Author Interview: Jean Reagan

I am thrilled to host author Jean Reagan, whose book Always My Brother deals with sibling death. I thought this interview would be fitting for Memorial Day as many of our thoughts turned to our loved ones who have past on. I hope you enjoy getting to know Jean as much as I have she has a wonderful personality, fascinating life (she’s lived in Japan and spends the summer in the wilderness) and a sense of humor all the while taking on a topic that is just plain hard. In her own words, “I wanted to honor siblings for the devastating loss they face and to offer them realistic hope.” I am also looking forward to reading her new book, How to Babysit a Grandpa. Thank you Jean for spending a little time at Bookscoops!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself so people can get to know you.

I was born in Alabama, but I lived most of my childhood in Japan.  So as you might expect, anything Japanese intrigues me still.  (especially Japanese food!)

For the past ten years, every summer my husband and I move to a tiny patrol cabin in Grand Tetons National Park’s backcountry where we serve as wilderness volunteers.   The cabin has no running water or electricity, and there are bars on the windows to keep out bears.  We love being surrounded by nature.  We also love meeting hikers and campers from all over the world.

As I hike or canoe, I keep my eyes and ears open for wildlife and for story ideas.  You never know what you might encounter around the bend!

2. Death of a family member is such a hard subject to write about tell us why you chose sibling death for your first book?

In 2005, after a roller-coaster year of hopes and setbacks, our nineteen-year old son, John, died of a drug overdose, leaving our seventeen-year old daughter, Jane, as an only child.   As we faced our grief, I watched how the death of a sibling is discounted.  People offered me (and my husband) comfort, but rarely seemed to acknowledge Jane’s tragic loss.

Through research I learned that sibling death is often considered the unrecognized grief.  Surviving siblings are sometimes even admonished to be “extra good,” because their parents are grieving.  In ALWAYS MY BROTHER I wanted to honor siblings for the devastating loss they face and to offer them realistic hope.

Because ALWAYS MY BROTHER is a picture book aimed at a young audience, it does not mirror our own family story.  For example, I made the characters much younger.  Yet the book taps into the emotions and experiences of our loss.  For example, I made sure to include a returning-to-school scene, because that is a particularly tough step for grieving children.

3. What books did you like reading as a child?

I LOVED being read to, but learning to read didn’t come easy to me.  I still remember my excitement when finally in third grade I actually enjoyed reading a book, SMILING HILL FARM.  It felt magical.

Some of the picture books I loved were anything by Dr. Seuss, MILLIONS OF CATS, and THE GOOPS.  I read a lot of Japanese comic books, too!

4. What tips do you have for aspiring authors?

Read, read, read, especially the genre you want to write. Join a critic group. Enter writing contests to create deadlines for yourself and to find encouragement along the road to publication. If your writing genre is picture books, join us for the annual Picture Book Marathon in February.  Last year we had over four hundred participants from all over the world.  There is no cost.  The website is

5. As a parent and author what are some of your favorite tips to encourage children to read?

Regularly get piles and piles of books from the library.  (Why don’t libraries have shopping carts?) We did without a TV for about seven years when our kids were young.  It meant our house was never tidy, but we sure did read a lot.

But even with all this family-reading time, our son struggled to learn to read.  I had a lot of empathy, because of my similar struggle.  Eventually he found the magic by pouring through the CALVIN AND HOBBS books.

6. What are your current writing projects?

Spring of 2012 my next picture book, HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA, will be published by Knopf.  I’m thrilled to send a purely happy, silly book into the world.  Several weeks ago I saw Lee Wildish’s illustrations for it.  His artwork is fabulously quirky.  Perfect!

I’m in the early stages of two other stories:  one about an outing to a park with a father and young toddler, and another one about a new sibling.  I find picture books so tricky to write, requiring countless number of revisions.  My critique partners definitely keep me going with their insights, humor, and encouragement.

For more about me, my writing process, my grief journey, or my summer life, please visit


Reading for Epilepsy Awareness 2011: Purple Day Challenge Report and Giveaway Winners

First I want to say thank you to all who participated. We had several who participated from outside the U.S. What a thrill to know that Purple Day really is an international day for epilepsy awareness. We raised another $50.00 for CURE!!!!!!!!!! For my family, Purple Day went well despite 2 of my 3 children being sick, my husband arriving home from a business trip at an unearthly hour in the morning and of course, to really top it off, a few seizures at my brother’s wedding reception.

