Janni lives in Johnston, Iowa, with her husband James and four children — Andrew, 13, Anna, 11, Jacob, 8 and Joshua, 6 — and their dog Mickey.
We caught up with her for a quick Q&A session before momaha’s 7 p.m. Friday story time. Here’s what she had to say:
Q. What led you to become a writer?
A. I’ve always love to write, whether filling up journals or scrawling out poems on napkins. I’ve written several short stories and have started two novels. Before my kids were born, I taught high school English. Between feedings and diaper changes, I kept scavenging for time to write. Since I was surrounded by picture books and seeing the world through little eyes, children’s stories were the ones that flowed naturally. But that doesn’t mean they came easily. I’ve wrestled with writer’s block, rejection letters, and tough revisions. I think every writer does.
Q. What inspired your first book?
A. My daughter Anna had just learned to ride her bike without training wheels, and she was spinning circles in our driveway, dressed in her cowgirl finest from head to toe — cowgirl boots, a denim vest, a red bandana and braids. When she came inside for a drink of water, I asked, “How’s my bicycle cowgirl?” Just like that, Nellie Sue was born.
Q. Do you have a favorite among your books?
A. Isn’t that like asking if I have a favorite child? Just kidding. Each one is special for different reasons. I will never forget seeing the first pencil sketches of Nellie Sue after my first book contract. “Every Cowgirl Needs Dancing Boots” is dedicated to my dad, who passed away during that book’s production. There’s a scene in the story where Nellie Sue’s dad spins her around, and sometimes I still get choked up reading it. In “Every Cowgirl Goes to School”, I feel like I’m watching Nellie Sue grow up a little, and I loved adding the J-twins to the story.
Q. Are the books based on any true aspects of your life?
A. Nellie Sue has a lot of my daughter’s qualities in her, but a lot of me, too. We’re both optimists through and through. The glass is half full. And, as much as I would love a horse of my own, I have a bike horse just like Beauty. (Except mine isn’t pink.)
A.J. Pickett is named after my oldest son, and the J-twins are a combination of my two youngest boys and their twin friends Luke and Keith. The bus driver, Drivin’ Ivan, in “Every Cowgirl Goes to School” is real, too. He drove each of my kids to school when they were in kindergarten.
Q. Which books do you love to read with your children?
A. We have a huge collection of picture books, and it’s hard to pick favorites. I love reading classics like “The Relatives Came” and “Owl Moon“. The Skippyjon Jones books always makes us laugh. For longer read alouds, we enjoy everything from “Junie B. Jones” to “The Chronicles of Narnia” and the “Harry Potter” series. And, “Charlotte’s Web” — I adore that book. I just finished reading it with my 8 year-old son. I cry every time. It was fun to be reminded that one of Charlotte’s daughters is named Nellie. I had forgotten that detail.
Q. Who would be your dream author to meet?
A. Well, I would LOVE to meet the illustrator of my “Every Cowgirl” books. I am Lynne Avril’s biggest fan. We’ve worked on five books together now, but we have never met in person. Recently, I was in her home state of Arizona on book tour, but she was spending time in Paris. I guess I’ll just have to go to France.
As for a dream author? If E.B. White were still alive, I would love to meet him. I think “Charlotte’s Web” is perfect in every way. And I would love to meet Kate DiCamillo, the author of “The Tale of Despereaux”. We own all of her books and have a couple of signed copies.
Q. How did you get your first book published?
A. Nobody was looking for me. “Every Cowgirl Needs a Horse” would have been a slush pile submission, if not for an act of kindness from the amazing Jane Yolen. I met her at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference, where I paid to have her critique a manuscript. She saw enough potential in my character to suggest an editor for the project. It has been a joy to work with Steve Meltzer of Dial Books for Young Readers.
Now, I’m thankful to be represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Q. Any upcoming projects in the works?
A. I have two picture books and one middle grade novel on my desktop right now, and an idea bank with more story starters than I’ll ever have time to write.
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Rebecca’s website: rebeccajanni.com (Under the “Fun stuff” tab find mazes, coloring pages and activity sheets to print.)
Nellie Sue on Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Every-Cowgirl
Nellie Sue on pinterest: pinterest.com/rebeccajanni/every-cowgirl
Penguin’s Every Cowgirl minisite: penguingroup.com
Danielle Herzog, a stay-at-home mom to two children, wrote this blog for momaha.
Read her every Wednesday on the site.
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