attending conferences and workshops of our Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and by reading books on writing, such as Word Magic for Writers by Cindy Rogers and Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen.

WFAR:  I love the illustrations in Little Skink’s Tail!  I know that authors don’t usually have any say so in choosing the illustrator, but were you able to be in on the choice of illustrators?  If not, how was Laurie Allen Klein chosen to illustrate this book?

JH:  I agree that the illustrations are fantastic! I wasn’t in on the choice, but the publisher did e-mail me some of Laurie’s work early on to see what I thought of it. She illustrated If a Dolphin Were a Fish for Sylvan Dell Publishing before Little Skink’s Tail. That book also has morphing animals, so that may be why she was chosen. There are great interviews with Laurie on Sylvan Dell website  ( and on sruble’s livejournal blog ( Sylvan Dell Publishing just recently bought another of my manuscripts, and Laurie will be doing the art for that book as well, which makes me very happy!

WFAR:  Little Skink’s Tail has received many awards, the most recent being the Mom’s Choice Award for Best Children’s Book (of three) for 2009, Gold Recipient-Animal Kingdom, and Gold Recipient-Educators’ Choice.  What were your feelings/reactions upon hearing the news?
JH:  I was excited beyond words. The first thing I did was run downstairs to hug my husband and then I e-mailed my kids! I’m actually still walking on clouds. I’m hoping that because of the awards more kids will get to read the book. I’m also happy to find out that parents, teachers, and librarians especially like Little Skink’s Tail for teaching character education. The book encourages children to be comfortable with themselves as they are, and although I didn’t set out to include this message, I’m proud that it evolved on its own in the telling of the story.

WFAR:  What is your favorite piece or book that you have written?

JH:  Little Skink’s Tail is my favorite fun book. It’s my first fiction book, which always had been my dream, so it’s very close to my heart. But Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story is the most fulfilling for me because I feel so honored to have been able to tell the story of this remarkable man who deserves to be remembered.

WFAR:  What do you like to do when you are not writing?

JH:  I like to go on outings with my husband and grandchildren—to the playground, museums, family art Sundays. I also have a large vegetable garden, like to visit new places, especially nature centers and living-history museums, and enjoy spending time with my family.

WFAR:  What are some of your favorite things: book, genre, author, color, music, etc?

Favorite Book: Kitten’s First Full Moon
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Music: Country and children’s songs
Favorite Food: Potatoes, corn on the cob, tapioca pudding
Favorite Season: Spring
Favorite Pet: Cats
Favorite Birdsong: Cardinal

WFAR:  Can you describe your writing space for us?  Where is it, what’s around you?

JH:  I write in a fairly large upstairs office, which is my very own private space. My favorite thing about it is the huge maple tree just outside the window. When I’m stuck on a story or just need a little rest, that tree is a “playground” for my eyes, brain, and muse.

WFAR:  What do you think about having your book reviewed by book bloggers?

JH:  I love having my book reviewed by book bloggers, especially when they mention how kids reacted to the story. Most kidlit bloggers read lots of children’s books so I value and appreciate what they have to say. A review on a blog introduces my book to a whole new world of readers, for which I’m very grateful.

WFAR:  What’s in the works for you now? 

JH:  My eighth and ninth nonfiction picture books from Soundprints are coming out this spring and summer. They are Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea and Little Black Ant on Park Street. A bedtime fiction story, Good Night, Little Sea Otter, comes out this fall from Star Bright Books and Star of the Sea, a nonfiction picture book, from Henry Holt in 2010. And as I mentioned earlier, I have a new book with Sylvan Dell Publishing for 2010.

I also have two books coming out from Orchard House Press that my daughter is illustrating: Bewitching the Chickadees  and Sunflower Princess. My granddaughter is the model for the princess story, so she’s extra excited about this book. Release dates have not yet been set.

WFAR:  Anything else you would like readers to know?

JH:  I feel so honored and privileged to be a children’s author. I feel like writing is what I was born to do. Nothing makes me happier than having a child enjoy one of my books!

WFAR:  Thank you for allowing me to interview you!

And thank you for giving me the opportunity. It’s been great fun.


