A Peek Behind a Book by Jean Reagan
On March 25th, How to Babysit a Grandma, a companion to my Grandpa book, (both illustrated by Lee Wildish) will hit the stores. This book is a tongue-in-cheek story of a little girl’s helpful hints about “babysitting” a grandma for a sleep-over. Tips include: How to Keep a Grandma Busy, What to Do at the Park, Possible Places to Sleep, and How to Say Goodbye to a Grandma. Let me take you on a quick peek behind the scene.
Authors all remember the phone call from an editor—the call that said, “We would like to purchase your manuscript.” I screamed and danced crazily after hanging up. That call only pales in comparison to the two adoption phone calls years earlier that said, “We have a baby for you.”
What stood out for me in that call from Editor Allison Wortche was that she liked how my story would appeal to both quiet and exuberant children. She explained that many books aim primarily at extroverts. As a child, I was timid and so perhaps I organically include that sensitivity in my books. And then the role-reversal premise of the story naturally creates raucous humor as a balance.
Another, more significant event informs my writing as well. Nearly ten years ago our son, John, died as a teenager. He was a quiet, compassionate, sensitive child and young man. Parents remember very little that is said at a child’s funeral. But one speaker said, “May John’s memories grace the pages of Jean’s children’s books.” (At that time I was an unpublished, aspiring children’s author.)
These words still echo today as I approach each story. In the editorial process, much of an original manuscript ends up altered or deleted. But as each project approaches its final stage, I always comb through the manuscript to insure that John is still there.
Allison and I have just completed our fourth manuscript in our “How To” series. And, yes, there’s a little bit of John in each of them. Whenever my books are shared on a couch, are read aloud in story-times or are even used for “procedural writing” in classrooms, I am thrilled. The ripple effect of these giggles and connections is, in part, how John’s memories live on—the memories of his quietness and his exuberance.
JEAN REAGAN was born in Alabama but spent most of her childhood in Japan. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband. In the summers, they serve as backcountry volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. For more information, visit www.jeanreagan.com.