Zebert the Rainbow Striped Zebra is a charming children’s book by Janice Beier that I obtained through Bookpleasures.com. It’s about a little zebra named Zebert who falls madly in love with the vivid colors found in the rainbow, and wishes that his plain black and white stripes could be so colorful. When he wakes up in the morning with brightly colored stripes, the other animals tell him he looks weird, and the other children won’t play with him. He finally shows that despite his outward appearance, he is still the great friend and stellar soccer player that he was before. Everyone comes to accept him for his differences.
The book is full of child-friendly print and phrases, accompanied by beautiful paintings to illustrate the story. A CD is included so children can listen to the story, followed by a little song about Zebert and about being different.
Recently Janice took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for me.
AC: How did you get involved in writing children’s books?
JB: Ever since my children were born I’ve made up stories to tell them before putting them to bed. Even when I read them their favorite picture books I put my own little spin on them. I never thought about publishing any of the stories that I made up until I had my third child. That was when the idea of a rainbow zebra first came to me. After I came up with the story, I felt that the message of Zebert The Rainbow Striped Zebra was important enough to share with others so I got to work writing and illustrating my first children’s book.
AC: What was your inspiration for creating this book?
JB: I am the mother of three bi-racial children and I’ve always taught my older girls that our differences are what make us who we are and that they should be celebrated not hidden. I believe this lesson should be taught to children at an age in which they start recognizing differences in others. So when I was expecting my last child I decorated her nursery with multi-colored felt paper that I cut to look like balloons then pasted words from A-Z on them. I call them “word balloons”. Two particular “word balloons”, one on top of the other, read zebra and rainbow. As I sat in my rocking chair feeding my infant daughter one day, gazing at these two words, I began telling her the story of a rainbow zebra. Of course my daughter was much too young to understand the meaning of the story at that time so I typed it out and saved it on my computer. I’ve retold the story of Zebert the Rainbow Striped Zebra to my daughter many times since then, usually after she comments on the different hues of our skin as we gaze in the mirror after her nightly bath.
AC: What message do you hope to impart on readers?
JB: We have all experienced, for one reason or another, the feeling of not being accepted. For a child that feeling can be devastating. My hope is that Zebert will help children to see beyond obvious differences, celebrate diversity, promote acceptance and practice tolerance.
AC: What media did you use to create the illustrations in this book?
JB: The original illustrations are oil paintings. I edited my paintings by scanning them and using Adobe Photoshop.
AC: How would you like educators to use this book?
JB: I would like to see educators use this book to start a discussion about the differences that make each of us special. By teaching children that it’s okay to be different and that being different is not something that one should hide in order to fit in, children will learn, like Zebert’s friends learned it’s not what’s on the outside that counts but what’s on the inside that matters. I would also like for educators to stress the importance of tolerance and acceptance.
AC: How would you like families to use this book?
JB: I would like to see parents start a dialogue with their children about diversity, acceptance and tolerance. I would love to see children develop a lifelong love for reading by enjoying my lovingly hand painted characters, exploring new places and learning important life lessons along with Zebert and his friends.
AC: What advice do you have for parents whose children come to them either expressing concern about being different, or expressing a desire to be different?
JB: I would advise parents to listen and be as supportive and understanding as possible. If a child has concerns about being different parents should reassure them that being different is not a bad thing. Parents should help their children celebrate what makes them different not try to hide it. Peer pressure is very strong among children and when a child feels that others don’t like how they look their self esteem can take a serious blow. When my oldest daughter was in middle school she came to me with the desire to straighten her tightly curled hair. After I questioned her about it I found out that a particular group of girls (all with long straight hair) was teasing her about the braids that she wore every day. It took me several hours but I was successful in convincing her that there was nothing wrong with her naturally curly hair. The next day, instead of hiding her braided curls we decided to celebrate them by upbraiding red and white ribbons in the front and unbraiding the back to allow her beautiful curls to flow down her back. She told me that she received many compliments from students and teachers that day. She also made several new friends (including the three girls that had previously mocked her).
AC: What is your background?
JB: Professionally I have held many different jobs. Most recently I managed a doctor’s office in Highland, Indiana. Before that I was a teacher’s assistant in Hammond, Indiana. Culturally I am African American. I was raised on the south side of Chicago and I am the youngest of six children.
AC: Do you have any other published works?
JB: Not at the present.
AC: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
JB: My next book for children is entitled Zebert The Rainbow Striped Zebra, Meets Tilly the Turtle. It’s about a little turtle who wants to play soccer. It will be available the beginning of next year.
AC: What advice do you have for any aspiring young artists and writers?
JB: Don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. If you have a story to share with others and feel strongly enough about it, whether you decide to go through the traditional route or the self-published route, stick with it and it will get done.
AC: Where can readers get more information about you?
JB: My website: www.rainbowsinkbooks.com or My blog: www.authorsden.com/janicebeier
AC: How should fans contact you?
JB: At [email protected] or www.rainbowsinkbooks.com/contact us or they can go to www.authorsden.com/janicebeier and sign up for my fan club.
AC: Thank you so much for your time! We look forward to your next book!