Image courtesy of Debbie Wideroe
Most can recall a favorite book from childhood, be it the whimsical rhymes of Dr. Seuss or the mischievous undertakings of the Berenstain Bears. Debbie Wideroe, visiting professor of Communication and director of the Communication Division Internship Program, understands the critical role stories play in children’s growth and development, which is why she recently added “Children’s Book Author” to her list of titles.
Specifically, Wideroe aims to educate children about the environment, wildlife and natural resources. Her first book, “The Adventures of Camellia N.: The Arctic,” is the first book in a nine-part series. “This book not only educates and entertains but encourages children to become global ambassadors,” according to her website.
Wideroe has always had a passion for empowering children to make a difference. She has a background in TV, working on shows like “For Kids Sake” in the 1980s, and later marketing for “Looney Tunes” and “Baby Looney Tunes” at Warner Bros. Studios. She even had the opportunity to study under the co-creator of “Sesame Street.” These experiences eventually led her to teach in the university system, and she believes they are what make her an effective teacher.
In a recent interview, she shared details about her inspiration for the book, the publishing process and much more.
Micah Lambert, Kristin Vartan: How did you get into children’s literature?
Debbie Wideroe: I’ve been involved in child education since I assistant taught a French class to younger children at age eight. I have my master’s from Harvard in children’s marketing and education. It’s always been my passion. I believe if you want to make a difference, you have to start with children. Writing a children’s book has been on my bucket-list for a long time.
ML, KV: Have you always been a writer?
DW: I’ve always written, but I never thought, if you had told me 10 years ago, that I’d be writing this book.
ML, KV: What is the most enjoyable and most difficult part about writing a children’s book series?
DW: The most enjoyable part is that light bulb moment when the idea comes. You get lost in writing and don’t realize that hours have flown by! The most frustrating part is how different literature is from TV. The process requires so much patience to unfold and launch successfully.
ML, KV: What was it like working with an illustrator?
DW: I had a clear vision for the art in mind. I worked with four different people until I found the right fit. The illustrator creates the actual art, but I still do all the creative direction. It is difficult to convey exactly what you want to another person.
ML, KV: When and how did you come up with the idea of Camellia N.’s adventures?
DW: What inspired me was my father, and he was an early pioneer in sustainability. We grew up recycling before it was fashionable, and we grew up doing all of those things, so it was actually very second nature to me. The story has been in me a while, but the idea itself came to me in a dream. I am a firm believer that the best ideas come when you least expect it. The book really wrote itself, although it’s been in the works for over a year.
ML, KV: What was the process of getting your book published?
DW: I had written the book, and then back-seated it for a period of time due to family reasons. A while later, a small publisher approached me and asked to publish it. The actual process takes a very long time — they need lead time to get reviews and such. The formal publishing process has taken about six months.
ML, KV: How does the way you were raised affect your writing?
DW: Growing up with it, I was surrounded by it. It just becomes commonplace, and then you’re not as wasteful as you see how others can be, or not brought up with that mentality.
ML, KV: What kind of message are you trying to send with your book?
DW: Children can make changes in the world and if they make one change, they can make a difference in our planet. Every child can do their part to take care of our world.
ML, KV: Do you have any children?
DW: I have one son who graduated in 2013 from Pepperdine University. He now lives in New York and works in business.
ML, KV: Do Camellia Ann’s travels reflect your aspirations for your children?
DW: My son definitely echoes Camellia N. He has a deep awareness of the world around him. Pepperdine does, too. I think all of the study abroad programs and opportunities to travel globally help one recognize that in order to make changes in the world, you have to be educated about the world.
ML, KV: Do Camellia N.’s travels reflect your own travels?
DW: I have traveled to many corners of the world. My travels as a child had a large impact on me. I am particularly fascinated by the Arctic. I have never seen anything in all my travels, through Europe, through Asia, etc. that compares. The beauty in the Arctic is unbelievable. People keep asking me, why the Arctic first and really, well one I’ve been there so many times, but it has such significance in the world environment. Its ecosystem is literally tied to life on the rest of the planet. It makes it a perfect starting point for the book.
ML, KV: What is your next project?
DW: This is part one in a nine-part series, and possibly more after that. The next book has already been written and is entitled, “Camellia N. Goes Under the Sea.” It’s set to come out Sept. 5, 2017. September makes sense because mine is an educational book, so I would like it to be used in classrooms. Camellia Ann is so busy. We want her life though. We want to be doing all these cool travels.
ML, KV: What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to be a published author?
DW: Write, write, write! If you have a story inside of you, it needs to be told. Don’t be afraid, just be authentic.
ML, KV: How does this book fit into your career?
DW: Teaching is such a vocation. You teach because you feel it; it’s part of your soul. I’ve been teaching for 28 years total, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon because I love it. I tell my students, ‘When I’m at school, I’m 100 percent yours.’ That’s how I live my life. I’m 100 percent theirs when I’m there. When I’m writing on weekends or nights I’m 100 percent focused on that. I think we can do quite a bit in our lives. Just believe in yourself and keep going.
Wideroe is hosting her next book even at the Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica Nov. 5 at 11 a.m.
Follow Kristin Vartan on Instagram: @keepingitkrischic
Follow Micah Lambert on Instagram: @msmicahlynne