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 talks about her book: “A Squirrel’s Story–A True Tale.”
Ted Simons: as a local journalist she wrote about politicians and investigated true crime. Now Jana Bommersbach is out with a children's story, a squirrel's tale. It's good to see you again.
Jana Bommersbach: hello. This is Shirley mama squirrel. This is the squirrel puppet I take to show to children. She's the big hit of the story.
Ted Simons: it's amazing. You walk in, you have a children's book out. You have product already moving. [laughter] Let's talk about this. How did you become a children's writer?
Jana Bommersbach: Well, the thing -- want to lay down? The story behind this is that my mother told me to write this book. It's based on a true story that my mother and father witnessed in North Dakota in . She called me up and said, I have your next book. You have to write a book about this squirrel. You can't believe what I saw this squirrel do. She told me about the squirrel mother who was having a great deal of trouble with her babies and had set up housekeeping in a birdhouse. Squirrels don't live in birdhouses. So she had been asking me ever since then to do this book. Finally I met a publisher who said have you ever wanted to write a children's book, and I said, well, my mother wants me to. That was the start of it.
Ted Simons: Was this something that, again, was a publisher found, was the story written? Give us the order here.
It was on centennial day. I was on the state capitol February 14, 2012. I ran into Linda Radke, publisher of five star publications, a great publishing house almost nobody in Arizona knows she's here. She's a great treasure of Arizona who I was so proud to meet, so pleased. When she said have you ever wanted to write a children's book, well, my mother wants me to, well, let's talk. I called her up a couple weeks later and told her the story. She loved the story. She sends me a contract with a deadline, four months down the road. So I was at that point writing an historical novel. I was thinking about some other true crime books. I have to change my thinking to try to write a children's book.
Ted Simons: How do you write for children? You don't talk down to them but you have to explain what's going on.
Jana Bommersbach: No.
Ted Simons: how difficult was that?
Jana Bommersbach: It's very scary, Ted. Very scary. Adults you can kind of -- you know how to write to adults. You're an adult. They filter. Children don't have those filters. The responsibility of writing for a child is enormous. You have to be very, very accurate, very, very clear. Never try to treat them like they are babies. Always make them step up a tiny bit.
Ted Simons: reach a little bit.
Jana Bommersbach: reach but not so much that they can't understand what's going on. You have to entertain them as well as educate them. You have a lot of responsibilities with a child. It's very daunting, very scary. You think, oh, my goodness, I'll never be able to do. That.
Ted Simons: Was there a child on your shoulder? Did you write for young Jana?
Jana Bommersbach: No one has ever asked me that question. I don't know. I was trying to write -- I think I was writing to every little child that I knew. I have a lot of neighborhood children. I was trying to write to the children that I knew. Okay, I'm talking to these children, maybe they will understand this way. But it was like first you have to figure out who is going to tell the story, what voice are you going to have, right? You go through all this stuff. I didn't know a thing about squirrels. When my parents saw this basically you need to know squirrels don't live in birdhouse, which became the first line of the book. 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: in other parts of the country these things are all over the place.
Jana Bommersbach: and there's like 2000, varieties of them, right? I found out all these secrets about squirrels. That's what the children love most. When I'm reading these books I tell them the secrets of squirrels, how they communicate, how they laugh, Mark their food. That's the part they love.
Ted Simons: isn't that interesting.
Jana Bommersbach: they love, they know something special.
Ted Simons: talk about the illustrator. Beautiful illustrations that go with the story nicely. Did you pick the illustrator?
Jana Bommersbach: No, my publisher picked her. She sent the pages and he started illustrating. I thought he did a magnificent job. He so captured the characters. One of major characters is a big, fat, mean, black cat, right in for all cat lovers in this world, she has a good time at the end.
Ted Simons: I was wondering if that cat would ever show up again.
Jana Bommersbach: ominous black cat. The children -- it's a great, big, huge illustration at the beginning of the book, the kids are, oh, my goodness, that cat looks so mean and she's licking her lips. She's after the squirrel! He captured the essence not only what the words were but what the feeling of that book was.
Jana Bommersbach: sometimes play rights and screenwriters, sometimes they are happy, sometimes it builds and grows, sometimes you're not so happy. When you saw the illustrations, was it a whole new story? Was it what you wrote?
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 just came alive. He gave total personality to my characters that more than you can ever do with words. There's one scene where my dad and mom are in the book, so my dad is spraying the black cat and the squirrel says I knew they didn't like the cat either because I saw Rudy spraying the cat. He has the little squirrel on her back laughing like crazy. It's one of those tiny touches you think --
Ted Simons: Even as an adult I'm going, which is the -- oh, that must be the boy squirrel because he looks timid. You're caught up in the illustrations. Are you going to write another children's book?
Jana Bommersbach: I am. 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, so when they asked me my next book next time I'll bring in a big, old bear. This guy is so cute. Outrageous.
Ted Simons: I gotta mention, it's actually a blush from Rose Mofford on the back of the book.
Jana Bommersbach: Rose Mofford endorsed this book. She was delightful. Terry Goddard said nice things about this book. Ellen Dean, the editor of a screen actors guild program, to bring actors and authors into schools to read to children. I'm now part of this. This has opened up a whole new life for me. I'm now volunteering regularly at capital school reading to children in the library, being involved in going to schools and seeing children. Eileen Bailey, has a thing called kids read which gives free books to needy children, she bought of my books to pass out to children, which was just -- a wonderful thing.
so nice to know it makes someone happy. You write about a murderer, you don't know who will respond and how. You write a book about a squirrel sending her babies out into the world -- how did mom and dad feel about it?
Jana Bommersbach: My dad has since passed away, but my mother is over the moon. Of all the things I have done in my life I think she thinks this is the best.
Ted Simons: product placement. Gotta love it. The squirrels are fantastic. Congratulations.
Jana Bommersbach: thank you.
Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.