I’m browsing the children’s section of the bookstore, as I frequently do, when a title catches my eye. It says: Pirates on the Farm. Now who wouldn’t want to read a book like that? Intrigued and amused, I pick it up and read from cover to cover. I love it, and so does my four year old grandson…..I love parables; he loves pirates. Here’s a book that cleverly combines the two….
Written to help children learn about loving their neighbors, Pirates on the Farm is Denette Fretz’ first book in The Next Door Series and tells the humorous tale of a family of five swashbuckling pirates who move into a little southern community.
Her second book, Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door, is just as cute and clever as the first.
Poor Conrad is not only struggling to master the art of being a cowboy, but also has to cope with Imogene Louise, who lives next door. It’s another humorous tale that helps little ones learn about loving your enemies.
I’m thrilled that Denette not only agreed to participate in a Question and Answer session with me, but also graciously offered to give my readers an opportunity to win their own signed copy of one of her books.
Hi Denette! Before we talk about your books, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
Whether it is forming art, buildings, quilts, gardens, music, computer programs or inventions, humans desire to generate something distinctive. It is part of being made in the image of a creative God. Since I was young, my imagination and my need to create “something out of nothing” has best been expressed through stories. (My second grade teacher even blamed my new glasses on “writing too long of stories.” What educator tells a seven-year-old she is writing too much???) My mom’s book collection and my career as an elementary teacher translated into a fondness for picture books and the goal to author one. Writing is a “good and perfect gift” I have been given and continue to work to develop.
I wonder what that second grade teacher would say if she knew that those ‘too long stories’ would lead you to become an author! What inspired you to write Pirates on the Farm?
PIRATES ON THE FARM was the first book in The Next Door Series and its inspiration relates back to praying for insight and my vocation as an educator: I wanted to write a humorous, engaging story that piqued kids’ imaginations and offered parents (or teachers) one more way to bind the second greatest commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” on children’s hearts. Integrating a subject kids love—pirates—into a creative parable gave voice to biblical truth in both secular and Christian markets.
How about Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door….what was the inspiration for the second book?
The inspiration scripture for CONRAD AND THE COWGIRL NEXT DOOR came from Matthew 43:7a, “If you love only those who are kind to you, how are you different from anyone else?” This book continues The Next Door Series’ “love your neighbor” theme, but highlights a different aspect—loving your enemies. Like PIRATES ON THE FARM, I chose subject matter kids love: cowboys and cowgirls.
The illustrations for both books are so fun! What did you think when you first saw them?
With PIRATES ON THE FARM, I mentally prepared to be disappointed with the illustrations. I didn’t believe someone else’s interpretation of my manuscript could match the beloved characters or vivid scenes roaming my brain. When I first saw Gene Barretta’s illustrations, they were not “as good as” my mind’s pictures—they were better! I absolutely LOVED them.
I love them too! Did you have any say in the illustrations or how the characters were depicted?
Since both stories are picture-dependent for humor and message, I supplied detailed illustration descriptions when I submitted each manuscript. That way, an acquisitions editor could “see” the comedy, depth, and text versus illustration juxtaposition. When each story began the design process, I supplied character descriptions. Gene expanded on my ideas and added his own, resulting in more than I “could ask for or imagine.”
Who is your favorite character in each story and why?
When I wrote character descriptions for PIRATES ON THE FARM, I included dog-like characteristics for Pooch. (When Pooch was two, he fell off of a passenger ship and was raised on a deserted island by his hairy dogmother.) Gene did a fabulous job of portraying Pooch as happy, friendly, playful, naive, and loveable. I also really like “Dad,” a farmer in the story. Dad is quiet, strong, unassuming, and “the hands and feet of Jesus” to the pirates.
I just have to interrupt Denette here and say how hilarious that Pooch was raised by a hairy dogmother…so clever and funny! Okay…who is your favorite character in Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door?
The main character, Conrad, is my favorite personality in the second book. He is a city-slicker who approaches his goal of becoming a cowboy with eagerness, wide-eyed wonder, and…a Mega Ultimate Extreme First Aid Kit. Despite his naivety causing humorous calamities and conflict with the bossy cowgirl next door; Conrad remains kind and optimistic. Also, Gene’s depiction of him is heartwarming and adorable.
I agree Denette! A wonderful feature in each book is the inclusion of a parent letter in the back which offers discussion questions to help children learn more about the biblical principles in the story. Can you tell us a little more about that, and the reason behind it?
Since both books are written as parables, the purpose of each parent letter is to connect the story to specific biblical truths and scriptures. My hope is that my stories foster discussions between parent and child, as well as help the child understand and live Matthew 22:39, “love your neighbor as yourself.” For example, in CONRAD AND THE COWGIRL NEXT DOOR, Imogene is a know-it-all cowgirl who is unkind to Conrad. The last discussion question asks the child to evaluate if there is an “Imogene” in his or her life, talk to a parent about the situation, and list some ways to show love to “her.”
What a wonderful way to help little ones try to apply biblical principles in their own lives! Since the books form part of The Next Door Series, I assume there’s another book or books in the works? Can you tell us anything about that?
A third manuscript has been written, but is not currently in process.
Well if it’s anything like your first two books, I can’t wait to read it! Thanks so much for stopping by today Denette, and for offering readers a chance to win one of your books.
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