My daughter, my grandma and my grandpa who also has epilepsy - related to age and stroke

I am nervous to write this post. Actually, I am T-e-r-r-i-f-i-e-d with a capital T and here’s why. I know I am being irrational, but  every time I  start to post more on our blog, my daughter has a seizure. I know that writing a blog post has nothing to do with her having a seizure, but I still can’t help myself. There is this desperate part of myself that I have to keep in check that wants to control the seizures when really I can’t. I can give her the medicine and make sure she sleeps well, but that’s about all the control I have. Most of the time I let the rest go, but lurking in the back of my mind is the vivid image of her turning blue. Then checking to see if she was breathing, and not seeing her chest move or feeling any air coming out of her mouth as she lay on the floor of the school’s main office. Talking to the principal while the secretary called for the paramedics. Paramedics rushing in with oxygen and other life-saving equipment that I don’t even want to think about. All this in my mind while I try to remember to let her live like the seven- year-old girl that she is.

My brother and his beautiful bride along with my daughter. Their wedding colors were Day-Glo colors hot pink and lime green - one of the co-inventors had epilepsy

A big part of me wants to shelter her and keep her in a box. A magic box that would prevent seizures. Can someone invent that, please? I’d almost sell my soul for that, but then I remember that she is a child with dreams and hopes for the future. Did I ever tell you about her love for swimming? Seizures can be deadly especially when swimming or bathing. One of my co-workers lost her nephew with epilepsy to drowning during a seizure at his high-school graduation party. I try to push all of  these thoughts out of my mind and I let her swim anyway. The more rational part of myself realizes to not let her take risks could be more detrimental than her actual seizures.

Although, her body decided to celebrate Purple Day with some seizures, it wasn’t so bad. Just a few absence seizures not a full on tonic-clonic seizure. All of her Tonic-clonic seizures have been preceeded by absence so it made me nervous, very nervous. There are people who have several hundred seizures a day or seizures that go into status on a regular basis, but I still cannot get over how scared and vulnerable the seizures make me feel. It makes my heart race every single time. Even for the short ones. After talking to the nurse at her neurologist’s office we determined that she was having break-through seizures due to a recent growth spurt. In the last several months she has gone through two shoe sizes, a new violin and several pairs of pants. So it would seem she needed an increase in her medication.

I feel like I am being extra brave just posting about Purple Day and we really did have an excellent day.

Princess Amerah at school for Purple Day

For the ultimate celebration, I invited Princess Amerah aka Justine Greene, to come to my daughter’s school and read part of her book, Princess Amerah and the Magic Dress, for Purple Day. She graciously agreed. Justine happens to have a brother who has epilepsy. It was so wonderful of her to come and share not only her beautiful book and her wonderful singing voice, but she told my daughter’s class about her brother’s experience with epilepsy. In fact he was the model for a character in her book, Walter the Watermelon Man.

Princess Amerah and my daughter and her friend who has Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy

Her book is amazing. Princess Amerah and the Magic Dress is currently sold out, but if you visit her website you can get on the waiting list for when the revised version comes out. I can hardly wait for the book to come out.

Thank you again for all who participated!!!!!!!!!!

Our Giveaway winners are . . . .

Christina at Overcoming Movement Disorder



Please contact me by June 3rd with your address and which book you would like either When you Reach Me or The Day Glo-brothers so I can mail out your book, otherwise I will draw another person.

Always My Brother by Jean Reagan, Illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill

I met Jean Reagan at a Utah Book Bloggers Social in February 2010 and she offered to send me a copy of her book, Always my Brother* for review. She explained what it was about and I knew immediately it was a book I wanted to review. It took me a while (over a year) to post my review, but it is finally here and as part of Utah Author’s Month, Jean also graciously agreed to an author interview. Her book deals with a very hard topic, sibling death. While I have not personally dealt with this, I know people who have and I also look for books that help children deal with all kinds of life’s issues from going to school, to chronic health conditions, to sibling rivalry. Death is probably the hardest topic to discuss with children along with sexuality as it makes adults uncomfortable. It’s hard, nobody likes to talk about it and yet we will all experience it.

I read the book with my then 6 year old and I have to admit I was nervous about reading a book about death with her especially since I am about to give birth to her baby brother. I didn’t want to scare her unnecessarily. Her experience with death is limited to 2 great-grandparents and a dear professor friend of mine. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my daughter liked the book. We had a good conversation about death and life and how all humans die. Plus we could talk about our beliefs in an afterlife.

