BookView Interview with Author Tamar Johnson

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Tamar Johnson about her writing and her recently released picture book, Where is the Sun?, a charming tale that reminds readers to look for happiness even when there’s no light to be seen. (Read the review here.)

Author Tamar Johnson loves children and is a kid at heart herself – blanket forts, ice cream parties, you name it. She has dedicated herself to working with kids, first as the director of a Montessori preschool, and then as an author of heartwarming picture books for children.

Working with young children on a daily basis, Tamar is uniquely qualified to understand what stories work for them. Being in a preschool provides endless source material, pulling her story ideas from experiences with students and her own family. Her lifelong obsession with reading took a turn during the pandemic lockdown, and she decided to turn the tables and write a book of her own, debuting with The Great Golden Banana, the first story in The Adventures of Bree and Tae picture book series.

Tamar thinks a great story is one where the reader is taken on a journey – emotional, spiritual, or action-packed. With her second picture book, Where is the Sun?, about having hope and finding happiness in uncertain times, she hopes the story opens up a dialogue between parents and their children, particularly in today’s landscape, and brings them some peace. 

A custom for Tamar while writing is that she has to have the perfect song playing and a candle burning. She also talks to her characters or acts out the dialogue in her stories. When she’s not penning poignant stories for children, she enjoys gardening and reading science fiction and fantasy books.

Tamar lives in South Plainfield, New Jersey, with her three-year-old Maltipoo named Teddy.

Do you find writing therapeutic?

Writing is very therapeutic for me. It is another form of escapism. Just the way reading does, writing allows me to escape into a world of my own making.

What is your favorite childhood book?

 My all-time favorite childhood book is called Talk, Talk. The book was an African folktale that my mother bought at a small African book shop in Brooklyn. It was the book that taught me how to read. I finally got tired of waiting for my mother to finish “resting her eyes”, and began sounding out the words. Unfortunately, the book was lost to several moves and I haven’t been able to find it since. 

What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

 I really ready any and everything. However, my favorite children’s book authors are Oliver Jeffers. I love his sense of humor and unique wit. Joanna Ho. Her books are beautiful and sweet. All of Ezra Jack Keats books and the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans have had a major influence on my writing. I even attempted to write my first book in verse. Let’s just say, I will not be publishing any poetry anytime soon.

What in particular attracted you to this genre?

 I love children’s literature and movies. I have a huge peter pan complex. I don’t feel that adults should stop enjoying life the way they did when they were kids. We often say life is hard or complicated and it is, but it doesn’t always have to be. We as adults can learn a lot from children and the literature that is “for them”. Some people I’ve encountered on my writing journey have said “Well, it can’t be too hard. They’re kids, just write whatever.” That is one of the biggest misconceptions about children literature and just children in general. They understand a great deal more than most adults give them credit for and writing something on that level was a wonderful challenge. Children have a way of seeing the world, that uncomplicates the complicated. In really good children’s literature an adult should be able to feel something too. Take Where is the Sun? I hope that parents see Lea’s simple approach to finding the good in a bad situation and use it as a teaching tool for them and their children.

Would you rather read a book or watch television?

Oh, for sure, read a book. I only have one tv; much to the annoyance of my family when they visit. You just don’t get the same feeling with tv. It’s someone else’s imagination instead of your own. I like to control the “visuals”.

Is there anything you want to unlearn?

I would love to unlearn fear. I know it’s such a cliche thing to say, but it really does keep you from living life.

Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?

 During lockdown, my teachers and I decided to set up a parent check in zoom call. We were all going stir crazy and were sure our parents were as well. So that evening after trying all day to teach preschool age children on zoom, we logged on to talk with our parents. One family in particular (if they read this, thank you!) was struggling the most. Mom was a nurse in the covid unit. While dad worked as a police officer. After taking turns being home with the kids, while working. It was the first night in months that they both were home together. They logged on in party hats both looking exhausted, but celebrating being home with their two children. They expressed that the hardest part of it all (there were many for first responders) was not being able to explain what was happening to the children. After lots of celebrating and a few tears (maybe, a lot of tears) we logged off and I wrote the book in one sitting. To cheer myself up while I wrote, I was listening to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by the Beatles and Where is the Sun? was born.  

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

My favorite passage from the book is when the sun follows Lea through the city. When it misses laughter. That is how we were feeling during lockdown. Even now with life still not quite back to the way it used to be. It makes me feel nostalgic for the way things were B.C. {before covid}.

What makes this book important right now?

We need hope right now. With an uptick in cases, new variants popping up, we need hope wherever we can find it.

What’s next for you?

 I have written several other children’s books. The second book in The Adventures of Bree and Tae series is coming soon. I also have two more series in the works. One that has a spooky feel so we’ll have to draw on the bravery of the main character to read it. Another with a cast of wonderful unique characters who will teach us that what makes us different is also what makes us special.


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