Friday, November 2, 2018

A Joyful New Holiday Picture Book--The First Reindeer by Susan Barker

It's getting to be that time of year again! Lights, jingling bells, gifts wrapped in enticing paper, grins, smiles, snow (real and imagined,) light hearts--and reindeer!

Enter Susan Barker, author of The First Reindeer. A scientist by profession, Susan has stepped out of her normal guise of environmental issues and all things scientific for young people and has created one of the most delightful holiday books around. Reindeer was published by Guardian Angel Publishing earlier this year. Whimsically illustrated by KC Snider, this book is a jewel to light up your holidays. 

And as a precursor, it is always good to become acquainted with the author. Please meet Susan Barker!

NS How did you arrive at such an inventive idea for this book?

SB During my first SCBWI workshop, an editor from Scholastic said they were always in need of Christmas books. Knowing that kids love animals, I focused on that angle. Eventually, I came up with the idea of telling the ‘true’ story of how Santa got his reindeer.

NS Which character was the most fun to write? Tell us why.

Creating Santa was a lot of fun. I wanted readers to know Santa doesn’t act alone. It takes Mrs. Claus, elves, a faithful sled dog, and others to make Christmas happen. After rescuing a baby reindeer with a bad bump on his leg, Santa and Mrs. Claus for nurse Prancer (named for how he hops around favoring the sore leg) back to health. In appreciation, Prancer’s family saves Christmas by pulling Santa’s big new sleigh. I was pretty proud of dreaming up the Prancer name and leg connection and actually giggled about it. Not bad for a retired science teacher!

NS Do you plan on writing a sequel or perhaps a series around the book?

SB I’ve made notes for another Christmas story for older children. It focuses on the doing the right thing, even when a personal sacrifice is involved. Of course, things work out very well at the end.

NS  You are a naturalist and an educator as well. What drew you to write such a whimsical children’s book?     

SB I love seeing how excited kids get during the Christmas season. It takes me takes me back to the holiday magic of my own childhood. I looked forward to waking up Christmas morning, but also to a huge dinner with many aunts, uncles and cousins. Some of my most cherished memories are of those family gatherings. Also, and I can laugh about it now, I thought writing a children’s book would be easy. How wrong I was, as you and other authors know!

NS know you have just completed a middle grade novel based on your family’s extended journey to resettle in the early days of this country. Tell us a bit about it. 

SB I joined SCBWI ten years ago with the goal of writing nonfiction. When my critique group said publishers didn’t want nonfiction, I was shocked. From my years as an in-service trainer, I knew elementary teachers were begging for science books kids could read during free time. My group suggested that I write historical fiction and ‘throw’ in some science.Long story short, I selected 1816’s little-known ‘Year without Summer’ as a topic. It was also known as the ‘Starvation or Famine Year’ because killing frosts destroyed crops across New England. Ice floated in Pennsylvania ponds in July. July! These events helped trigger America’s first western migration and my family was part of it.

Their experience of travelling by wagon from Vermont to Ohio, where they built a keel-boat and continued to the Illinois Territory, served as the framework for Journey West. As for science? The unusually cold weather is linked to the explosion of Mt. Tambora, the most massive volcanic eruption in recorded history. Also, my main character is a bit of an innovator and an eyewitness to the industrial revolution. That allowed me add a realistic STEM thread to the story. By the time I finished, I had fallen in love with showing how history and science are so closely interwoven. 

NS What is next on the drawing board for you?

A friend from my Southern Illinois Book Ends group, Louann Brown, and I just finished Hidden in Plain Sight: Illinois Petroglyphs and Pictographs for Kids. I am also planning a major re-write of my Earth Secrets manuscript. It features seven ideas, based on science laws, that enable the average YA reader to understand and prevent environment problems and avoid expensive clean-ups. The principles also undermine misinformation from the anti-climate change campaign.

Seeing The First Reindeer published is a true joy. Credit for it goes to many others, including you, Nancy, for critiquing it and for helping me grow as a writer. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences with your readers.

The First Reindeer may be purchased at Guardian Angel Publishing, Barnes & Nobel, and at PayLoadz.