Jean Reagan is an award-winning picture book author from Salt Lake City, Utah. Her “HOW TO” series which started with HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA (illustrated by Lee Wildish), regularly makes the NYT Bestseller and the Indie Bestseller lists.
Jean’s first book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill), a story about sibling loss, was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.
Each summer she and her husband serve as wilderness volunteer rangers in Grand Teton National Park, living without electricity or running water. If you ever visit the Tetons, stop by her cabin for a cup of tea!
Henry: but apparently you must bring your own water…
For what age audience do you write?
I write picture books for ages 2 to 8. Many picture book authors aspire to write for older kids or to illustrate their own books. Not me! I absolutely lack those talents.
Henry: I can barely draw stick figures. As I’m still honing my writing, the thought of climbing the learning curve on illustrating is just too daunting for me. As Dirty Harry says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Tell us about your latest book.
In HOW TO RAISE A MOM, two siblings share tips and tricks on raising a happy, healthy mom. The tongue-and-cheek role reversal offers a humorous take on daily routines.
HOW TO GET A TEACHER READY is out in early July. In the same instructional style, a class of students takes the readers through a fun and busy school year.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Lots of giggles. Also—especially in this digital age where everyone is plugged in—I hope to create opportunities for real connections between kids and their adults. So, between all the wild and crazy fun, I sprinkle tender moments.
Our son passed away eleven years ago, and I make a point of including a little bit of him in everything I write. Tapping his tenderness helps keep my silliness grounded.
Henry: So sorry for your loss. It’s wonderful that he gets to be in your writing.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I love brainstorming. I love revising. Everything between is challenging. And sadly, critique buddies and editors are primarily helpful with brainstorming and revising. I struggle alone with the remaining 95%. In fact, with each book I hit a stage where I yell, “It’s hopeless! Impossible!” I call this my I-might-as-well-do-dishes-because-at-least-I-know-how-to-do-dishes phase.
Henry: Um, isn’t WRITING what’s between brainstorming and revising? 🙂 Still, the dishes ain’t gonna’ wash themselves.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Questions and comments from kids blow me away.
At one book launch, the first question was, “Have you ever ridden an elephant?” Of course, my book had NOTHING to do with elephants, but I loved it! There’s no other profession where after a presentation you’re asked cool questions like that.
Or another time at a school I brainstormed with kids for ideas for my MOM book. When I solicited suggestions to cheer up a tired or sick mom, a second-grader who had a full-time aide blurted out, “I’d tell her how amazing the world is!” Wow!
Henry: I HAVE ridden an elephant, but I’ve never been asked that question, darnit!
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I’ll skip the practical advice like: join SCBWI, start a critique group, enter writing contests, submit to magazines, and Read! Read! Read!
Channel your inner worrywart. What weaknesses do you hide from others? What vulnerabilities did you feel as a kid? What fears did you have? Your answers will lead to stories that foster courage, gentleness, and kindness. Add a dose of humor to keep things light. If you’ve never been a worrywart, I have no advice. Sorry.
Give yourself a time limit. After I’d received 200 rejections and I was ready to quit, my husband suggested, “Give it two more years.” This “deadline” motivated me in two ways: 1. “Yay! I don’t have to keep chasing this crazy dream forever! I only have to endure the pain for two years!” And, 2. “Whoa! I only have two years. I better crank up my efforts and grab every opportunity!” P.S. I sold my first manuscript before the deadline. Phew.
Henry: Indeed, writing is not for the indefatigable nor the thin-skinned.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
When I felt deeply discouraged as I opened three rejection letters, all addressed to “Dear Author,” my son said to me, “But, Mom. They’re calling you author.” This quote kept me motivated, especially after he died.
Henry: You’re my first interviewee to quote their child. Way to find the silver lining!
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
I stay in my pajamas because it keeps me working instead of running errands or playing in my garden.
Another ritual is I read CALVIN AND HOBBES when my enthusiasm for a project wanes. I totally count that as work time.
Henry: I’d also treat your CALVIN AND HOBBES purchases as tax deductible research.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
My summer gig keeps me hiking and canoeing every day for three months. I rarely write at all during that time. The rest of the year I try to squeeze in hikes when I can.
Henry: It’s a rare author who can write and canoe simultaneously. Plus the laptop gets soaked.
Where can readers find your work?
My books are available wherever books are sold. Personally I support Indie bookstores!
If you’d like to learn more about me, my books, or my summer job as a volunteer park ranger, visit http://www.jeanreagan.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, as JeanReaganBooks. Or stop by the Leigh Lake patrol cabin in Grand Teton National Park. (BTW, I’m not on Wikipedia, but our cabin is!)
Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Jean at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Thank you for spending time with us Jean.