Beryl Reichenberg: From Teacher to Author
I became aware of Beryl Reichenberg while reading an article in The Paso Robles Daily News. It announced a Halloween craft class she was going to teach. I’m always interested in local authors, especially those who write for children. I decided to try to get acquainted.
I emailed Beryl, and she was gracious enough to grant me an email interview. She told me most of her books were for sale at Studios on the Park in the Up Front Gallery. It was open and I found them. They were spread between the top cubbies under a craft display. I read every one of them on display (with her permission) so to better frame my questions.
Some Background Information on Beryl Reichenberg
Beryl Reichenberg has lived in California for most of her life. She now lives in San Luis Obispo County. We both attended UCLA for part of our education. Beryl is a retired high school English teacher, as am I. Unlike me, she is a talented artist and published author. She still uses her teaching skills, but with younger children. Her specialties include paper crafts and fiber art.
Below she is teaching a class on paper craft at a bookstore.
I will let Beryl speak for herself now, in as she answers the questions I had.
My Interview with Beryl Reichenberg
Education and Teaching
In this interview, I asked two kinds of questions. Some were about her background and inspiration. Others related to specific books I wanted to know more about. I will integrate the book questions as I review her books.
Barb: What ages did you teach? What did you like best and least about teaching?
Beryl: I taught high school English and Social Studies. I always enjoyed working with the students and seeing them become engaged in what they were learning. My classes were less lecture and more open discussions, encouraging the students to think for themselves and ask questions.
In a sense, I am still teaching but now to a younger age group, children under eight years old. Most of my stories are full of subtle lessons. I also teach paper craft and bookmaking classes for kids. I enjoy this age group and like to watch them problem solve as they work on their creations.
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Do you want to try paper crafts yourself? These products can get you started.
Why Beryl Started to Write
Barb: Did your teaching experience motivate you to create any of your books because you thought they might be good teaching tools to stimulate awareness and class discussions?
Beryl: Actually, I started writing children’s stories about ten years ago when I became a grandmother. I fondly remember my own grandfather telling me his made-up stories about the Three Jolly Fleas when I was young.
At first, I wrote mainly for my grandkids and found it so fulfilling that I continued writing story after story. I enjoy the whole creative process of writing, illustrating and setting up the books for printing.
Interest in Nature
Barb: Nature plays a big role in most of your stories. What made you so interested in it?
Beryl: I ‘ve always have been interested in nature and science and I find that children like stories about the natural world. They relate to animal characters in a personal way particularly, and my animal characters are often stand-ins for the children themselves.
Beryl’s Experience with Publishing with Create Space
Beryl has used Create Space to publish some of her books. So I asked her about it.
Barb: Do you have any advice for writers who are contemplating self-publishing with CreateSpace?
Beryl: Publishing with CreateSpace is relatively easy, although some computer skills are needed. The website offers assistance when necessary. When publishing a story, I always set up my complete files myself, both text and illustrations.
Most important is to proof your files carefully and to order proof copies to ensure there are no glitches and that the illustrations print properly. These copies are fairly inexpensive and are delivered promptly. I usually order several proof copies as I make changes and corrections to make sure everything is to my liking.
Unfortunately, CreateSpace does not print hardcover books and their soft cover books do not have a printed spine. But the copies are inexpensive and the service is print-on-demand, so I only order the books I need at any one time.
The book below was published on Create Space.
I have a regular publisher, Oak Tree Press, and they have published six of my books. I find that It is easier to use CreateSpace. Also, the wholesale price is less expensive. If I order a number of books at a time, I can also reduce the shipping costs. Cost is important when I sell wholesale or on consignment.
Reviews of Beryl’s Books
Since Beryl has written and illustrated at least 35 children’s books, I don’t have room to review them all here. So I have picked some I liked best. She has illustrated most and had others illustrate a few of them. I asked her about a technique I saw in some illustrations in a few of her books
Barb: Why did you decide to insert photos of human characters into the drawings in the book instead of drawing them? Were there special children in your life who wanted to be in your books?
Beryl: Drawing children is much more difficult for me than drawing animals. Pictures of my grandchildren seemed to be a natural solution. Besides, they like seeing themselves in my stories. I find that other children respond positively as well. They like to see actual children pictured in my books.
Books Featuring Monarch Butterflies
When Caterpillars Dream
In this story, we meet Cathy Caterpillar as she sleeps in her chrysalis and dreams. She dreams of taking trips with the monarch butterflies and then getting lost. A friendly frog tells her to just trust her instincts. When Cathy woke up we watched as she “wiggled and squiggled” to get free of her chrysalis and fly away as a monarch butterfly.
