Meet author, Anita Borgo

I met Anita at Abalabix Books, a new local bookstore. She read us a couple of her short stories from her new book, Operation Hopper and Other Tales. Of course, I had to have a signed book to giveaway to a fourth grader who loves frogs and adventure. Of course, I had to get to know Anita just a little bit better.

Lucky me, she agreed to sit down with me over coffee at another of my favorite places, Conscious Cup. As happens almost every time I interview someone, I found so much common ground with Anita. For starters, we’re the same age.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. I was a teacher for over 34 years. I tutored students throughout that time. Many of my students’ families became my life-long friends.  I taught second and third grade.  During the last part of my career, I taught was was called “extended curriculum,” a program for gifted students. My lessons included deductive reasoning. I’ve been out of teaching since 2010.  After publishing Operation Hopper and Other Tales, I offered “meet the author” sessions. Because it was during the pandemic, we met via Zoom.  That was an interesting teaching experience for me. I can’t help but think the pandemic has had a lasting impact on children.  

Since retirement Anita’s had a variety of jobs.

 “I became the oldest beverage attendant at the local golf course.”

I have a friend who has that exact job at that exact golf course! You know, the person driving the golf cart, selling drinks and snacks. What a wonderful job. Outside all day, delivering food to happy friendly people.

Anita also became an election judge.  She’s inspired me to give be more active in civic events, too.

I have one son, one granddaughter, and a cockatiel that I found on a walk. Can you believe it? Who finds a cockatiel on a walk?

Tell me a little bit about your career as a teacher:  I’ve been writing since I was a little girl.

Oh my! Me, too.

  When I began teaching I became exposed to a lot of children’s literature.  I began to write stories that incorporated my love for nature and wildlife. Most of the stories in my book were published in Ranger Rick or Highlights.  I added a couple more stories and pulled them together by including a map of the town. I included the setting for each short story.

I wanted to appeal to homeschoolers, so I included a guide to the literary devices I use.

Each story has ten questions with activities that include writing and drawing.  The cover has literary devices as well.  Most of the questions fit in with English lessons, some are about nature. 

What do you hope your books do for children/parents? I hope the children who read Operation Hopper and Other Tales become better readers, better problem solvers, and appreciate nature.  I also want the parents to appreciate children as problem solvers. I want readers, whether parents or children to be able to say, “I learned things, I didn’t know.”

One of the many things that impressed me about Anita’s writing is that everything in the story is necessary; everything fits together like a tidy little puzzle.

Here’s a little excerpt from something she read at Abalabix and a couple links to Operation Hopper and Other Tales and the study guide.

“Andy, wait up,” Janel shouted. The tackle box in her backpack jangled with each bump her bike hit.

Never – not even if she promised him a dozen ultralight rods, a truckload of Bass-o-rino lures, and ten thousand miles of rubber worms. Andy crouched low, pedaled hard, and put more road between them.

Anita Borgo, Operation Hopper and Other Tales.

What kind of books did you like as a child?  The Wizard of Oz was my favorite. It’s a whole series of books.”

Anita’s eyes lit up remembering her love for Dorothy.

It’s about friendships, problem-solving, and, I came to realize later, that I always really liked books with a strong female lead.

What’s your biggest writing challenge? I’m working on writing faster and still have it be good. 

So many times it will take me forever to get a passage written.

 I set myself a challenge to write on my two blogs. On Squeaks Says I channels the voice of my cockatiel, Squeaks. He has quite a personality.

I learned a lot about preening from Squeaks!

For the bigger kids, aka, adult readers, Iblogs at A Few Choice Words by Anita. There she writes what’s on her mind.

There’s another thing we have in common. One blog with a child-like vision, and one more from an adult perspective. She has eclectic interests, ranging from cooking to politics, same as I do.

Tell me a little bit about your journey to publishing? I had the idea of putting all my stories into one book.  I wanted to have a record for my son and granddaughter.  So I contacted the publishers for the necessary releases.  Next, I needed an illustrator.  My artist friends were not interested.  To hire someone was beyond my budget.  I contacted Victoria Mankowski, a former student and asked her if she’d be my illustrator.  I tutored Victoria and we have a decade-long relationship. As a student, she’d always draw inmargin of papers.  I discouraged her, telling her it made her paper seem less serious. Looking back, that was a mistake. She’s a wonderful illustrator.

How can someone else do the same thing? One of the things I’ve learned is to jot notes down that I find interesting.  One of easiest article I ever wrote was about something I took notes on.  

Do you remember your first day of school? Not the first day, but I do remember kindergarten.  I had Miss Dreson at Southside School in Indiana.  The school was almost across the street.  I got at least one lifelong lesson in kindergarten. I wanted to be friends with a girl name Laura.  Red crayon color for many kids, so a lot of the reds were broken. To impress Laura, I scooped up all the red crayons and took them to our table so everyone at my table would have one.  Miss Dreson scolded me, and consequently, my action made a negative impression on Laura. I call that my “Red Crayon Lesson:”  Be generous and don’t try to impress anyone else. 

What were you like in high school? I want to say studious.  I procrastinated, and I still did fine.  I very much lived in the present.  I didn’t think about college until my senior year.  I was very social; probably very shallow.  I was not on the college track. I suppose my mom imagined the best life for me was a secretary in college.  I looked around and thought college looked like a lot of fun. I went to Blackburn College. I just picked it out of a catalog, without much thought at all.

What advice do you have for someone who has the same background/childhood/aspirations as you? Live in the present, but look to the future, too.  The past is the past.  I’m proactive and that’s serves me well.  Imagine the best for yourself and challenge yourself.  Don’t forget about others.  Also, always share the red crayons.  Don’t try to impress anyone.

I set up a schedule for writing. For me, it’s first thing in the morning.  If I can get up early enough to have that really quiet time before other responsibilities take up your time I can get in several hours a day.  I focus on my blogs or my books first. Blogging gets me started.

I have two books in the works.  One book is about a pet shop where the main character is a cockatiel.  The shop is going through financial problems. The animals come up with a plan to save the shop.  A little girl figures out what’s going on with the animals. The interactions with the animals help her sort some things out that are going on in her life.

The second book I’m working on is inspired by my south side of Chicago life in the 1950s.  The main character is Shirley Jablonski, a third grader. She delivers her mom’s Avon orders in the neighborhood via roller skating. She is well known in the neighborhood for her antics. Shirley rallies the neighborhood to save (or maybe establish) a park. A hula hoop contest is involved.

I’m working on two books, too. They are not at all like Anita’s.

Anita and I will both be at the 5th Annual Gail Borden Authors Fair, on October 9 from 2-4 PM. I hope we both see you there.