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World of Writing, Kids & Animals

-- World Of Writing --

As many of our blog readers are already aware, I love to feature others in the writing/publishing industry to share their insights, offer ways for their peers to make a difference in the world, and give a little glimpse into the behind-the-scenes activities in their world of writing.

Today we have Hans and Jen Hartvickson - of Ringtail Learning... their site:
This husband and wife teem have a sincere desire to entertain and subtly educate children while reminding parents of their own fun childhood reading experiences through their book: Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought.

Lillian: What inspired you to write this children’s book?

Jen: Hans started writing out of a desire to add more creativity to his life. He has always loved playing with words and finding witty ways to look at things. Part of the fun of writing a children’s book is that it allows you – maybe even forces you – to get back to thinking like a kid. At our age, when you have an imaginary friend who speaks only in rhyme, you typically don’t tell people!

Lillian: Why did you decide to write for the 4-10 age group?

Hans: One of the stories in the book is titled “Timing,” and it probably provides the best answer to the question.

To get an arrow in a bull’s eye,
I have always found it
easiest to shoot the arrow first
then paint the target around it.”

In other words, we started by shooting the arrow (following our hearts and writing what was inside of us), then we shared the stories with people of all ages to figure out the target audience. Based on this feedback, we “painted the target” around the 4-10 year old age group. The 7-10 year old independent readers tackle it on their own with help from the subtle definitions of “big words” included in the book, while kids 4-7 enjoy hearing the cadence of the rhyming stories read aloud.

That said, we have received a lot of heartwarming e-mails from empty nesters who love the book because it reminds them of their own childhood reading experiences. So we may not have painted a big enough target…

Lillian: What have you learned about working with your spouse?

Hans: Jen can be a very focused person, and without that focus this project would never have become a reality. I had to learn that I don’t get to control when this focus happens. With deadlines and long to-do lists, we had to remember not to let our relationship become too “transactional.”

Lillian: What were some of the challenges you faced in writing your books?

Jen: As first time authors, there is some insecurity about how well the content stacks up in a crowded publishing marketplace. As a result, we involved a large number of people throughout the creative process. While their feedback was largely encouraging and we got some very valuable ideas, we also had to balance showing our appreciation with politely saying, “We appreciate the idea, but we’re going in a different direction.”

Lillian: Do you belong to a: writers’ group/animal rights group/ passionate for a particular cause?

Jen: In 2006 we had the privilege of spending a week traveling through the island of Madagascar, off the coast of Africa. It was there that we had our first encounter with lemurs. We spent two days in a wildlife preserve, hiking through lemur-filled forests, and playing with lemurs as we “wooed” them with bananas. We fell in love with lemurs and their curious, social nature. Since coming home, we immersed ourselves in learning more about lemurs, including the dangers they face, primarily through deforestation and poaching.

We give presentations to grade school students and use these as an opportunity to educate them about lemurs. We have “adopted” a lemur at the Duke Lemur Center (the largest center for the study and preservation of lemurs in the world) and are contributing a portion of proceeds from the book to a lemur habitat preservation program that Duke Lemur Center runs in Madagascar. We are also contributing to lemur related causes at the San Francisco and Honolulu zoos. If any of your readers are interested in learning how they can contribute to the preservation of lemur habitat, they should feel free to contact us at

Lillian: Why should we care about Lemurs?

Jen: Once you experience the friendly, social nature of lemurs, it is hard NOT to care about lemurs. In addition, scientists have found that millions of years ago, lemurs and humans were related. For this reason, the study of lemurs is also important in understanding our own early human development.

Lillian: Your slogan is “Stories that move kids forward and take parents back.” What does this mean?

Hans: In Jen’s master’s work at the Stanford School of Education, she learned that children often learn best when they are interested and engaged with the subject matter. In writing the book, we wanted to introduce “lemur learning” where children would learn without even knowing it, simply by being engaged with the fun and subtly educational stories of Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought. At the same time, the style is reminiscent of Shel Silverstein era books, and we have had a lot of parents tell us that it “takes them back” to the books they loved as kids.

We are both big believers that education offers many people the pathway to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life. We recently donated 10 copies of Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought to Children’s Hospital, Boston for a program that sends books home with patients who have limited access to books. One of the most exciting parts of this project has been seeing kids get excited about reading something that is not “empty calories.”

Education is very important to both of us. We met as undergrads at Stanford University and I went on to earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton school. Jen earned a post-graduate master’s degree in Education at Stanford and currently sits on the board of California Dollars for Scholars. We feel that Mister Lemur is a great way to share the value of education with others.

Lillian: What has been the most surprising thing you learned from creating your book?

Hans: I think the biggest surprise has been how many unexpected people have come forward and offered to help share Mister Lemur with their friends, family, schools and communities. We have been overwhelmed by their generosity, time and ideas. When we started this adventure, Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought was a personal journey to bring more creativity into our own lives. As the book matured from concept to reality, we became focused on others and how we could help children expand their vocabularies, learn more about science, and see value in protecting endangered animals like lemurs. Now that it is published, we are finding that Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought is about community. Mister Lemur has re-connected us with old friends, introduced us to new ones, and opened more doors than we ever could have imagined.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. We will leave you with “Train of Thought,” the first story in Mister Lemur’s Train of Thought:
Train of Thought

Come and ride the train of thought,
it doesn’t matter where.
To ride you simply close your eyes
or pick a spot and stare.

Sometimes you’ll be the engineer,
sometimes you’re on the ride,
and on this train you’ll be amazed
at whom you’ll sit beside.

You’ll sit with former presidents,
you’ll fly with astronauts,
you’ll venture with magicians
as you travel through your thoughts.

You’ll wander in the mountains,
and you’ll daydream by the shore,
and often when you board the train,
you won’t know what’s in store.

Stop to read good writers
who are witty and are fun,
‘cause that’s the kind of fuel
on which your train of thought will run.

And if traveling makes you tired
your sleeping car includes a bed,
and your train sets off to dream land,
for more adventures in your head.

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