So with that in mind, I really liked the book. Based on Jean’s own experience of loosing her son and watching her daughter go through the grief process. I have not lost a sibling, but I know it would devastating for me, but would be really hard is to watch my children deal with the death of one of their siblings. Some things I really appreciated about the book is that is mentions nothing about a religion making this book universally available to any child who has lost sibling regardless of belief system. Jean also does not mention a specific cause of death allowing parents or  broadening the audience of her book to any child who has a lost a sibling.

If you know of children who have lost a sibling this would be an excellent choice. In fact, after the school I work at experienced three student deaths within one month this last year, I recommended Always My Brother to our school pyscologist. When I told him about the premise of the book and a bit about Jean’s son, he agreed that siblings are often ignore or missed in the aftermath of a child’s death. He really liked the book and thought it would be a great book to use with children and teens.

Jean Reagan’s website and remember to stay tuned for our author interview with Jean coming Friday, May 27th.

Physllis Pollema-Cahill’s website

*This review copy was given by the author

The Black Death- Pivotal Moments in History by Diane Zahler

I’ve had a strange fascination with the Black Death since I first heard about it in High School. My parents went on a trip to England when I was a Freshman, and in the search for some old family villages, stumbled upon Eyam, Derbyshire, England- a place where the plague decimated the population in the mid 1600s. Our family came from the survivors. I remember reading about plague parties where people wore masks and danced until everyone succumbed. There was a lot of superstition and fruitless efforts to be saved from this ruthless bacteria. So, imagine my surprise at discovering this plague book when I was researching Zahler’s work in preparation for reviewing her novel, A True Princess a few months back. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to read it.

Besides the sordid subject, (which in and of itself is riveting!) I found myself enveloped in non-fiction, novelic prose that made this book a great read- I don’t like dry history. My biggest frustration was trying to flip between the story and maps and some of the places I wanted to find weren’t on the maps! Despite this minor frustration I found the book very informative and enjoyable. I know that sounds almost sick to say. What is wrong with me? I think studying the plague is almost as infectious as the plague itself. I emailed Ms. Zahler, and it seems she has been fascinated with the topic in much the same way. Did you know the plague is alive and still rears it’s head in the modern world? Luckily, we have antibiotics, and once an outbreak is identified, we can quickly bring it under wraps- with only a few casualties. A small comfort when we know terrorists are interested in biological warfare!

I think that teachers and schools would greatly benefit from incorporating this book into their curriculum. The pictures are engaging- artistic interpretations of the horrible suffering and gruesome realities of the Black Death. Zahler’s book focuses on the first great plague, not the later one that first peaked my interest. However learning about one is very much like learning about the other, as both times it reared it’s ugly head, things were. . . shall we say, pretty ugly? Yes, quite ugly indeed. I also think that those who, like me, have been  bitten by this ‘plague fascination bug’ would find this book a worthwhile investment in history.

Top lessons I learned: Don’t eat Marmots. Try not to get bitten by fleas or rodents. Clean up rodent messes with masks, gloves and disinfectant. The coolest lesson I learned was that if a Mother doesn’t succumb to the plague, her children have a better chance of surviving. So, Moms, take care of yourselves. Your family is counting on you.

Have you been bitten by the plague fascination bug? Do tell . . .

Briana’s Gift by Lurlene McDaniel

What teenage girl hasn’t heard of Lurlene McDaniel? I always got a good cry out of her books, maybe that means I’m sappy. Hmmm. McDaniels is known for her books that deal with hard realities. Sometimes, there are so many in one book, it’s a little unbelievable, but hey, it’s all about tugging on those heart strings!

Sissy is a very lovable main character whose older sister has skipped their small, homey town and run off to Hollywood. Underage and soon pregnant, she returns abandoned and in need of support. While struggling with the big decisions that come to pregnant teenagers, Briana actually begins to value her family. The twists and plot turns were well done and not as easily predictable as I thought they would be.

If you like McDaniels other books, you will not be disappointed!

Winners of Bookscoops’ Nature Squad giveaway…

The winner of the Nature Squad, Bluebird Finds a Home illustration giveaway is Lorene, and the winner of the book is Amy. Congratulations! I will be in touch to get your contact information. For all the others who entered or who may be silently lurking and hesitant to comment, keep checking back for more fun giveaways and author interviews coming soon.  We don’t share your contact information with anyone else, and only use it to contact you if you win something. So, enter away… next time. A big thank you goes to Jody at Adventure Publications for orchestrating the fantastic interview and giveaway, as well as for providing the review copy of Nature Squad, Bluebird Finds a Home. Also, a big thank you to illustrator Joel Seibert for participating in our interview. I have to agree with Amy, my favorite part was learning about Joel’s dyslexia and the ways he has overcome that and still participated in the world of literature!