Jan Godown Annino is an award-winning children’s writer. Contact: JGAoffice at gmail.com. Or, on Twitter @BkSeedStudio (case sensitive) After a career in news writing, Jan created Florida guide books for shunpikers. She also earned an MFA in children’s literature.
She is inspired by the sweep of sand dunes, heights of tall trees, achievements of everyday people, once children, who today’s children should know about, & other dazzling discoveries of this world such as the origins of the letter, “A.”
Growing up in the Jersey woods next to a dairy pasture, Jan braided wild violets with clovers, put on outdoors plays with puppets & taped together books from magazine cut outs. The beach became her salty world when her father retired, making it possible to graduate from public schools in Florida. Her first newspaper work was for The Barracuda Bylines. In community freelance and newspaper work, she liked occasional interviews with the wonderfully famous (Jimmy Carter, Jane Yolen) & more often, long talks with everyday people who accomplished quite extraordinary things, such as a woman who wrestled alligators – in the 1950s, before reality teevee.
In recent years she is happy to write fiction and non-fiction for young readers, sometimes in verse.
Jan’s picture book collaboration with Moses Jumper Jr. and Lisa Desimini, about the 1960s Tribal leader, Betty Mae Jumper, called SHE SANG PROMISE (National Geographic) is the winner of the Florida Book Awards & is an ALA/Amelia Bloomer Ten pick.
KIRKUS said: “Short poetic stanzas join jewel-toned illustrations to sing the satisfying story of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. ” (Other reviews/ media reports.)
Jan makes lively presentations to students and adults.
Some questions about visits are answered on this page. Adults writing for children & also writing non-fiction & memoirs, can work with Jan as their coach.
Jan’s poetry is published in a well-regarded Milkweed Editions anthology series for young readers, Stories From Where We Live: a Literary Field Guide. She is also published in the Journal of Florida Literature.
School visit: $300 plus travel costs for 3-4, 45 minute presentations in the library. Together we determine which parts of the story of Betty Mae Jumper fit your young readers’ topics. Jan’s visit can include a poetry or memoir exercise, student interviews and snacks (lunch) with Jan. Book signing time is fun, too. A half-hour alligators presentation, with a group song, is for pre-K & K & is a mighty fine fit, as the back cover of the book shows Betty Mae Jumper as she wrestled an alligator, one of her many jobs.
Skype visits – up to 3 classes, in the library. One hour, $60.
Book clubs, writing retreats, author panels, book festivals, writing coach work. Send Jan an email without attachments & with full contact phone #s, important details about event/your school/you. Thank you for being in touch!
Q & A/ School report topics
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
On Blueberry Hill, just a little bit outside the crossroads at Cherryville. Blueberry Hill is also near Quakertown, and Clinton, all in beautiful, rural New Jersey. There were no alligators around, but my Mom told a great personal alligator story.
WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE?
Our house was tiny and it wasn’t all finished yet; we had an extra outdoors bathroom, a wooden outhouse. There was lots of roaming around in the giant yard, trimmed in big blueberry bushes, shaded with a long grape arbor. In back the yard sloped to a dairy pasture and faced a deep woods, on one side. Across the road was a large family dairy that held other farm animals, too. I loved attending our red brick school-house and other mighty fine public schools, including, after my father retired to Sarasota, the University of Florida.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAMILY LIKE? Any brothers or sisters? One of each, both older. My father had his own automobile repair garage in Trenton, New Jersey. He told me a story about fixing Albert Einstein’s car! Then Dad worked as a state vehicle safety inspector and later he was an ombudsman for the program. An ombudsman is someone who listens to problems and then settles them. My mother worked from home as a news writer when she began a family, and before that, she worked as a daily news reporter in the suburban New York City region.
HOW DID YOU GET INTERESTED IN WRITING?
My father spun great stories because of his work, as a child, on a farm. My mother was his equal as a storyteller, but she liked theatrical expressions. Her aunt, Betty Gray, had been a silent screen actress. Mom also loved to recite verses such as silly poems by Edward Lear and, serious ballad poetry. Mom, my uncle and great-aunt all wrote for newspapers. I occupied myself in small-town newspaper offices by doodling on a long roll of newsprint.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?
Reading books to children in school. Taking long walks with my family. Visiting exciting cities to see great museums and parks. Discovering villages near country paths. Writing verse, doodling, accumulating collections, such as already empty shells from beach walks. Collecting postcards from around the world. Eating our daughter’s bakery treats.