At the end of the book, young readers learn about how the monarch butterflies migrate. There is also an introduction to words that may be unfamiliar.
This fictional story also features monarch butterflies. Sisters Ashley and Becky find a chrysalis in their yard. One day the “sleeping” butterfly emerges and the girls name it Beauty. Beauty is hungry and flies off to eat, but she promises to come back the next day.
The girls have butterfly costumes, and your little girl can have one, too.
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The sisters put on their butterfly costumes. Beauty kisses the girls’ heads, and suddenly the girls can use their costume wings to fly with the butterflies. Flying with the butterflies becomes a frequent activity until Beauty and her friends are gone one day. Then Mom explains that the monarch butterflies have gone south for the winter.
I asked Beryl how she became interested in the monarch butterflies. Here is her answer.
Monarchs are part of our local wildlife. I enjoy watching them as they winter-over at the Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach. I decided to write a couple of stories about these butterflies, teaching kids something about their fascinating life cycle and the long, incredible migratory journey they take each year. Rather than use a straight clinical approach, I used fiction.
Dancing with Leaves
Most of Beryl’s books contain subtle messages that children will pick up. Parents can always ask clever questions to make sure their children “got’ them. This book, like Butterfly Girls, has human characters in the drawings.
The plot: Mary is a little girl who loves to dance. She wants to “whirl and twirl and swirl” to her favorite music. When on a beautiful autumn day she looked into her yard and saw colorful leaves dancing in the wind, she wanted to join them. As Mary danced with the leaves, the wind lifted her into the air and then gently put her back on the ground.
After that first experience, Mary often danced with the leaves. One day, though, an especially strong wind carried her far from home and dropped her gently into a forest tree. She had no idea where she was or how to get home. You’ll need to read the book to find out who helped her.
At the end of the book, there is an explanation of why the leaves change color. The subtle message is “I’m glad I know where I live.” You can help your children see why this is important and make sure they know what to tell someone about where they live if they are ever lost.
When I asked Beryl what inspired this story, here’s what she said: My granddaughter was dancing one day to some lively music, and I began to take quick pictures of her as she danced. Thinking of how children love of jumping into a pile of Autumn leaves and also of how much fun it would be to fly on the wind, I combined these story elements. I also wanted to include a small lesson to encourage children to remember their address and where they live.
I’m a City Bear
I have to admit the cover art by Gini Griffin made me choose this book to read first. I live in San Luis Obispo County just like Beryl does, and so we both hear about the bear sightings in the city of San Luis Obispo and even in the North County.
The bear in the story moves from the mountains in search of food and discovers he’s been missing an abundant food supply in the city. He keeps a diary of his experiences with garbage cans, swimming pools, vicious dogs, noisy children, and more. Even when he is sighted and reported and removed, he finds his way back to the city once again. After all, he has become a city bear.
A note at the end of the book talks about wild animals children may see in their yards. The author warns that even if they are cute, they are still wild and possibly dangerous.
I asked Beryl if she had ever seen a bear outside of a zoo or in her yard. I was curious about her inspiration for this books. Here’s her answer:
Bears are fascinating animals, and I have written a couple of stories with bear characters. My inspiration for “I’m a City Bear” came from reading several stories in the newspapers about bears that visit inhabited areas searching for food and water. One bear in particular caused quite a sensation in the Los Angeles area. He was nicknamed Meatball, because that was his favorite food. Someone set up a Facebook page for him, and he acquired quite a following. I thought his adventures in the city would make an interesting story that children would enjoy.
Lost in a DarkForest
Doesn’t the art on the cover make you want to open the book to find out why this baby possum looks so sad? Young readers will discover Peter Possum has fallen off his mother’s back. He has been left behind, lost in the forest alone. Or is he really alone?
Ariel, the forest fairy, leaves him with Sammy at the forest Lost and Found while she tries to find his mother. She can’t find any possum mother who lost a baby.
Meanwhile, the mother possum goes back every night to the spot where she believes she lost Peter. She can’t find him, and she worries. How will little Peter and his mother finally be reunited?
I asked Beryl what inspired her to write this book. Here’s her answer:
A friend of mine took care of baby possums that had fallen off their mother’s back until they could be returned to the wild. I turned this into a lost and found story realizing some children have had brief experiences of being lost. I wanted to let them know that there are helpful people around who can assist them in finding their parents or their way home.
