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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Author/Illustrator Reba Linker and her book: The Compost Heroes: A (Mostly) True Fable for Modern Times

After a career in arts management, which included working for the Cunningham Dance Foundation, the Indo-U.S. Sub-commission on Education and Culture, and having my own ballroom and latin dance studio
in Manhattan, it is exciting to enter the world of children's books, especially with a book with such an important message.

I am thrilled to share my love of composting through “The Compost Heroes: A (Mostly) True Fable for Modern Times." I loved writing the story and drawing the pictures, and I can’t wait to write more about the animals' adventures.

This project brought together many pieces of my life in a very special way. My Dad started composting when I was in my teens. He experimented with all kinds of organic gardening techniques, even shipping in praying mantises and ladybugs to help with pest control, so in a way, this book is a tribute to him. As I sat drawing, I also felt connected to my mother, who is an artist. It was very gratifying to work on a project that honored both my mother and my father in this way. Last but not least, I thought a lot about my young son, who, along with all children everywhere, will inherit the task of caring for our beautiful, precious planet, and of meeting some of the challenges created by the previous generations. Last but not least, my husband published the book, so it really was a family affair!

Tell us about the genre of your work.

The Compost Heroes seems to defy categorization. It is both fiction and non-fiction, and it is suitable for a wide age range.On the one hand, it is a comic-book-style adventure story. On the other hand, it mixes fantasy – talking animals, etc. – with science and environmental studies. The animals are dealing with an imagined but
very real environmental issue, and there are fact-filled ‘footnotes’ on every page, with supporting information
related to compost and ecology.

Why did you choose this genre?

I chose this genre as an eye-catching format to raise children’s awareness about the importance of caring for
our planet, and about composting, in particular. I wanted to ‘sound the alarm’ about the issue, but in a fun and stimulating way. The format I chose, unusual though it is, reaches out to a broad spectrum of ages and abilities. Kids love to be “heroes” and this book gets them excited about being real environmental champions. Superman and Batman might be called upon to “save the planet” in some phantasmagorical drama, but these Compost Heroes really are saving the planet in a very hands-on way that all children can relate to and emulate.

In fact, the book has become a useful educational tool that is being used in classrooms to stimulate discussion
and action on environmental issues. The book speaks not only about compost, but also about the problems
facing our society in regards to trash generation, collection, transportation and storage.

What is the name of the book that is published?

The Compost Heroes is my first published work. I self-published it and created a website – http://www.compstheroes.com/. I am proud that it is being used in my local library system (Queens, NY) and in
 public schools in presentations about the importance of compost and caring for the planet. I recently received
my copyright for “Welcome Home Baby,” a book I actually wrote before I wrote The Compost Heroes,
although I have not yet started to promote it.

What ages have you directed your book?

The Compost Heroes is a comic-book style adventure that is attractive for very young children – even two
year olds can identify the animals and catch the main idea of the story. The science component of the book, especially the footnotes – make the book appropriate even up to the high school level. The science is rigorous
and does not talk down to the kids, so there is really a wealth of information there for all ages. The older kids
get to have fun reading a “comic book” while they are learning lots of important environmental science!

Tell us how we can find your book.

The Compost Heroes is available through my website – http://www.compostheroes.com/. It is available for
$12.95, plus shipping, ISBN number 978-0-9718132-1-2

Does your book have a teaching objective?  If so, what is it?

The Compost Heroes was created specifically for an educational purpose, with the added goal of making
 the educational component fun and fascinating. My goal is to get kids excited about composting, and to
provide educators with a unique and vibrant tool to deliver their environmental lesson plans.

How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your book?

The animals in the book are unnamed, or are called by their species (i.e., “Owl says”). The forest, too, is
unnamed. It is a forest anywhere. Nobody wants a landfill in their home!

How did you develop the character/s in your book?

The characters in The Compost Heroes are all part of a group, and the group dynamic – working together
to tackle a big problem – is what animates the action. Some animals have starring moments, such as when
Raccoon climbs up the landfill in search of organic material, or when Turtle calls in the FBI. It is funny how
each character has its own voice, but they are very cohesive as a group – and they all are motivated to take
action against the landfill that is threatening their forest home.

Is there a unique character or a recurring character if you have more than one published or to be published book?

I have not yet written the sequel to The Compost Heroes, nonetheless, I can hardly wait to develop some
of the characters in the story. In the next book, I want to make their personalities and challenges more
individualistic and integral to the story.

What is your favorite thing about your book/s?

My book has opened so many doors. There is a lot of interest in the topic, and I have been invited to
 bookstores, schools, libraries, greenmarkets, historical landmarks, science fairs, etc., to give readings and
show a live working compost bin. It is absolutely fantastic to be invited to connect with youngsters. I feel so passionately about compost – and our collective need to step up in our guardianship of the earth’s resources
– and it is truly fantastic to get such a great response from educators, and children – and from their parents.

