Helping kids with books

by Lisa Galjanic
(Big Pine Key, FL, USA)

When Flowers Dance (just one of my books)

When Flowers Dance (just one of my books)

A mother forced by tragedy to explain death to her children discovers a gift for helping kids heal with books.

As a self-published author, I am often asked why I decided to publish my own children's books and how I did it. Well… I'm not sure I know. It just sort of happened.

Lisa Galjanic, Author:

When Leaves Die
When Fish Are Mean
When Squirrels Try
When Caterpillars Grow Up
When Bees Win
When Flowers Dance

I have always read A LOT. And I've always seen things from an odd perspective, and expressed my thoughts mostly with a sense of humor. So, people have often told me that I should write, but, true to form, I didn't listen and wound up doing everything else… first.

I went to business school for accounting, then landed in marketing (now, there's a switch!), spending the next 20 years ping-ponging from professional services firms to publishing firms.

Before you think I had "publishing connections" that helped me publish children's books, I should mention that the publishing I did was "tax publishing." Not much help there, but I did learn how books get born, and, frankly, it's a lot like how sausage gets made.

So, I was forewarned, and possibly forearmed.

Helping kids...with books

What actually drove me to write was personal tragedy, and I think that's true for many writers. In my case, in January, 2000, my husband died in a car accident, leaving me alone to raise our two young boys.

The first challenge I faced was to explain death to my toddler and his 7-year-old brother - to help them understand what had happened to their father, but to know that we would be okay.

Normally, I'd look to my old friend - a book - for help, but at the time I couldn't find one that expressed my views about death. So, I wrote my first story, When Leaves Die, to explain my husband's death to my sons. I found that it helped them (and me) quite a lot.

Over the next few years, as my boys grew up, I found myself reliving my own childhood difficulties as my children were experiencing them for the first time. Things like bullying in school, feeling frustrated or incompetent, and having a tough time making friends.

With each new trouble, I wrote a new story to help the boys cope.

But it was the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11 that made me write my stories down on paper. I was working in Tower II and nearly lost my life that day.

Writing books that heal

This experience made me really think about what I was doing with my life, whether I was making a difference in a meaningful way, and what I would have left of myself to my children if I actually had died that day like so many others did.

After some soul-searching, I decided that I would like to help other children the way I had helped my own. I wanted to publish my stories so I could share them.

I briefly considered trying to work with an established publisher but quickly decided that this was something I had to do on my own. It was a labor of love that came straight from my soul, and I wanted to be in the driver's seat.

Publishing the healing/helping books

It took four years, but the "When…" series of six children's picture books finally was born in February, 2007.

Now, on my vacation days, I present my stories to children in schools near where I live and sell my books.

The whole experience has been magical for me, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! Just to see the inspiration on the faces of the children after they hear my stories - well, it makes all I've been through and all the effort worthwhile.

And it was a lot of effort. First, I knew I needed beautiful illustrations to make the stories come alive, and I am sadly blessed with 10 thumbs when it comes to drawing. So, I had to find an artist. That proved harder - and easier - than I imagined.

At first, no artists would return my calls. Imagine that! No wonder they're starving! Then about a year later, a woman I knew at my job came to ask me for a job, because she had lost hers as a secretary in another department.

She wanted a graphics designer job in marketing because she had been going to art school at night, but I didn't have any openings. However, I did need an illustrator for my children's books, and she happily took that job.

Two years later, in September 2006, she finished the last painting and my words had finally been "put to music!"

It took another 6 months to have the layouts and printing files done by two other designers, people I also knew from my job who were willing to work for me freelance.

I worked with another designer to create my website. I bootstrapped all this with my paycheck, but when it came time to pay for the print run, it was time to mortgage my house, and that's what I did.

Sometimes, like When Flowers Dance, you've just got to believe in yourself!

When the books were ready to sell, I had to figure out the best way to get them to the children who need them. I reasoned that conventional marketing was not going to work for me.

There was too much competition in bookstores from "real" publishing companies with deep pockets to pay for the advertising that I couldn't. They could also deeply discount their books because they printed so many and enjoyed a very low per-unit cost.

I needed to find another way to sell my books.

I hit on the storytelling theater concept one night at 3:00 a.m., waking from a dead sleep, and the rest, as they say, is history. Recently, the "When…" series even won an award from U.S. Book News!

I haven't broken even yet on my investment, but I'm heading in the right direction. Even if I never get there, I'm happy with how things turned out. I'm a living, breathing example of how you can change your life with an idea and a lot of perseverance.

I hope that my personal story will inspire young children to dream their dreams and work to make them come true. Anything beyond that is just gravy!

See Lisa's books at Amazon.

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Aug 05, 2011
Hopeful words in book form
by: Anonymous

I recently purchased your "When..." books series for my children and wanted to say how impressed I am with them. Beautifully done with both words and pictures. They conveyed hopeful messages in simple ways.

Very well done.

Feb 27, 2008
I need more stars!
by: Steve B.

Lisa, what a story. Out of tragedy, hope. Your sons are very fortunate to have such a one-of-a-kind mom.

I can't help noticing that you came to children's books in much the same way I did: children you loved needed a story you had in you. I found out after I wrote my stories that there's a word for this: bibliotherapy.

It's great that you're putting the product of all that love out there for other children to benefit from.

Relatedly, I want to direct people to a page on this site that shows - step by step - a way that any grown-up can write a story for a child they love. It's my How To Write A Children's Book page. It just so happens to be the most popular page on the site, as well as the longest and the one that demands the most out of the reader/writer.

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