Nursery school staff, camp kitchen dish-washer, classified advertising clerk, employment office clerk, college tutor, writing workshop leader, travel guide writer, and also, a long career as a newspaper writer/editor.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY UNUSUAL EXPERIENCES? Yes, counting eagle nests from a helicopter, holding a newborn Florida panther kitten, speaking with President Jimmy Carter, interviewing two convicted murderers and, riding a horse to look for buffalo in a Florida wet prairie. (My travel guides, Scenic Driving Florida, Family Fun in Florida, mention how buffalo once roamed here in Florida.)
DO YOU HAVE ANIMALS?
The current finicky feline is Ginger, in a long line of beloved cats. We also keep a beautiful corn snake, native to Florida, Ruby. After many, many years, we lost our long-lived aquarium resident, Fish. We put out ears of corn for our many squirrels, to entertain the housebound Ginger.
ARE YOU A MOTHER?
Yes, I live in North Florida with my wonderful husband, a civil rights and public interest lawyer. Our daughter is fabulous & is our best family cook. But my Key Lime Pie does disappear & my hubby cooks authentic Italian.
Betty Mae Jumper is an especially good fit for Women’s History Month presentations. Mrs. Jumper wrestled alligators & did much more to secure her place in history. She survived death threats as a child and began kindergarten at middle-school age. She said her greatest achievement was obtaining an education. She was the first woman elected a leader of her Tribe. Jan knew Mrs. Jumper for 20 years before she wrote a book about her. Mrs. Jumper is featured the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, among many other lifetime honors.
Quoted, about Jan’s books…
“…her writing is superb. There is a poetry to her words…” SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
An evaluation of Jan’s events:
“In her presentation to our fourth and fifth graders at Sealey Elementary, Ms. Jan brings to life the important history story of the first woman elected leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. The children are fascinated to see the artifacts Jan shares as well as the fact that we are in Tallahassee with a school that as the Seminole name (FSU) . They are delighted to learn more about Florida and the rich culture of our Native American tribes. The children also learn from her enthusiastic encouragement, about non-fiction research and writing as she shares how she wrote the book. I wish she had the opportunity to present her book, “She Sang Promise,” from the National Geographic Society, more often. She is truly an asset to our educational program at Sealey and will continue to be invited to share her knowledge with our students.
Library Media Specialist
Honors for SHE SANG PROMISE include:
Amelia Bloomer Project Top Ten Book/ALA
Florida Book Awards, gold medal, children’s literature
National Council on the Social Studies list of top books for young readers
New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
Because Jan has written Florida heritage travel guides & worked as a community newspaper reporter for most of her career she is an ideal presenter to students on real-life research & writing tips.
Program titles -
BETTY MAE JUMPER in a JIFFY
Jan brings a Seminole patchwork cloth bag of artifacts to help illustrate Mrs. Jumper’s amazing world. As children pull items out of the bag, they discover what life would be like for a child in the 1920s, living primarily outdoors.
Teachers can receive a list of resources, including recommended reading that is tilted toward materials created by members of various Tribes, in the U.S. & Canada. This presentation can also include colorful slides, if your site provides the projection technology for Jan’s USB device.
Arrange in advance with your school art department for a craft project to connect to the presentation. This can include making bookmarks that celebrate Seminole Tribe of Florida patchwork, or starting on individual model chickees, or one larger model chickee, for the group. For ideas, see the for Teachers and Families page. Building or Seminole patchwork also provide an opportunity for connectivity to math concepts.
She Sang Promise begins with a poem. Students learn some fun ways to build a poem.
Jan provides interview tips so a student can help a relative write a memoir or autobiography. Ideas on how a student can begin their own memoir.
Writing non-fiction in school can lead to your life’s work, as it did for Jan who began publishing in middle grade for her school newspaper. How to write articles & reviews (food, movies, games, books). Tips on writing biography.
Jan attends book fairs, author days, & literacy celebrations.
FOR the youngest folks Jan visits through organized reading and literacy programs such as BookPALS, with her pal Book Bear, a shy one who reads tiny books in his sleeping bag, while Jan reads to students.
Storytelling Magazine - this publication is a valued resource and it published Jan’s pieces about Betty Mae Jumper and Jane Yolen
Students who send paper mail with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, will receive a reply:
PO Box 14143
Tallahassee FL 32317-4143