As a journalist, she wrote about politicians and investigated true crime. Now, Arizonan Jana Bommersbach has turned her efforts to writing a children’s book. Bommersbach will talk about her book: A Squirrel’s Story–A True Tale.
Ted Simons: As a local journalist, she wrote about politician and investigated true crime. Now Jana Bommersbach is out with a children's book titled "A Squirrel's Story A True Tale." Jana Bommersbach and friend join us now to talk about this new effort. It's good to see you again.
Jana Bommersbach: Hello. This is Shirley mamma squirrel, this is my squirrel puppet I take and show to children. She's a big hit of the story.
Ted Simons: She's a big hit of the story. You walk in here, you've got a children's book, you've got product already! You really got -- Let's talk about it. How did you become a children's writer?
Jana Bommersbach: Well, the thing -- Shirley, do you want to lay down? The story behind this is that my mother told me to write this book. This is based on a true story my parents witnessed in their backyard in North Dakota. Back in 2007. And ever since then mother has said you've got to write this book. She called me up and said, "I've got your next book. You can't believe what I just saw this squirrel do." And she told me the story of this squirrel mother having trouble with her babies, and who had set up housekeeping of all places in a birdhouse. Squirrels don't live in birdhouses. You know. So she's been after me ever since then to do this book. And finally I met a publisher who said, have you ever wanted to write a children's book? And I said my mother wants me to. So that was the start. I finally did what my mother told me to do.
Ted Simons: Was a publisher found, was the story written? Give us the order.
Jana Bommersbach: It actually was on Centennial day. I was at the capitol February 14th, 2012, I ran into Linda Ratke, the publisher of Five-Star Publications, one of these great publishing houses that almost nobody in Arizona knows she's here, though they all know her books, because she does fantastic children's books. And she's a great treasure of Arizona. I was so proud to meet her, and so pleased to meet her. When she said have you ever wanted to write a children's book, I said my mother wants me to, she said let's talk. So I called her up and we talked. She loved the story, and she said, let me send you a contract. She sends me a contract with a deadline four months down the road. So I was at that point writing a historical novel, I was thinking about some other true crime books, and I've got to change all my thinking to try to write a children's book.
Ted Simons: I want to talk to you about that. How do you write for children you don't talk down to them, but you have to explain what's going on? How difficult was that?
Jana Bommersbach: It's very scary, Ted. Adults you can kind of -- You know how to write to adults. They filter and they know. Children, they don't have those filters. Children, the responsibility of writing for a child is enormous. You have to be very accurate. Very clear. You have to not write down, ever write down to them, never treat them like they're babies. Always make them step up a tiny bit. You have to entertain them as well as educate them. You have a lot of responsibilities with a child. And it's very daunting. It's very scary. You think, oh, my goodness I'll never be able to do this.
Ted Simons: Did you write for a particular child? Was there a child on your shoulder? Did you write for -- Who did you write for, young Jana?
Jana Bommersbach: No one has asked me that! I don't know exactly who I was writing to. I was trying to write -- I think I was writing to every child I knew. I have a lot of neighborhood children. I think I was trying to write to those children. I thought if I'm talking to these children, maybe they'll understand this way. But it was like, first you've got to figure out who tells the story, what voice are you going to have, I didn't know a thing about squirrels. When my parents called and said basically you need to know squirrels don't live in birdhouses, which becomes the first sentence of the book. Which was the first thing I knew about squirrels. So I did what I do as a journalist. I started researching squirrels. And found out to my amazement that there is enormous amount of research on squirrels. They know everything about these creatures.
Ted Simons: There's a lot of squirrels to research. Other parts of the country, they're all over the place.
Jana Bommersbach: And there's like 2,000 varieties of them. So I started researching squirrels, found out all these cute things and secrets about squirrels, and that's what the children love the most. When I'm reading these books and I tell them the secrets of squirrels, how they communicate, laugh, how they mark their food. That's the part they love the most. They love being like they know something special.
Ted Simons: Talk about the illustrator. They're beautiful illustrations. They go with the story nicely. Did you pick the illustrator?
Jana Bommersbach: My publisher picked the illustrator. She's out of Indiana, someone she had worked with in the past. She sent them my story, the pages that I'd basically laid out and he started illustrating. I thought he did a magnificent job. He so captured the characters. One of the major characters is a big fat, mean black cat. For all cat lovers in this world, she has a good time at the end. So we don't --
Ted Simons: I was wondering if that cat would show up again.
Jana Bommersbach: But the children -- There's a great huge illustration at the beginning of the book the kids are oh, there's the cat! That cat looks so mean! She's licking her lips! So he captured the essence, not only what the words were, but the feeling of that book.
Ted Simons: Sometimes playwrights and screen writers write and they see the product either on the stage or screen, and sometimes they're happy, and sometimes it builds and grows, sometimes they go, I'm not so happy. When you finally got the book and saw the illustrations, was it a whole new story? Was it what you wrote? Was it different?
Jana Bommersbach: I understood the story better when I saw -- I thought the illustrator did such a magnificent job. I understood the story better. I liked the story more. I thought the story came alive. He gave total personality to my characters. More than you could ever do with words. What you can do, there's one scene where my dad is -- My dad and mom are in the book. My dad is spraying the black cat. I knew they didn't like the cat either because I saw Rudy spraying the cat. And he's got the little squirrel on her back laughing like crazy. It's like, one of those touches you think --
Ted Simons: Even as an adult, I'm reading and going, which one is the boy? Oh, that must be the boy because he looks timid. You're caught up in the illustration. Are you going to write another children's book?
Jana Bommersbach: I am.
Ted Simons: You found something to latch on to?
Jana Bommersbach: Yes. Another true story. I have this tendency of liking true stories. And making them into books. So I have a story called "A Bear that Nobody Wanted." It's based on a true story.
Ted Simons: You can bring in a big bear next time.
Jana Bommersbach: And this guy is so cute, he's outrageously good.
Ted Simons: I gotta mention, did I see blurb from Rose Mawford on the back of the book.
Jana Bommersbach: She was delightful. Terry Goddard said some nice things. Ellen Dean who is the Arizona director of a thing called Book Pals, which is a Screen Actors Guild program to bring actors and authors into schools to read to children, I'm now a part of that program because of this. This has opened up a whole new life for me. I'm now volunteering at Capitol school, reading to children in the library and being involved in going to schools and seeing children. Eileen Bailey, who has thing called Kids Read, she bought 300 of my books to pass out to children. Which was just something wonderful.
Ted Simons: It's so nice to know it makes someone happy. You write about a drunk murderess, you don't know who's going to respond. You write about a squirrel, sending their babies off into the world, most important question, how do mom and dad feel?
Jana Bommersbach: My dad has since passed away, but my mother is over the moon. Of all the things I've done in my life, this is the thing she thinks is the best thing.
Ted Simons: Congratulations. It's a hoot, and I loved seeing the product already. Product placement. You gotta love it. The squirrels are fantastic. Congratulations.
Jana Bommersbach: Thank you very much.
Jana Bommersbach:Author, "A Squirrel's Story--A True Tale";