Like many families across America, my family enjoys special days trips that we try to do at least once a year, including an annual adventure in Frankenmuth. Yes, in a little over an hour away, we savor the world-famous chicken dinner, wine tasting and cruising the Cass River on the riverboat. However, this trip was a little different as I discovered a different little part of Michigan.
During our stroll through the stores, something magical happened in the Michigan Shoppe. There in front of me was an amazing display of children’s books, all written by Michigan authors.
Among all of the books on the table, a particular one caught my eye with its characters and watercolor illustrations: “The Twelve Months of Michigan.” I knew immediately that this book could be sung to the holiday song with almost the same name and I was so captivated that I couldn’t put it down until I had read it through. The story is about a family of mice, including Pirate Paul and Ana Mae, and their adventures across Michigan.
After I read the story, I wanted to meet this author and share all I could about her and her writing. I came home, called her and she graciously accepted to meet with me.
Let me introduce AnnieMarie Chiaverilla, an author, illustrator, publicist, marketer and songwriter. Growing up in West Bloomfield (when it was a blooming field), she and her siblings had lots of room to run, play and experience the outdoors. Her parents taught their children about our great state by exploring fun and unique places, especially in upper Michigan (in particular Mackinac Island and Drummond Island).
As a right-brained learner, AnnieMarie’s interest lay in the creative parts of the school day. Believe it or not, this now-writer received additional support in reading to keep up with her peers. But it was a life-changing 11th grade teacher who took the time to teach AnnieMarie strategies to become an independent and successful student.
AnnieMarie went to nursing school, and after a few years, she realized that her heart wasn’t in it, but rather in art.
She shares, “I was studying for a pathology exam early on a Saturday (about 5:30 a.m.) when an animation, The Selfish Giant, was playing. It was so beautiful and moving. The animation was stunning and the story so lovely. I was pouring myself into my studies to be a nurse but, in reality, I always wanted to be an artist.” She ran upstairs and announced to her parents, “I don’t want to be a nurse, I want to be an artist.” Her dad, still half asleep, replied, “It’s about time,” and went back to bed.
With her parents’ support, AnnieMarie finished an associates degree in respiratory therapy so she could work as a therapist while going back to school for art. She eventually entered Michigan State University’s art school, gaining access to computers and state-of-the-art programs. She later worked at a local television station, where technology and art programs were her playground. Each of these laid the foundation and lead her to the place she is today.
Inspired by “The Nutcracker,” AnnieMarie uses mice as her characters in her book. In fact, the characters and illustrations are ones she began drawing many years ago at 7 years old. In addition to Pirate Paul and Ana Mae, you’ll find the author throughout the book. Since “The Twelve Months of Michigan” is set in Michigan, there are a multitude of fun Michigan symbols throughout the book and I guarantee that, even as an adult, you’ll learn a few things. The book won the Children’s Picture Book: All Ages category for the 2015 USA Regional Excellence Awards and was nominated for “Children’s Book of the Year” in Creative Child Magazine.
I asked AnnieMarie for advice she would give to young writers. She offered these tips whether your child is a reluctant writer a typical writer for their age or an aspiring writer:
- Start your writing on paper not the computer.
- Keep a journal.
- Write every day, even if it’s only a sentence or two.
- Learn to be an effective communicator and speaker.
- Color outside the lines.
- Free yourself from being perfect.
- Keep stumbling.
AnneMarie’s books are sold at over 80 stores across Michigan. She is currently working on a new book, “The Twelve Months of America” and a CD to go along with it. As you search for books to read with your children or purchase for special occasions, remember that our Michigan authors have unparalleled talent.
– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.