Cathy Stefanec Ogren: Meet Janie Reinart. Whether she’s writing, teaching, puppeteering, performing interactive musical stories, clowning around, or presiding as a poet-in-residence at an elementary school, Janie’s enthusiasm is infectious. Today I have the honor of interviewing this multi-talented author as she talks about her newest book When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children. Readers can see my book review here.
CSO: Welcome, Janie Reinart, and congratulations on your beautiful book. Tell us more about the background of the story and why you wrote it.
JR: Cathy, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. It is my pleasure to celebrate the South Sudanese children in the story.
My inspiration and resource for WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A STORY OF REFUGEE CHILDREN is the National Geographic photographer, Nora Lorek, who took four trips to the Bidibidi Settlement and documented her travels in photos. Nora has graciously answered my questions for the story.
I was inspired by the refugee children at the Bidibidi Settlement; children who invented toys from found objects using their imagination and critical thinking skills. One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” These children without toys created something from nothing. These children have hope. Their hope becomes our hope.
CSO: Your story has a lovely lyrical feel. Can you discuss some of the writing techniques you used to create such a heartfelt story? Did you use mentor texts?
JR: When I started working on the manuscript, I knew I wanted a playful structure to match the heart of my story—children creating, playing, cherished sibling relationships, kindness, and caring. I had fun figuring out the smallest to the largest ways to show mirth—from a grin to a laugh.
Poetry does the heavy lifting of capturing emotions. I enjoyed using animals the children see every day as similes. The repetition in the story helps the read-aloud to be interactive. A picture book that stuck with me and became my mentor text was Miranda Paul’s, Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle illustrated by Janson Chin.
CSO: What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
JR: Social and emotional learning through stories helps us feel empathy, make caring decisions, and find out we are more alike than different. I would like to see today’s tech-savvy children disconnect from screens and spend more time using their imaginations and creating. I’m hoping When Water Makes Mud will also inspire people to donate to UNICEF. Publisher’s profits from When Water Makes Mud are being donated to UNICEF.
CSO: It’s very impressive of the publisher to make those donations.
Marketing a book can be challenging. What are some of the things you’ve done to promote your book?
JR: It takes a village to market a book. I would like to thank my debut groups @thekidlitcrew and @readingfunin21, and my critique partners Charlotte Dixon, Pamela Courtney, Kathy Halsey, Melissa Rutigliano, Marietta Apollpnio, and Monique Morales Wakefield.
The wonderful thing about the kid lit community is their generosity in sharing news about books on social media and interviews on blogs. I’ve found all you have to do is ask. Thank you again, Cathy, for this interview.
CSO: It’s my pleasure, Janie. Do you do school or virtual visits? Describe what one of your visits would be like.
JR: In previous years, I did live school visits. This past year, I had the opportunity to take the fabulous Kate Messner’s classes on virtual visits. What fun to be able to Zoom all over the place and interact with kids. One of my virtual visits includes jokes, a sing-along with hand motions, creating a group poem, choral reading, interactive reading of the picture book story, five ways to adapt a fairytale, discussion on why we write, and Q & A. I also provide free downloads for activities to go with the story.
CSO: Your program sounds amazing. Can you share something not many people know about you?
JR: I obviously do like to play! I coordinated and performed in a gentle clown ministry when we lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. We visited St. Elizabeth’s Hospital adding silliness and play to a child patient’s routine, as well as being comic relief for parents, nurses, and doctors. My troupe was all mimes—no talking when you were in full costume. Laughter is the best medicine!
CSO: What’s next for you, Janie?
JR: I am researching a story that has to do with my childhood. I have several stories out on submission and have others waiting to be revised again. I love the writer’s life and making the writer/reader connection—heart to heart.
CSO: Thank you, Janie. I’m so pleased to have you as a friend and as a guest on Writers’ Rumpus!
Learn more about Janie Reinart below.
This interview appeared earlier on the interviewer’s blog.