Is your book illustrated?  If so, would you tell us by whom, and if you worked with an illustrator,
can you discuss that experience?

I did the illustrations for The Compost Heroes. That made it easy, in that I did not have the challenge of
conveying my ideas to another person. On the other hand, I do not (or I did not) consider myself a professional illustrator, so at times I would have to take a deep breath, screw up my courage, and just try my best to
capture the character and expression of each animal as best I could.

How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?

The Compost Heroes was driven by my desire to share my passion for the subject. That desire really carried
 – and still carries – this project forward. I found it really, really helpful to have that strong motivation, which somehow ‘lifted’ me out of myself and pushed the project to completion. It was also a gift to feel that,
somehow, I was uniquely suited to this project. My bio, above, details how the book pulled together many
 threads of my life, and that was very meaningful for me and helped me bring the project through completion.

Are there any problems in getting children’s’ books published? 

I sent the book out to numerous publishers and agents without success. I did receive a few kind and helpful responses (along with a lot of form letters and postcards). From the feedback I did receive, it seems that one challenge is that my book does not fit neatly into any category or tight age group – it is a unique combination
of fiction and non-fiction, and can be used by many ages --  and that seems to make it harder for a commercial publisher or agent to handle it.

Why and when did you begin writing?

I actually began writing The Compost Heroes as a final project for the Master Composter Certification,
offered by the NY Department of Sanitation. Having a course deadline was extremely helpful.  Also, knowing
 I would be presenting the book to a room full of my Master Composting peers was a strong motivation.

What is your writing schedule?

For The Compost Heroes, I just took every spare moment, morning or evening. It really was a big push –
thank goodness I had a deadline. My other book, “Welcome Home Baby,” also self-published, was a simpler project. Again, I just snatched any spare chunk of time I could grab. For both projects, I was ‘in love’ enough with the idea behind the book, and that helped me push through. I really wanted to see it done, and in both cases,
the idea behind the books meant a lot to me personally.

What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I am currently working on another children’s book. Like “Welcome Home Baby” it came out of an experience I had with my young son. In both cases, as I was telling him a story, in the back of my mind a light bulb went off:
“Hmmm, this might make a fun children’s book!” I also have two books for grownups on the back burner,
one a book of knitting tips, and the other, even further back on the burner, about the choreographer and
dancer, Martha Graham.

What kind of advice or tips to you have for someone who wants to write and get published?

Just do it! Find a way to get your work out into the world in some way or another, on some scale or another.
 It’s not always easy to go the traditional route, but I think if your work has something to offer, people will
embrace you and it, if you can just help people find your work.

Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?

Further to what I said, above, I want to add that we are so fortunate that we live in a time where we can do
so much on our own. I have a lot to learn about all the new technology, and I know it offers a lot of creative opportunity, especially for people who might not be able to find a traditional publisher or agent, or who need
to work from home, or who work odd hours.

What do you do when you are not writing? 

I do love gardening. I keep both an indoor and outdoor compost bin and just yesterday I harvested my indoor vermi-composting (worm composting) bin for the first time. I got two quarts of gorgeous compost. I went out
to Home Depot and bought two new plant pots and repotted some plants with a mix of topsoil and compost.
The plants look happy, the new pots are really pretty, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Anything else you would like to add?

If you choose to order a book, please share it with a school group, or other club or group. Get people talking about compost! I have free lesson plans on my website with fun compost-related projects that you can do with the kids in your life.  In San Francisco and Toronto, the municipalities have already mandated curbside compost pick up, just like other recyclables. I hope people will use The Compost Heroes to learn more and take a leadership role in tackling this challenging subject. Plus, kids love this stuff! Pair a book reading with a worm bin demo (contact your local Botanical Garden for help) (or visit my blog and I will help you start a worm bin of your own) or even just a nature walk to discover nature’s composters in action (turn over a rotting log and they will be there, bless their little hearts!).

What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?

No question, my personal “made it” moments include my wedding day and the birth of my son. In terms of professional accomplishments, standing in front of an auditorium of kids talking about compost was great, and
I was also really happy when my website went live. As a non-techno-savvy person, accomplishing any of the
nitty-gritty online work of web publishing or even PR somehow takes a lot of courage to get started and I
really have to push myself to get those kinds of things done, so when I do accomplish something, it is an extra good feeling.

Learn more about Reba Linker on the following websites:
www.CompostHeroes.com/blog

From Sylvia:  My book blog link is:
Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts
http://love-faith-and-guts.blogspot.com/

1 comment:

Senta Lisvi said...

Great post.Thanks for sharing your views with us.