Thursday, March 29, 2012

Janet Halfman--A Picture Book Writer for all Seasons

Today it is my great honor to have as my guest a prolific author, Janet Halfman.  Janet has written over thirty books during her career, and picture books are her forte. 

She has won many awards, including her latest, the Wisconsin Writers Children’s Literature Award for her picture book, “Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish.” The Council for Wisconsin Writers( announced the award March 22. Congratulations!

Janet was inspired to write "Star of the Sea" because of her long-time fascination with sea stars.  The book's collage-art illustrations are by Joan Paley, and the publiusher is Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books.

NS  You are, I think, one of the few authors who began the writing dream early and never wavered from it.  Would you tell our readers a bit about your early love of writing and how that prepared you for your ongoing career.

JH  I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but I didn’t think about writing as a career until after I graduated from college. I took a course in children’s writing by mail, and soon was hooked. I sold a few articles to children’s magazines like Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill, but wanted to make a living writing, so I returned to college and got a second degree in journalism (my first was in English and Spanish, with plans to teach). My journalism degree led to a job as a daily newspaper reporter in Kansas, which gave me great research skills and improved my writing because I had to write every day. My next position as the managing editor of a national magazine for rural kids taught me to simplify my writing and make it more fun. Next came many years writing the text and planning the pictures for color and activity books. From that experience, I gained the skills of telling a story in a few words and showing a great picture on each page. Those skills are very useful now in writing picture books. 

NS  How did you come to the picture book genre?  Any thoughts about middle grade, or have you happily found your niche? 

JH  I started my children’s book career fifteen years ago writing nonfiction books, divided into chapters, for educational publishers. But whenever I had time to write something of my own, it was always a picture book. So I guess the picture book genre essentially found me, rather than vice versa. I am extremely happy writing picture books, and will likely continue to do so. 

NS  You have been so prolific with over thirty books published and more to come.  Tell us the genesis of your ideas for new stories. 

JH  Stories come from so many places—from my childhood, from experiences with my four kids and four grandkids, from something I see or read, etc. I have a file where I collect interesting items I find for possible future stories. I also love to read books about little-known or unusual things about people, events, history, animals, plants, etc. 

NS  My favorite book of yours is Good Night, Little Sea Otter.  What are your favorites and why? 

JH  Little Skink’s Tail will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first fiction picture book, and writing fiction had always been my dream. Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story is a favorite because I feel so honored to have been able to tell this true story of such an amazing African-American Civil War hero. Also, I’m immensely proud that my recent nonfiction picture book, Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish, was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council.

NS  Please tell us about your new books.  I notice we share a publisher on one of them, A Rainbow of Birds, by Guardian Angel Publishing. 

JH  My book, Home in the Cave, illustrated by Shennen Bersani, is just out from Sylvan Dell Publishing. It is the story of Baby Bat, who never wants to leave his cozy cave, but changes his mind after he finds out how important the bats’ insect-hunting is to the survival of the other animals in the cave.

My book, Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be?, illustrated by Betsy Thompson, comes out April 24 from Blue Apple Books. I am very excited about this book because it is a Lift-the-Flap book. It is both a guessing and counting book, written in song-like, non-rhyming verse. My Guardian Angel book, A Rainbow of Birds, is a fun original bird legend about the origin of the rainbow that a father cardinal tells to his three chicks. It is being illustrated by Ellen Gurak and no publishing date has yet been set.

NS   Where can the readers find you and your amazing books? 

JH  My books can be found just about anywhere–at your favorite bookstore or online. Several of them also are available in various e-book formats, including several of them in Spanish. My new book, Home in the Cave, is featured as a free e-book all during March at Sylvan Dell Publishing:

I also can be found on:


  1. What a great interview, Nancy. Congratulations, Janet, on your success. May it continue for many, many years to come.

  2. Janet, you have a terrific assortment of books out - congrats, mate. Love the cool covers too. Great interview Nancy. Such fun to learn new things about GAP authors.

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  3. Nancy, thanks so much for the great interview! Thanks Kai and Margot for stopping by and for your nice comments. Happy Reading to All!