Please welcome writer, speaker, and storyteller Ellen L. Buikema to the Reading Room today.
Q. Hello Ellen! Please tell us about yourself and your books.
A. Hello and thanks for having me! I started thinking about writing a long time before I actually did anything about it.
When I was around 8 years old, my mother had to go into the hospital for surgery. My brothers were sent to live with an aunt, uncle and cousins in the suburbs. I really wanted to go with them—my cousins were a lot of fun to be around—but it wasn’t meant to be. I was driven to my grandparents’ house in Chicago to stay for three weeks. Much to my chagrin, I also went with three weeks of homework.
My grandpa was born on a large farm in southern Ireland. He had a wry sense of humor, told wonderful stories about his life as a boy and his “mad” math teacher, and used to recite poetry to me. I adored his stories, particularly the poems. I developed a great love of storytelling from him.
I did not begin to write for other people until after my own children were grown. Parenting . . . A Work in Progress came first, published in 2014. The first volume in the Charlie Chameleon series, New Beginnings, was published in 2015. Volume two, School Days came out in 2016. I hope to publish both volumes 3, Summertime, and 4, Holiday Celebrations this year. Summertime should be out in early May. Community Helpers, the last in the series, will be published in 2018.
I do a fair amount of author visits, mostly to schools. I’ve spoken and interacted with students in person as well as via Skype, Pre-K through 8th grade. We talk about different aspects of the writing process, sometimes aided by the very wacky Sock Puppet Tim.
Tim was born out of panicked necessity. One evening while I was in graduate school, my oldest daughter informed her papa that she needed a puppet . . . tomorrow! Thankfully, his mother taught all her children to sew. He made her an awesome sock puppet. The puppet laid around about for years. I was asked to be on a video podcast a few years ago and needed to bring a prop. I brought Tim, who was a hit on the show and has been accompanying me to schools ever since. Tim has 9 videos on my YouTube channel, although his voice has changed a bit. He is more boisterous now. Tim gets a lot of laughs from students and teachers.
I am a mom, writer, speaker and educator. I received a M.Ed. specializing in Early Childhood from the University of Illinois in Chicago and have extensive post-graduate work in special education from Northeastern Illinois University. I write adult nonfiction and fiction for children and young adults, sprinkling humor everywhere possible. I’m the author of Parenting . . . A Work in Progress, and The Adventure of Charlie Chameleon series. I live in the Phoenix area with my husband and our two rescue pups.
Q. Ellen, can you tell us something about your latest success?
A. As far as success goes, I am very happy that the Charlie books are being well received by those who may read these books to youngsters, and the children reading to themselves. One reviewer mentioned that her older daughter read and re-read the Charlie stories to her younger siblings as an excuse to read them herself. I love that! The books, which encourage empathy using a heaping helping of humor, have crossed over cultures as they are being enjoyed by students learning English in Mexico City. The teacher in me is very pleased to know the Charlie stories are helping children learn to read in a different language.
The children and parents in Mexico and the U.S. are having a good time with the activities at the end of each chapter, also.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge?
A. My biggest challenge has been getting my books into many hands. No one told me that a huge part of being an author is marketing your work. Right now I spend around 70 to 80% of my time marketing—an enormous chunk of time. I feel that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have support from my family and other writers. It helps so much to know that people believe in your work.
Technology is also a challenge. I am always learning something new, whether I want to or not.
Q. What plans do you have for the future?
A. Future writing plans include completing the Charlie Chameleon series, and starting a new YA book. The working title is Riding the Rails West. It is about three children in the early 1900s who were placed in an orphanage after their mother dies. They escape and hop trains across county to find family on the west coast. This fictional story is based loosely on part of my family history.
I also hope to translate The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series into different languages.
Q. Where can people keep up with you and buy your books?
A. All my books are in print and eBook formats. They are available on Amazon and may be ordered from bookstores such as Barnes and Noble.
The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: School Days
Charlie Chameleon and his friends are having trouble with Boris Bunny, the class bully. Charlie thinks Boris is putting on an act, but his friends disagree. Follow Charlie’s adventures as he helps Boris learn how to be a friend.
School Days Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Charlie-Chameleon-School-Days/dp/0990897966/
Parenting: A Work in Progress: https://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Work-Progress/dp/0990897907
Finally, The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings is FREE on Amazon in ebook format for the month of April! Please download a copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Charlie-Chameleon-New-Beginnings/dp/0990897931/
My antics may be found on my website, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, and Twitter.
Finally, I have a new book in the Charlie Chameleon series coming out in June, called Summertime.
The Chameleon’s vacation is off to a bumpy start. Frankie, the family fish, causes trouble on the plane. Papa gets lost driving in the mountains trying to find Mystery Lake, where Frankie is sure mermaids lurk.
When the family returns home, Charlie’s old friend, Tamika, visits him and meets his new friends. At a summer soccer game, Boris sees Tamika and is smitten.