Children’s books are a valuable part of any child or new parent’s life, whether it’s to help talk about life problems, learn new things or just have a laugh before bedtime. While there are seemingly endless books for little ones to pick from, three female Southern authors have written children’s books that are unique, colorful and will provide a breath of fresh air for parents tired of reading the same book again and again and again.
Today, get to know these three Southern authors, find out what inspired their creations and learn what’s next for these budding talents.
Jennifer Osland Hillen
Jennifer Osland Hillen’s book Goodnight Nashville was born at the intersection of two things she loves most: her daughter Harper and the city of Nashville.
“I love this city so much, and it’s so exciting to now have my own native Nashvillian,” says Jennifer. “I just pictured myself rocking her and celebrating the city we live in together and having this thing that I created that we could be proud of and enjoy together.”
Jennifer never planned to pursue a creative path professionally. In college, she majored in accounting and studied business and Spanish at Birmingham Southern University. She now works as an accountant, but Jennifer always loved doing art and writing on the side, whether in her free time or in any elective classes she took.
“It was always just a hobby, but I would go crazy in art supplies stores and try all these new crazy things all the time,” she says. “But all of it came back to me in really strong ways when I had Harper. When she was a baby I needed this creative outlet to make something I could be proud of and hopefully one day she will be too.”
So, after realizing there wasn’t another great children’s book about Nashville, Jennifer decided to create Goodnight Nashville, an adorable adventure through some of the city’s greatest landmarks, to celebrate and ultimately say goodnight to each one. But in such an expansive, blossoming place, it was hard for her to narrow down her favorite locations. “I eventually decided to go with what really made us who we are,” Jennifer says. “There are certainly a lot of new and special things to be celebrated right now, but the reason Nashville is in the limelight right now is because of some of these things that have been around forever.”
As part of maintaining these valuable city traditions, Jennifer donates a portion of her proceeds each year to philanthropic causes that have included Nashville treasures like Warner Parks and Cheekwood. “There’s no official organization or one angle,” she says. “Nashville has so many great causes that its fun to be able to move around and support different ones.”
As Jennifer releases new editions going forward, she plans to continue supporting and representing the city she loves. However, she also makes sure to keep her true influence in mind — her daughter Harper, who makes an appearance in the first edition of Goodnight Nashville and will make a slightly different appearance in the next edition now that she is older.
“In the first printing she was in it, but she was much smaller. So I thought it would be really cool in the second edition, even if I change nothing else, for the book to grow with her as she’s gotten older.”
Most importantly, Jennifer wants to use the book to help inspire Harper in the same way Harper inspired her. “I loved getting to see our city from this different angle,” she says, “but I never thought I would be able to do something like this. So the lesson I want my daughter to come away with is that you really can do something if you put my mind to it.”
Keep up with future iterations of this adorable book and learn more about the author at goodnight-nashville.com.
Katie Hines Porterfield
Katie Hines Porterfield’s life has been defined and inspired by the places closest to her heart: Sewanee, in Tennessee, and Lake Martin, in Alabama.
Her first book Sewanee A to Z explored the town where she attended college at the University of the South. “My cousins were looking in the Sewanee bookstore for something to bring home to their kids, but they weren’t finding anything they really liked. So they said ‘Someone should write a children’s book about Sewanee,’ and I jumped on that and thought it was an amazing idea.”
During her time in college, Katie studied journalism and went on to excel in the field as a writer and freelancer. So combining these talents with her deep love of Sewanee was Katie’s perfect project. “I always hoped to write a book someday,” she says. “I was leaning toward creative nonfiction, but this fell into my lap, so I’m trying to develop a business doing this and I really enjoy it. I just love writing about places that are special to people.”
Sewanee A to Z follows a Sewanee angel around the town, highlighting Katie’s favorite places, University of the South’s traditions and giving readers a chance to experience a slice of Sewanee through Katie’s clever rhymes and Bob Askew’s beautiful illustrations.
Her second book, Find Your Heart In Lake Martin reflects a place of similar significance to Katie. “My dad’s family has had a cabin at Lake Martin since the 1950s, so I have been going there my whole life,” she says. “My husband and I even got married there, so it seemed natural to do Lake Martin as the next book.”
As someone so well acquainted with these locations, Katie was eager to brainstorm as many ideas as possible. “But what it really comes down to is that I want my books to rhyme,” she says. “So it’s really a puzzle trying to figure out how to get all the different things I want in it but also how I can make it rhyme.”
Since her primary gift is writing, Katie partners with other artists to illustrate her books. However, she cares deeply about finding illustrators who share her passion for the locations about which she writes. “It’s important to me to use illustrators that are local so that they love the places as much as I do and they’re familiar with them.”
Katie now has a few other people in her life who adore her favorite places — her twin sons. “For their big second-grade project, they had to write about a special place, and they both ended up choosing Lake Martin to write about. So now we have three books about Lake Martin,” Katie says with a laugh.
Look out for Porterfield’s forthcoming A to Z books — one about Smith Lake and the second about Homestead Resort in Virginia. Till then, learn more about Katie’s books and all things A-to-Z at atozchildrensbooks.com.
An accomplished artist, Amanda Norman wanted to share her artistic passion and creativity with her son Ward. However, as she worked her way through children’s book after children’s book, she began to notice a problematic pattern. “We started working on colors around 9 months, and I was going through all these books and all of them were just plain red or plain orange with one image. As an artist, [I know] there are lots of different colors, so I wanted to be able to show the range of the rainbow and the range in each hue versus just one swatch of color.”
This inspired Amanda to begin brainstorming ideas for a possible book, which would later turn into COLOR.
“The illustrations came about really quickly because the content was just sort of there in my head for a couple of months,” says Amanda. “So it was a couple nights of staying up until 12 a.m. or 2 a.m. and just doing these illustrations. I was so passionate about it that I wanted to stay up until 1 a.m. doing them.”
Her motivation was in large part to help in developing children’s understanding of color and linguistics. But her experience as a new mom also gave her a little extra perspective. “I feel like both children and adults prefer to look at a lot of images,” she says. “Parents are reading the same books again and again, so I wanted to throw in some funny little nods to them too. So on the red page, there’s a red Solo cup to remind them, you were cool once!”
The artistic talent and drive that led to the creation of COLOR began at an early age for Amanda, who painted throughout her childhood and ultimately graduated from college as an art major. “Some of my earliest memories are sitting at a little kitchen table drawing. Throughout high school I painted, then went to college thinking I would be an engineer,” she says with a laugh. “But the whole time I was just painting in my dorm room.”
After graduating, Amanda’s work began to be featured in galleries, and soon, people were commissioning her for all kinds of artwork — dog or children’s portraits, paintings of wedding bouquets, paintings of homes and churches and even abstract works. Her art can currently be found in several galleries and collections including The George Gallery in South Carolina and Well + Wonder, an online artists’ collective.
Her beautiful work thoroughly established Amanda over the years, so the art community, as well as the community of her native city of Nashville, eagerly supported her when she announced her plans for COLOR and started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund its publication. “It was so incredible to see all my friends and these people in the Nashville community specifically who helped support the Kickstarter campaign and continue to support my art.”
Be sure to keep an eye on Amanda, as she hopes to have another project in the works soon — a book of animals with the same fun, creative concept shown in COLOR. Till then, you can learn more about Amanda and her work at amandanormanstudio.com.
The precious nursery featured above is designed by Parkes & Lamb Interiors.
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