WEST ORANGE, NJ — When Kimberly Rowland picked her daughter up from her first-grade class at St. Cloud Elementary School years ago, she heard a story that later inspired her to write the children’s book she had been dreaming about writing for so long. Sixteen years after her initial inspiration, “Nora’s Lollipop” is ready for readers. On Saturday, Dec. 1, the West Orange resident will hold a book signing event at the West Orange Arts Center.
“It came from a story that my daughter told me happened in her class,” Rowland said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle on Thursday, Nov. 15. “It’s about forgiveness and how small children as well as adults can learn about forgiveness.”
The story follows the character of Nora, who receives a surprise birthday present that later goes missing in her classroom. Nora has to find out who took her gift, and then learn to forgive that person. The book is geared toward elementary school-aged children, and Rowland said young students will be able to see themselves and relate to its characters. Though the story is based on what her daughter Taylor, now 22, told her that day after school at St. Cloud, Rowland said she added many elements of her own.
“About 20 percent of it is from her,” the author said. “And 80 percent is from me. You want to tell a cohesive story, and I wouldn’t be able to tell it the way she could. I also wasn’t there. When kids are in first grade they’re excited and the way they put words together is so comical, I just laughed the whole time. I thought it was so cute and would be a fun story to tell.”
Rowland self-published the book, raising about $500 with a GoFundMe campaign to pay illustrator Jamil Burton. She went through the editing process herself, asking her friends and neighbors to provide feedback.
“There are a lot of rewrites that occur,” Rowland said. “It’s hard for me to see the errors because I’m so close to it, so that was daunting. But the feedback was a gift, because I got to consider it and think about whether or not I wanted to make those changes. The feedback was not the same from every person.”
Several teachers read drafts of the book, in addition to a friend who is a former librarian.
“She asked to take a look at it and make more suggestions,” Rowland said. “Her final input is really what made the book pop. When you’re doing something like this you need an editor, because my mind is thinking so quickly about everything. So those people helped a lot.”
And of course, Rowland’s daughter, who inspired the book, provided feedback as well. Rowland said her daughter was excited to finally see the finished product, bound into a book.
“She was so excited to see it in print that it took her two or three days to really read it and share what she thought,” Rowland said.
Finding an illustrator to work with was also a process, according to Rowland. Several artists fell through before she finally connected with Burton, who Rowland said created the illustrations that brought “Nora’s Lollipop” to life.
“I enjoyed writing it and coming up with the characters and how they would react to this situation,” she said. “And then once I was done I found Jamil, and he drew them exactly how I pictured them. He definitely brought my characters to life.”
The characters in the book reflect the students in her daughter’s first-grade class from so many years ago, so that students reading the book now see themselves in it. It’s representative of all different backgrounds and types of people.
Now that “Nora’s Lollipop” is finally hitting the shelves, Rowland has dozens of new ideas for a follow-up. She had ideas for stories about other characters in “Nora’s Lollipop,” and wants to start working on a mystery series.
“This is the first of many,” Rowland said.
Rowland and Burton will be reading and signing copies of “Nora’s Lollipop” at the West Orange Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To preview the book and buy a copy, visit www.noralollipop.com.
Photos Courtesy of Kimberly Rowland