Trying it on for size

Local author tells kids a tale about a tail

Aug. 30, 2007

South Milwaukee resident Janet Halfmann is still glowing over last year's Christmas present: a call from Sylvan Dell Publishing announcing her first work of fiction was accepted for publication.

"It was probably the best Christmas present ever," Halfmann said.

"Little Skink's Tail," officially released Aug. 10, is the story of a young skink - a type of lizard - named Little Skink. The main character, while on the hunt for breakfast one day, ends up shedding her bright blue tail to escape a predator.

The next day, Little Skink begins to miss her tail and imagines what she would look like with other forest animal tails instead.

A family affair

Inspiration for her first fiction book came from research Halfmann did for a non-fiction book, "Nature's Predators: Lizards," and an article titled "Slinky Skinks" she'd written for the magazine Ranger Rick, and from her granddaughter, Monae.

Halfmann said that at some point she knew she was going write the story of a skink with a blue tail that loses his tail. And she knew the tail would grow back at the end.

"But I didn't know what was going to happen in the middle," Halfmann said.

That was where Monae came in.

Halfmann said she was picturing Monae playing dress-up while writing the part of the book where the skink was trying on different animal tails.

"That was a really fun part for me," Halfmann said.

While writing the book, Halfmann said she'd bounce ideas off her daughter, Laura Halfmann.

"She might have an idea that makes (the story) more lyrical or something," Halfmann said.

Teaching with nature

Before the manuscript for Little Skink's Tail was scooped up by Sylvan Dell Publishing, Halfmann said she sent out her manuscript to a few other publishing houses.

"We are on a mission to create picture books that excite children's imaginations, are artistically spectacular and have educational value," said Angie Dzalamanow, public relations representative for Sylvan Dell. "Because our mission is to teach science and math through literature, all of our books start with fun, warm stories - generally fiction with math, science or nature themes - and are brought to life by art."

Halfmann admits most of her books are animal in nature, likely because she grew up on a farm in Michigan.

"My dad was just a farmer's farmer. He loved the land," Halfmann said. "That way of life was very important to my family."

As a full-time freelance children's writer, Halfmann has more than 20 years of experience with 28 published novels under her belt, including "Little Skink's Tail."

Previously, she worked as a reporter at a daily newspaper in Kansas; was managing editor of Country Kids, a national children's magazine; and worked as a manager, editor and writer of coloring and activity books for Golden Books, formerly located in Racine.

"One thing that I really like about ('Little Skink's Tail') is I think it shows children they can be comfortable with themselves as they are," Halfmann said. "I didn't try to put that message in there, but I think it's something that comes through in the story."

Book signings

Broad Vocabulary, 2241 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee - 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9

South Milwaukee Public

Library, 1907 10th Ave., 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19

Cudahy Family Library, 3500 Library Drive - 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29

The Learning Shop at

Southridge Plaza, 5431 S. 76th St. - 2 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14

Betty Brinn Children's Museum, 929 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee - 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19

Barnes and Noble at Southland Center, 2710 S. Green Bay Road, Racine - 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1

Wehr Nature Center in Whitnall Park, 9701 W. College Ave., Franklin - 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 1

Most appearances include story time and activities where kids can create their own animal tail.

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