Amanda Rose publishes "It's a Wonderful Story"

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Amanda Rose Johnson has written and published her first children's book, "It's a Wonderful Story," based on her grandmother, Lydia Kann, who grew up in Germany, and her compelling personal account of writing letters to her future husband living in the United States. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

A mother-daughter pen pal project launched the inspiration for Amanda Rose Johnson's first children's publication, It's a Wonderful Story, based on her grandmother, Lydia Kann, who grew up in Germany and her compelling, personal account of writing letters to her future husband living in the United States.

The Northeast Iowa author, who grew up in Garnavillo and currently resides in Marion with her husband and two daughters, first discovered her appreciation for culture after visiting Germany with Lydia and her family. Amanda studied abroad as a Rotary Foreign Exchange student and was inspired by the various accents, languages, and landscape she observed. That experience would benefit her moving forward as a children's author. 

First draft and revision

"One day my daughter and I were sitting down, and I happened to be messaging a friend of mine in Mexico. I said to her, 'Our girls should be pen pals!' We thought that was a great idea and immediately Joslin and I started writing a letter," she explained. "Watching her put together a letter inspired me to write a children's book called Will You Be My Pen Pal. I went on and wrote two more books on pen pals." 

The book's revision in 2019 changed the title. "Will You Be My Pen Pal was first revised in the fall of 2019, which turned into Mabel's Magical Letter," she noted. "It wasn't until April of 2021 that I pulled out Mabel's Magical Letter and decided to take another look." 

Publication 

An encounter with a junior editor from Simon & Schuster, an American publishing company and subsidiary of Paramount Global, at a Society of Children's Book Writers (SCBWI) conference realigned Amanda's trajectory. "A junior editor from Simon & Schuster exclaimed, 'I love the idea, but I want it to be more personable – bring the heart,'" she remembered. "I went home and pondered what pen pals mean to me and why I keep writing about them. It hit me hard – my Grandma! I grabbed a fresh piece of paper and wrote what is now It’s A Wonderful Story. 

A sequence of random events led Amanda to her publisher, Miriam. "Miriam Laundry is a hybrid-publisher. Self or Hybrid publishing was the only way I would have released this book because it allows me to own 100 percent of the rights," she said. "It took me about nine months to get the book published."

Historical research

Amanda stayed on point with Lydia's story and history by reading her letters, interviewing her sister Dagmar, and visiting with Lydia. She also questioned some of Anna Kann's (her maternal great-grandmother) grandchildren to get a feel for her side of the story. "I went to my Grandma Lydia as soon as the book returned from the book designer. On my laptop in her room, I read the story and went through it page by page, showing her the lovely illustrations. The glimmer of remembrance in her eye with the tears that followed was worth every second of this journey. I could barely finish reading the book without crying. I tear up whenever I read the line, 'And you, Amanda, you call him... Grandpa!'" she said with emotion. 

Finding an illustrator

Amanda connected with Anne Rikta Grobe, a German illustrator and graphic artist. through social media. "I found my illustrator, Anne on Instagram," she commented. "I spent many late nights searching Instagram and following the hashtags for German illustrators and children's book illustrations. I kept coming back to Anne's page and started following her. One night, I got up the courage, told her about my book, and asked if I could discuss it further once done with edits. She told me to reach out when ready. I sent her my manuscript, and the rest was history." 

Rikta-Grobe was chosen for her attention to detail. "I chose Anne for her talent in the details. Every picture she posted had so many lovely things hidden," shared Amanda. "I also loved the maps she drew. Most importantly for me was that she was born and raised in Germany and had been to Berlin. I wanted the other half of the story to be as authentically German as possible."

Preserving family connections 

Amanda hopes to inspire families to share their lineage through rich storytelling and letter writing. "The hidden message is to help families reconnect with the past, whether good or bad, to keep the bond alive through storytelling," she told The Press. "Teaching families to tell their stories in new ways will spill over into the classrooms. Children can learn about other cultures together so they can celebrate each other. I also promote writing letters on page 32 of the book. It would be great to get this next generation back to letter writing!"

She concluded, "Anything is possible with this story, but for now, I want to concentrate on the other books I have finished. I want to publish traditionally with my next project, so I have more time to write and focus on the business end of being an author."

Book signing

Amanda Rose will be at the Garnavillo Public Library for a book signing on Saturday, March 19, from 1-3 p.m. It’s A Wonderful Story will be highlighted in issue two of Amidst Magazine spring 2022.

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