There is an old adage for would-be writers that says “write what you know.”
Following that sage advice has guided local author Jan Tompkins to seeing her first book in print.
“How Bananas Learns the True Meaning of Christmas” is the name of her debut work, and the Ararat, Va.-based writer is busy this holiday season giving readings of her new book at a number of local spots.
This past Saturday, more than a dozen children, along with their families, turned out to Hills Shoes in Cana, Va., to listen to her read from the book.
Tompkins said the title character of the book, Bananas, is a mischievous monkey who sometimes finds himself in difficult situations where he has to make some tough choices. Those choices, she said, are ones faced by many children across the nation every day.
A native of Mount Airy — her father owned and managed the popular Steak and Eggs restaurant for a number of years — Tompkins moved to Dallas shortly after earning a degree in education from Appalachian State University. While teaching there she met Texas native Jack Tompkins, and the two eventually married.
Over the next 20 years the two were active in their church as Sunday school teachers and worked with children’s choirs. She used a hand-puppet monkey named Bananas to help illustrate lessons she and her husband were teaching to the kids.
“I used the puppet in the stories to help kids create scenarios, so they could learn to make better choices,” she said of the work the couple did. “We were shocked with the kind of things kids had to deal with at a young age. The kind of things kids were having to deal with, the things they would ask us to pray about … we started using the monkey as a teaching tool, to help teach the kids.”
After a few years, she said parents of some of the kids would come in and talk with the Tompkins, asking advice related to the lessons the two were teaching the children, even asking for them to write down specific lessons and ideas they were teaching. Some of those kids have kept in touch with the Tompkins over the years, writing and calling, telling them what a positive influence the couple had on their lives.
“A few years ago, I told Jack all the things we had done and written, I wanted our grandkids to have one day.” From that came the book “How Bananas Learns the True Meaning of Christmas.”
The book, she said, addresses the subjects of sibling rivalry, greed, materialism, obeying your parents and not judging a person by their outward appearance. “Most of the things in the book are things we saw these kids dealing with first-hand.”
Tompkins said during the reading at Hills Shoes, she was encouraged by the fact that the wide-ranging group of kids seemed to hang on every word, listening intently as she read from her work. Later, some of her relatives said the children’s parents were just as intent on hearing the stories.
“To have this group be so positive and have such a good response … I was really encouraged by that,” she said.
Tompkins plans three more readings this week. The first is Thursday at the Mount Airy Public Library beginning at 3:30 p.m. On Saturday, she will be at Gullions from 10 a.m. to noon and then at Pages Bookstore from 1 to 3 p.m. In addition, the book can be purchased at Amazon.com and at Lifeway Christian Books. At the readings, the book sells for $10, and includes a “little stuffed monkey” and positive reinforcement chart for kids to use.
The author said this is just the first in a series.
She has a Thanksgiving-themed book featuring Bananas she hopes to have on books shelves by Thanksgiving of 2012, and then she has one, “A Friend Loves at all Times” built for a Valentine’s Day theme.
For more information, visit http://gobananas4jesus.com/.