Meet the Author: Jana Hunter

Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.

July 2020 | Authors

Has it ever been a challenge to get your “Little Monster” to settle down at the end of the day? Of course! This is a universal struggle facing every parent.

Our July Author Of the Month, Jana Novotny Hunter, has written a delightful tale about a Little Monster that just won’t settle down for bed. Big Monster faces this challenge in a humorous, yet enlightening way in My Tail’s Not Tired. We can’t wait to share her strategy with you.

Ms. Hunter was born in Czechoslovakia and grew up in England. She spent many years in California but now lives with her family in a tiny village in Rutland, England. We had a chance to catch up with her and discuss our featured book this month, My Tail’s Not Tired. We hope you enjoy the interview and book!

Elephant Books

The Book Club for Kids!

Jana, you have a very interesting resume. Textile designer, lecturer, editor and children’s book author. How did you come to write your first book?

When I was pregnant with my first child I was working as a teacher in Los Angeles. I was not ready to return when my baby arrived so my husband asked me what I had always dreamt of doing. “Illustrating children’s books,“ I replied dreamily. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

“Go for it,“ my husband said, so I enrolled in classes at UCLA and discovered the writing took over.

What parent hasn’t had to encourage their child to get rid of that last little bit of energy before settling down for bedtime. Was there a real life inspiration behind the Little Monster in My Tail’s Not Tired?

All the children I have ever known invariably maintain they are not tired even when they are drooping. The terrible irony is that they seem to gather a last spurt of super energy just before they flop. I wanted to address that and to show the parent (whom you will note is gender-less like Little Monster) has this nightly routine and has had to develop skills in dealing with it. Big Monster knows it is pointless to deny that energy and so must go with the flow.

Big Monster is very clever encouraging Little Monster to wiggle and move about until finally not only his tail but every part of Little Monster’s body is tired and ready for bed. Do you have any professional training or guidance working with children?

I received teaching degrees in both the UK and the US for K through 12. But I was not content with that and took classes in early education too because the development of little ones fascinated me. The speed with which they develop and absorb information is so incredible. (They are also enthusiastic which was balm to my soul after teaching teenagers.) I worked in preschools, and when I returned to England I taught little ones for Sure Start, a government initiative for disadvantaged children.

Big Monster is very patient during the all-too-familiar bedtime routine in My Tail’s Not Tired. It seems as though parents could have their child act out what Little Monster is doing as the book is being read at night. Have you received this feedback? Were you trying to find way to help parents when you wrote the book?

I have received feedback from parents who say the routine helps them get their child ready for bed in a way that does not deny them their need to get out all their wiggles. Each parent must respond to their own child’s needs, of course, so if their little one gets too wound up by these activities then it’s best to read the story with the attitude that little monster needs to calm down. Children love to see others misbehaving and it sends them to sleep with a sense of righteousness and self-confidence. All my books are an effort to help see the world from a child’s point of view while expanding the universe for the little ones.

The illustrations play so well with the story and the Little Monster is just adorable. When did you team up with the illustrator, Paula Bowles? How did you work together to come up with the illustrations for the book?

I initially illustrated a dummy for this book which I submitted to [the publisher] Childsplay. They felt the style did not fit in with their list as can often be the case. I was disappointed but these are the knocks of the publishing business, and when I saw Paula Bowles’s sketches, I knew she was perfect. There is such joy and freedom in her lively characters that you race happily through the pages with the cavorting Little Monster and the ever-patient parent. Although I never met Paula until the book was published, she understood every minutiae of what I was trying to get across. It is often better that author and illustrator don’t meet because the combustion of ideas can be very fruitful. Of course an excellent editor is as an essential and I am lucky to have brilliant ones at Childsplay.

What illustration style was used for My Tail’s Not Tired?

Paula’s style is deceptively simple and quick. Her use of crayons and coloured pencils give a lively texture and her characterisations are both funny and illuminating. They show a lovely range of emotions in a few lines, which is harder to do than it looks. Her use of a white ground keeps the book fresh and light. The decisions she makes may be innate but that doesn’t mean everything is not carefully thought through.

What is the best part about being a children’s author?

The best part is working with children. I am lucky that I still have plenty of young ones in my life, and they keep on coming! During the period when there were no babies being born in my family, I sought out friends who had children and visited schools. It is essential to keep in touch with the child’s desires. However you must appeal to children and adults at the same time as it is the adults who buy the books. The value of looking at books from babyhood has been well documented, and it matters to me to be part of that process.

When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?

It is imperative to get the child into books right away in order to develop a lifelong love of books. It is also important to maintain it even when the child might reach a disinterested age. Keep them reading with magazines dealing with their interests. It doesn’t matter whether you like them or not; it’s important to keep that child reading. Boys especially can be a challenge when they reach the middle years, but keep them going with funny books and non-fiction about things that fascinate them. Try reading to them again. Older kids love that. And you can get into higher reading levels because you can explain vocabulary as you go along.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline we can look forward to reading?

I have a book that Childsplay is interested in which deals with feeling different as a newcomer. It’s about a little alien who comes is sent to school with the humans. At first he is cut adrift and overwhelmed, but it is with the power of laughter that he manages to make a connection with a little girl. Laughter is the best tool for becoming part of things. It’s a theme I addressed before in my book Hector the Spectre, who is a little ghost who wants to be funny instead of scary. Written in comic book format, it’s a great one for those disinterested boys! It is also good for those kids who are not confident readers as the book can be read with the speech bubbles alone because the pictures tell the story too. Please look at my website: www.janahunter.co.uk.

Thanks to Jana Hunter for sharing her background and how she approaches her work. We look forward to sharing My Tail’s Not Tired with our readers this month!

Give the Gift Everyone
Feels Good About

Elephant Books . . .
the Book Club for Kids

Will You Be Our Friend?