Utah author brings yet another humorous, clever picture book for readers young and old
illustration by Lee Wildish, provided by Random House
Jean Reagan pulls out a small red notebook, revealing lists of scribbled writing that, to the untrained eye, are meaningless words. But to Reagan, it’s the research to the companion book of her picture book “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” which was a New York Times best-seller.
Words such as “girl,” “makeover” and “dog,” and suggestions from young readers, jotted down in Reagan’s hurried script, would soon become clever illustrations and adorable directions in Reagan’s latest book, “How to Babysit a Grandma” (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $16.99).
“A lot of times when I go to the schools (to read my book to children), this is my motivation,” she said. “I ask the kids ideas for the next book. And so when I took ‘Grandpa’ out, I asked them, ‘What do you think?’ ”
Though many of the ideas in the Utah author’s humorous babysitting books come through her “research” at elementary schools, the initial idea for the first book came when a friend of Reagan’s adopted a little girl nearly 13 years ago.
“She had to figure out the daycare arrangement unexpectedly,” Reagan said. “And so she had her grandfather be the every-Tuesday babysitter, and I thought ‘That is cool, grandpas don’t necessarily do that.’ I thought that was a cool story.”
Reagan initially wrote the book about what a day with a grandpa as a babysitter would be like, and then, with sudden inspiration, she flipped the idea to the child babysitting the grandpa. But despite the clever storyline, Reagan’s story wasn’t very popular with publishers.
“I got rejected a bunch of times, so I went and got real books on how to babysit, and I used that to see that I was missing the goodbye scene,” Reagan said. “That was a big deal. I got two or three scenes that were obvious that should have been in there.”
With the addition of the crucial missing scenes, “Grandpa” was published. Soon after its publication, “How to Babysit a Grandpa” became an Indie Best Seller. A year later, it rocketed onto the New York Times Best Seller "Children's Picture Books List," and it now boasts five additional awards.
It was during the summer that Reagan, who spends each summer cut off from running water, electricity and almost all technology as a seasonal backcountry volunteer in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, got the exciting call from her publisher. Luckily, she was in a place with cellphone reception.
“She said, ‘ “Grandpa” made the New York Times best-seller list!’ I was flabbergasted,” Reagan said. “It was so ... I was just shouting.”
It was only a few years earlier that Reagan was considering quitting writing. She had become discouraged because publishers weren’t accepting anything she wrote.
“You kind of want to get published because you want the joy and to share your art,” Reagan said. “I remember telling my husband, ‘It’s like winning the lottery,’ and he said, ‘Or like not winning the lottery.’ ”
So Reagan’s husband, who didn’t want her to put herself through that torture for several more years, told her to take the next two years and see if anything worked out. After that, if nothing had, she’d move on to different pursuits — such as knitting, Reagan joked. Reagan recalled that the time frame was a big motivator for her and forced her to take advantage of every opportunity.
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