Books by Melissa Bowersock

Monday, December 19, 2016

Author Interview: Carol Paukstis and Illustrator Jean Polowski Reilly

I’m sitting down to have a chat with two cousins who have collaborated on a new children’s book called The Sun is Awake. Although I have not read the book, it’s obvious it’s a labor of love. The concept is endearing—quality time for a child with his grandmother—and the illustrations are charming.

Carol and Jean, rather than try to ask each of you separate questions, I’m going to leave this wide open. You can trade off, choose the best one to answer, or both give answers to the same question. It’s entirely your call.

MJB: First off, can you give us a brief overview of the book? What’s the thrust of the story? What age group is it written for?

Carol: This culturally diverse book is about treasured memories at grandmother’s house and the unconditional love that the grandmother has for her grandson.  The story, narrated by the grandson, tells us about his overnight stay and how he and his grandmother enjoyed many activities:  playing with trains, playing ball outside, eating his favorite foods, reading books and playing shadow puppet games.

The thrust of the story is to encourage all grandparents worldwide to spend time with their grandchildren, whenever possible, thus spreading sunshine in their lives.

The book is written for children ages 3 – 5.

MJB: I have a sneaking suspicion the book is autobiographical in some respect. What family memories are you drawing on for the story? Did you each contribute to the story line?

Carol:I remember living with my grandmother when I was two and after we moved, I always looked forward to visiting her and sleeping with her and enjoying helping her cook, organize her pantry, wash clothes with a wringer washer, pick cherries, pretend to sew on her pedal sewing machine, play the player piano, and ride my pretend horse using her fence.  My grandmother loved me unconditionally and we had a special relationship.  When I became a grandmother (a Grammy) I wanted to be a special part of my grandsons lives and play with them, read to them, take them places, teach them some life skills, make memories with them, share my talents with them and love them unconditionally.  I patterned this after my relationship with my grandmother. 

I wrote the story a few years ago and it just evolved from there with both Jean and I having it critiqued by various friends and colleagues.

Jean: I always held this notion for writing a children's book as I always loved and used children's book in my classroom (and I still buy and read them).  Also I've always enjoyed crafting. I travel extensively with my husband so drawing was very mobile form of art and required few tools. At the time, it satisfied my creative requirement, so I became interested in illustrating.

MJB: How did the idea for the story evolve? Who started the ball rolling between the two of you?

Carol: When my grandson was 3, he came to spend the night and the next morning he came into my bedroom, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Grammy, Grammy, it’s time to get up, the sun is awake.” That planted the seed and I started to write about what we did when he visited.

 A few years ago, while visiting with my cousin, Jean, in Arizona, I shared my ideas about the book I was writing.  In the meantime, I mentioned I was looking for an illustrator. I remembered Jean sending me a drawing of my grandson that she had done using a photograph of him.  It was so good, so I knew if she was up to illustrating the book, I was willing to have her as the illustrator. And she agreed.

Jean: We have our own recollection about how we became involved, but just as The Sun is Awake is the grandson's recollection of his visit at Grammys. Grammy probably has her own recollections about her grandson's visit but that would be another story.   I remember taking my first online class on how to illustrate a children's book and needed a story to illustrate for the class assignment.  That's when I remembered Carol mentioning she had a children's story she was developing about her grandson's visits.  That is when I called her to ask her if I could use her story for the class assignment.  It was a huge learning curve but each class brought me closer to the product.  I did find children book creators to be kind and generous sharing their knowledge.  I learned so much about form, style, “the ultimate page turner” and now about self publishing.

Your very popular workshop on Self-Publishing with Amazon came at the perfect time as we were ready to open an account with CreateSpace and needed answers to all of our many questions which your workshop provided.

MJB: Well, that was good timing, wasn’t it? I’m glad my workshop answered your questions and allowed you to move forward in your process. Is there a moral to the story? 

Carol: The only moral that comes to my mind is the love that is between a grandmother and her grandchildren and the fun that they can share.

MJB: What would you expect to have most readers take away from the book?