Janet has graciously offered to give one of my readers an autographed copy of Little Skink's Tail.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post.  This giveaway will end on Wednesday, April 15th at midnight.  Winner will be chosen at random on the 16th, emailed and posted on this blog.  This giveaway is open to anyone.  As always you may earn extra entries for following this blog and sharing this giveaway either on Twitter or on your blog.  You can put everything in one comment and I'll take care of your entries.


Bingo said...

I know I am partial to children's books, but that really was one of the best interviews I have read in months. Way to go and THANK YOU for it....I know this author's work so was interested in hearing what she had to say! Thanks for doing it!

3carnations said...

This is a wonderful giveaway! Believe it or not, my son actually has a stuffed skink, as well as another skink book (also detailing the tail loss/regrowth). He would love this!

3carnations said...

I subscribe to you in bloglines.

Reyna Meinhardt said...

Thank you for the contest! I already follow your blog!

Shelley said...

This sounds like a great book!
I follow, and I blogged about it here:

Brimful Curiosities said...

Is it true that Janet Halfmann is from Wisconsin? If so, I must really own a copy of one of her books! Thanks so much for your review and for this interview.

Marie said...

Great interview!
I agree with her, Kitten’s First Full Moon is a great picture book!

KR said...

I teach kindergarten. I'd love to have this book!! Every year, I catch a skink to take to school. Most of my students have no idea what it really is. He only visits for the day then returns to my house!!!


LesbianBride said...

What a great book - I'd love to read it to my nephews. I follow your blog on a reader.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview. Seven Miles to Freedom sounds really good. I just read about Robert Smalls and am so glad to see there is a book to educate children about him. And who wouldn't like a book about a skink? We love watching the lizards around our house!

Thanks for the giveaway!

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Brimful Curiosities said...

Blogged here:

Deborah said...

This was my first visit to your blog. I enjoyed the author interview very much and will look for her books.

Renee G said...

This sounds like a great children's book. I'd love to read this.


Nadi said...

Thank you for the giveaway.
I'm a follower.

treflea4 at gmail dot com

mindy said...

how generous thanks for the giveaway


looks good

Karenladd said...

Loved the interview as well as the book. I grew up with a mom who was always introducing us to critter from the great outdoors so this book is especially appealing to me!
I tweeted as karenladd, and am a follower or your blog!

Anonymous said...

This would be a great book for Holt. He loves the reptile house at the zoo. Thank you.

Barbara Techel, Author said...

I just want to say that this is the most wonderful book. The lucky winner who wins it will be so lucky!! It teaches kids some great lessons, along with being sweet and wonderfully colorful... and heart warming with all the animals.
I already have this book, so please no need to enter me in the contest. I just wanted to pop in and say what a wonderful book it is!

~Barbara Techel
Author & Mom of Frankie, the Walk 'N Roll Dog

LindaLou said...

What a heartwarming interview! I will have to get this book for my pre-k class.I love to introduce my class to new books and this one will also teach them a valuable concept on acceptance.
Linda B

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A Reader said...

Great Interview.
Thanks for the giveaway!

Jake L said...

sounds like a good read, please enter me into this giveaway.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great book I am sure Michael would love this/ Please count me in please

Kaylia Metcalfe said...

What a great interview! As an aspiring writer myself, it is always nice to read about other writers who have “made” it.

Thank you to both of you : )

tatertot374 said...

Thank you for a great giveaway! I would love to win. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Wow! I made it. I was going through my google reader and I have 1000 + blogs to go through. I came across your listing on Brimful Curiosities blog. I would like my try at winning. Thanks. :)

Unknown said...

I posted at Facebook (Janet Carter)

Win a copy of Little Skink's Tail

Unknown said...

Win a copy of Little Skink's Tail @writereader

twtr gahome2mom

wendy wallach said...

You can tell by her answers how well thought out her books are.

madamerkf at aol dot com

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Sabrinaღ'sbooks said...

I grew up on a horse ranch and I adopted all the stray cats that people would abandone. My parents never told me that I couldn't have another cat! Her answers reminded me of all those sweet little cats, lol! Great interview!
I'm following you on twitter!

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