By Marlys Kruger
It really isn’t a far cry from being a kindergarten teacher to writing children’s books, according to Colfax resident Jeanne Styczinski. Jeanne, a kindergarten teacher in the Menomonie School District for 31 years who has lived with her family in rural Colfax since 1985, published her first book this past winter, titled “Mama, How Does the Wind Start to Blow?”
“After all the books I have read to my own kids and to my students throughout the years, I figured I knew what kids liked so I thought I would give writing a try. It has been quite a learning experience,” she said with a laugh.
Jeanne and her husband Jerry, who is an over the road truck driver, raised four Colfax graduates, Anthony, Andrea, Kayla and Elizabeth who were involved with just about every school activity offered including sports, music, FFA and dance, along with being active in 4-H which also kept Jeanne very busy.
“I had mulled over the idea of writing a book and when my youngest, Elizabeth, went off to college, I realized it was time to get serious about it,”
Jeanne said. “I had a lot of extra time on my hands and had an idea of what I wanted to write about, so I finally got started.”
The storyline for the book comes from questions her own kids asked when they were young and her simple response to them. It is written in repetitive text with plenty of colorful pictures of nature, and is also a counting story with a number chart in the back. All of these are factors that hold a young child’s interest when looking at the book themselves or having it read to them, according to Jeannie.
“I refer to it as a counting story that will brighten your day and blow you away,” Jeannie said.
With no real background in art or journalism, Jeannie, who had decided she wanted to do her own illustrations, wrote the story first then began working on the pictures to go with it. She used acrylic paint on recycled newspapers then cut everything out and pasted them on story boards. Not sure what the next step was, she made contact with Lindsay Lindner, a friend of Anthony’s who actually worked with medical devices but did other design work on the side. Although Lindsay had never put a book together, she and Jeannie did a lot of trial and error together and came up with a finished product.
“This is where I learned about editing,” Jeannie said. “Finding out what works and what doesn’t, what to put in a book and what to leave out. Lindsay scanned in my art pieces which seemed to give them their best color. I would put a few pages together then Lindsay put the pages with the illustrations in book form. It took a lot of time and we made several changes before we had a finished product. Then I sent it to about 10 publishing companies but most of them have their own illustrator so they didn’t seem interested. I ended up going somewhat local and having it printed by Glen Flora Express, basically publishing it myself and doing my own marketing. So far I have sold close to 1,000 copies and will probably have to have more printed.”
Jeannie will be eligible to retire from teaching in a few years and has used this first book as an opportunity to see if she will continue in the writing business. Always an educator at heart, she has already presented several writing clinics to students at libraries and schools around the area.
“I talk with lower level students about what to write about and how to choose a subject,” she said.”I tell them to write about things that happen in their own life and subjects that interest them. I talk to the upper level students more about editing, what to include in a book or story and what to leave out. Writing is emphasized a great deal at all age levels in every school so I think it is important for kids to do a lot of it. Even my kindergarten students are expected to write a full paragraph with three or four sentences strung together by the end of the school year. I hope kids will develop a love of writing through my teachings,” she added.
Jeannie’s book can be purchased at Bookends in Menomonie, on Amazon.com and on her own website, jeanniekpublishing.com. She has already started a second book, which is somewhat of a spinoff of her first one called “Papa, Why Does the Sun Start to Shine?” and also has a storyline for a third book about woodland animals. She hopes to have the second book done by this November or December.
“Hopefully, the second time around will be a lot easier,” she said. “I now have some background in how to put the illustrations together with the story so it won’t take as much time to finish. I have given myself a five year timeline to see if I want to pursue this and so far, things are going very well,” she concluded.