Carol: I would hope it encourages a grandparent to think about their memories of their grandchildren and to perhaps want to spend more time with them.  The activities in the book are rather inexpensive, thus enabling most grandparents to be able to use the ideas with their grandchildren.  The whole thrust of the book is making memories. Jean: I hope the readers take away a warm feeling of recollections of their own children's bright and inventive sayings that only children can create.  One reader said, I really loved the title so much... My younger son, when he was 3...said that the moon has a house on wheels and it goes on a ride during the day. The title reminded me of that…

MJB: Very cute story, and I would guess many children have similar ideas. As a solitary author, I’m always fascinated by the idea of collaboration, mostly because I can’t imagine doing it. How did you two work together? What was your process? Did Carol do all and only the writing? Did Jean do all and only the illustration? Or was there some back-and-forth to it?

Carol: We had a great time.  Jean and I are first cousins and even though we were always separated by several states (AZ–Jean and MI–me) and countries, we have a special connection.  We saw each other whenever they came to Michigan and would “play” together.  Both of us became teachers, so we had that bond and then I started going to AZ to visit her family and I even spent 2 weeks with her and her husband when they lived in Alaska.  It’s like having a special friend that you don’t see that often, but when you do, you just pick up where you left of the last time you saw each other. So when we started to work on the book, Jean spent two weeks with me in the summer.  We did a lot of brainstorming and planning. From then on, we corresponded by e-mail and phone.  I still can’t believe how it came about and was finalized.  My dream came true.  I thank God for our deep cousin relationship and commitment to getting the job done that helped to bring the book to fruition. Jean was the sole illustrator and did such a good job.  She took many classes to help her. She always kept me informed of her progress.

Jean: Carol wrote the basic framework of the story but I think we both wrote it. We welcomed critiques by family, friends,  instructors, classmates,  plus some of the members of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers andIllustrators) but ultimately it became our own as did the illustrations.

MJB: As collaborators, did you have any challenges working together? Any disagreements on the story or the direction it was going? And if so, how did you resolve them?

Carol:  There were some challenges in working together because of the physical distance between us.  Last winter I had the winter doldrums and had my doubts if the book would ever come together. But I made it through that and Jean helped to perk me up and got me back on track by taking an awesome book publishing class and she kept me informed via e mail.   So I got back on track and that’s when we really moved forward.

We only had one mild disagreement involving the very last page of the book, but we managed to discuss it and that page was changed.  I was able to communicate my feelings with Jean without any difficulties.  We had the gift of cousin collaboration.

Jean: I never thought it would take this long to develop and illustrate a children's book but there is a lot to learn and life changes take up space so the many years is what was required. Carol was very patent and supportive.

Also I think we realized that we must be open to help but also knowing, believing and having faith it would be completed.  I found an online class that outlined a 10 month-plan to complete a book with self-publishing.  I took every deadline seriously and here we are with a book on  It was an amazing journey, not a sprint but a marathon.

MJB: It sounds like it’s been quite a journey! But I’m glad you persevered and kept moving forward, and now you’ve got the book done and it’s on Amazon. Nothing cooler than that. I’m assuming this book has been grandchild-tested. How was it received? What’s the reaction you’ve gotten from the book so far?

Carol: The book was grandchild-tested.  I sat down with both of my grandsons and read it to them.  They became engaged with the book.  My daughter said that my older grandson really appreciated the book, and he was touched that his Grammy would write a book about him. The youngest one could relate to the activities, as I have done some of the same things with him.

So far, the book has been well received.  Everyone likes it and says it was written with love and the illustrations are so “real” and touching.   My former neighbor (age 91), cried as she was reading it.  The tears were joyful tears bringing back memories of her grandchildren’s visits.

MJB: That’s a great endorsement right there. (Now you need to get those folks to leave reviews on Amazon for the book.) So what’s next for the team of Paukstis and Reilly? Are there other books in the making? Perhaps going after a different age group or style of story?

Carol: What is next for Jean and I… perhaps a book about my other grandson or a compilation of activities to do with grandchildren inspired by ideas of surveying many grandmothers with grandchildren of all ages.

Jean:  Need to stay open... never know what may be next.

MJB: That’s definitely the truth. But if you’re anything like me, I think you’ll find that new ideas keep propagating from the earlier ones, and the projects take on a life of their own. If people want to know more about you two and the book, what’s the best way for them to find that?

Carol: Right now, I am busy marketing the book through Amazon books The Sun is Awake, I have completed an Amazon author page, I am on Twitter and LinkedIn; my plans are to develop a website and a blog by Christmas!  I plan on sharing the book with libraries, Senior Citizen Centers, independent book stores, and at local “meet the author” and book signings.  I am open to more suggestions.

Carol's Amazon Author page
Carol's LinkedIn page
Carol's Twitter page

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