Writing children’s books is one author’s passion

By Page H. Gifford


Writing a book to completion is an accomplishment and publishing it is gratifying. Writing children’s books with illustrations in a wildly competitive field but an exhilarating journey for author and former Professor of Education Mackey. She recently published a children’s book Why, Nana Bear, Why?,the first in a series of children’s books with meaningful themes.

“When I retired from teaching, writing and publishing a children’s book became one of my top five items on my bucket list,” she said. “Ever since I was an elementary school teacher, I have always loved children’s books. The books have beautiful illustrations, and they usually teach a skill, concept, or a moral in a friendly, helpful way.” Later on in her education career when she taught children’s literature at the college level, she says she was amazed at the variety of topics and diversity of artistic styles that were presented in children’s books. She learned that between 4,000 and 5,000 new children’s books were published each year.

She credits her granddaughters with the inspiration for the series of books, realizing that she wanted to leave a legacy for each of them. She says as the first book evolved, it seemed natural and appropriate to create one for each granddaughter. This first book, Why, Nana Bear, Why?, is the beginning of the Nana Bear series. A theme has already been designated for each of the next five books. She is currently writing the second one.

“It was something I could create that would be a lasting symbol of my love for each of them. Somehow my brain concocted the idea of writing a children’s book for each granddaughter, and I decided to venture into unknown territory and just do it.”

The idea for the books and the character Nana Bear was her daughter’s teddy bear that Mackey and her daughter had named Mr. Bear.

“For years, we joked about Mr. Bear’s personality and imagined conversations. When I decided to write the first book, it just seemed natural to me that Mr. Bear would be the main character.”  After several drafts, her niece suggested that the book was more about Mackey being a Nana and less about Mr. Bear. After much reflection, it appeared her niece’s suggestion was accurate, and the character of Nana Bear was created. “That was a real breakthrough. I could now focus on a few defining characteristics of each grandchild, coupled with lots of poetic license to create an imaginary tale with subtle hints of each granddaughter’s life. Once the core character of Nana Bear was developed, the theme of kindness emerged, with an emphasis on writing a thank you note as a side tale.”

Mackey thinks that writing a thank you note has become a lost art, as have several other simple acts of kindness, including opening doors for people, bringing food items to ill neighbors, etc. “Hopefully, our book will remind us of the sweetness and happiness of being kind to others.” It will also teach children about the lost art of thoughtfulness.

Writing a book of fiction is particularly intimidating and a children’s book with illustrations requires someone with artistic ability to bring the characters to life through visual means. Mackey searched for an artist who would bring her vision of Nana Bear to life but hadn’t found one until a friend suggested artist Catherine Hamilton.

“I was exceedingly grateful to find, this amazing artist who was willing to walk on this new journey with me. She captured the essence of Nana Bear and she was willing to make mistakes and learn from them and so was I and we grew together as a team,” said Mackey. Hamilton and Mackey forged an alliance to complete the first book in the series. Mackey was excited about their sharing and working together and both learned about publishing illustrated books, which has its challenges.

Nowadays, as Hamilton and Mackey discovered, the authors and illustrators have to be savvy about publishing. Both learned about their role in making this project a reality.

“Illustrating Bonnie’s book was an interesting experience because although the book had been written, the layout, size, and orientation had not yet been determined,” said Hamilton. She added that this presented a challenge in that the initial illustrations had to be cropped or stretched to go from square to rectangular, and the text formatting had to be planned for each page so it presented in a visually engaging manner. “Bonnie and I had to work together to ensure the vision she had in her mind of the various characters was brought to life accurately in the illustrations. With a bit of discussion, trial and error, and refining, that was not too difficult. I think we had more difficulty getting everything ready for Amazon than anything else.”

 For Mackey, she said the most difficult parts of writing the children’s book were the logistics.

“After I had generated the main character and completed the writing and many re-writings, I realized I was now out of my comfort zone. I knew no illustrators, I knew nothing about self-publishing or other avenues for publishing, and I knew nothing about obtaining a copyright, an ISBN number, and imprint, etc. It was a steep learning curve, for sure.”  The result Mackey says is she learned that she could make dreams happen, that she had more inner resilience and pure grit than she ever knew, and with her love for her granddaughters, writing a book for each one has made her happy.

For Hamilton, it was sharing and creating the different illustrations and backgrounds.

“It became a family activity. My four children took the same interest in my projects as I do in theirs. They enjoyed reading the latest pages, seeing the drawings turn into paintings, and offering their suggestions and good criticisms.” Both agreed it was an enjoyable working relationship.

“The most satisfaction I got was seeing the published book, with my text and her beautiful illustrations, for the first time. When I opened the package of ordered books, I cried.”

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