Even though I was unfamiliar with the Clownfish, this is one of my favorite books by Beryl Reichenberg. Maybe that’s because I’ve been a teacher and met quite a few class clowns. Charlie the Clownfish captures the attention of most children who walk past the aquarium tank in which he lives. He does tricks for them, and they give him so much attention that the other fish get jealous. One day they get so jealous that the shark locks Charlie in the chest at the bottom of the tank. They thought with Charlie out of sight, they’d get more attention from the children.
Their plan backfired. When the children discovered Charlie was missing, they stopped coming to see the aquarium. Finally, the octopus unlocked Charlie and explained why the other fish had wanted him out of sight. He suggested ways the other fish and sea life in the tank could participate in Charlie’s act and also get noticed. At the end, the information about clownfish explains that they are really very shy.
I asked Beryl if Charlie the Clownfish was inspired by any particular visit to an aquarium. Here’s her reply:
One day, I was thinking about clownfish and what a funny name this is for a fish. I thought it might be fun to write a story about a fish that actually was a clown, entertaining children at the aquarium. The story evolved from there with the other fish becoming jealous when Charlie received all the attention. Again, there is a lesson to be learned in this tale about how to cooperate and work together.
Ants on a Log: A Story for Finicky Eaters
Jack is a young rabbit who likes to enjoy life, but who does not enjoy vegetables. He only willingly eats fruit and nuts. His mom caught him dropping the hated vegetables on the floor so they were out of sight. His mom tried both persuasion and punishment, but neither tactic helped. He would even throw or trade away his lunches at school.
One day at school he had the opportunity to taste “Ants on a Log” (Celery stuffed with peanut butter and covered with raisins.) This completely changed his attitude, since he loved Ants on a Log. He still loved this treat even after discovering celery was a vegetable. Then he also discovered that vegetables tasted good on pizza. He learned that vegetables were OK when mixed with other things. Perhaps the lesson in this book is more for the moms than the children.
Camouflage: Puzzles in a Book
This was one of my favorites among the books because it challenges young readers (and parents reading to them) to find camouflaged animals. On each page, there is an illustration of each creature to find, accompanied by a verse to introduce it. Then readers look for that same creature where it is hidden in plain sight in its habitat. The next page shows you a smaller chunk of the picture with the answer, making it easy for children to go back to the big picture and spot the animal. Without that help, I never would have found some of these camouflaged animals. I suggest you look inside this book on Amazon to see how this works.
Readers will look for a stick bug in a tree, a lizard in the desert, a clownfish in coral, a crocodile in a swamp, a bear in a forest, a zebra in the grass with its herd, and a bird in a nest in a tree. The last page of the book explains words young readers may not know. For ages four and up. I strongly suggest that you buy the paper version of this book for easier to see illustrations than you would see on, say, a Kindle Paperwhite.
Who Should Buy Picture Books by Beryl Reichenberg?
Beryl’s books can prompt natural discussions of issues between parents or teachers and children. Is a child afraid of getting lost, or getting lost again? Lost in a Dark Forest or Dancing with Leaves naturally opens the door to a conversation about knowing one’s address. Either book also reassures children that others can help them find their parents again if they get lost.
If a child resists eating vegetables, Ants on a Log can help children learn that vegetables come in many forms. It opens the way for parents and children to discuss new ways to prepare vegetables that the child might like. These vegetarian cookbooks for kids can help find these new recipes.
When Caterpillars Dream and Butterfly Girls can help introduce the habits of butterflies — and monarch butterflies in particular. This might lead to curiosity about other insects’ habits. Teachers and homeschooling parents may find them useful in unit studies on insects.
Educators can make good use of Camouflage in studying animals and their habitats. Camouflage also is fun for parents and children to read together and see who can find the animals first.
Clowning Around can help teachers open discussions about how a child who insists on taking center stage all the time can alienate others in the class. This can lead to trying to understand why some children try so hard to get attention and suggestions for better ways to get it. Teachers can also lead discussions about the importance of teamwork on class projects and in sports.
I’m a City Bear can help parents explain why it may not be a good idea to try to pet or get too close to a wild creature that happens into one’s yard. I will never forget the time my husband and son (then about 12) were with a group hiking on Catalina Island. Somehow my son managed to escape Hubby’s not watchful enough eye and pet a wild bison near the trail. Not really safe, but fortunately no harm came of it. My son loved all animals and maybe the bison sensed it. It might not have turned out so well had the bison felt threatened.
Both parents and teachers can use these books to introduce common problems and difficult subjects for discussion in a non-threating way. Or they can just read them to children as enjoyable stories with colorful and engaging illustrations. It’s up to the adult to make use of any opportunities the books present for deeper discussions. See also When You Read Aloud, Ham it Up!