Monday, May 4, 2020

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: A Doll for Grandma - A Story about Alzheimer's Disease by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

The Story Behind the Story of A Doll for Grandma:
A Story about Alzheimer’s Disease
by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
The seed for my debut picture book, A DOLL FOR GRANDMA, was planted at a
a pizza party, when a musician friend mentioned visiting his grandmother in her memory-
care home. She’d told him, “I had fried mosquitoes and a cup of hot tea for lunch.”
That would be a good line in a picture book, I thought.
I've been writing for children since the 1980s -- games and puzzles and short non-
fiction articles for magazines like Highlights, Cricket, Ladybug, and Hopscotch. But my
long-term goal was always to write a picture book, a genre I’ve loved since my daughter
was little and we read tall stacks of them every bedtime.
I'm also a pianist. After retiring from my job as a reference librarian about 15 years
ago, I started working as a volunteer pianist in assisted-living centers and memory-care
homes in my community. My volunteering led to a blog. Writing muscles limbered up,
I revisited by goal of writing a picture book. Now I had a topic: Alzheimer’s disease.
And I had that great “fried mosquitoes” line! In 2017, I joined SCBWI and signed up for
a Writer’s Digest University picture book course. I finished the class with a solid draft of
The story went through several rounds with my critique group. I revised, paid for professional critiques, revised again.
Then I queried that manuscript hard. Mostly I got no response or a form rejection. Occasionally someone labeled the story “too quiet.” (Editor Frances Gilbert says “too quiet” can sometimes be code for “I don’t like your book” but can also mean it’s a gentle story. My story is gentle. I intended it that way.) There were a few encouraging comments, too, including this one: “There is a deep sense of love that pervades these pages.”
Along with querying, I entered A DOLL FOR GRANDMA into all the writing contests I could find, including one held by Beaming Books. Although I didn’t win, editor Naomi Krueger offered to take by entry through their general acquisitions process. They soon passed. Several months later, I heard from Naomi again: There was renewed interest in my manuscript. Could she take it through acquisitions a second time? Yes, please! A month later, while I was in Alaska awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, I received an offer letter.

A DOLL FOR GRANDMA: A STORY ABOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE (illustrated by Samantha Woo, Beaming Books, 2020) is about a little girl named  Kiera who is very close to her grandmother. When Grandma develops Alzheimer’s, the old ways they played together no longer work and Kiera needs to figure out new ways to connect.
She gives Grandma a doll and together Kiera and Grandma care for their “babies.

"Kiera models the best way to interact with people living with dementia: by accepting their version of reality, rather than trying to bring them back into ours
     It’s a story about kindness and empathy, about the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, and about loving and accepting people as they are, even when they change.
     To create the character of Grandma, I drew on my experiences in memory-care homes. For example, Grandma can still sing familiar songs because musical memories are held in a part of the brain often left undamaged by Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve seen this a lot. Even people who can no longer speak can sometimes still sing when I play a song from their younger years.
     I also used experiences I had caring for my mother, who had dementia. In the hospice facility where she spent her last week, she had a lovely moment with a therapy dog. I put that into the book. And that “fried mosquitoes” line as well! 
     After writing A DOLL FOR GRANDMA, I discovered Pearl’s Memory Babies, a beautiful example of embracing the altered sense of reality that Alzheimer’s disease causes. This nonprofit organization delivers baby dolls to people living in memory-care settings. The dolls soothe and comfort the residents, give them something to care for, and help them feel needed again. Alzheimer’s disease takes away memories, but it doesn’t take away the ability to love. 
     According to the Alzheimer’s Association, someone in the U.S. develops the disease every 65 seconds. I am fortunate to be able to donate all my author proceeds from A DOLL FOR GRANDMA to support Alzheimer’s research. We must find a cure. Your purchase helps! 

GIVEAWAY: Paulette has kindly offered to give away a copy of the book! Please comment below for your chance to win:
1. 2 Extra Chances for Tweeting and tagging @Literally_Lynne @PBSharkey and @BeamingBooksMN (please share link in comment)
2. An extra chance for Sharing this Post on Facebook or other
    Social Media (please share link in the comment) 
3. An extra chance for ordering the book into your library online
    (please mention this on comments). 
4. An extra chance for gifting a copy of the book (forward receipt to 
5. A chance for leaving a comment! 
GOOD LUCK! A winner will be chosen on May 30, 2020. 

Author Bio: Paulette Bochnig Sharkey worked for many years as a librarian, first in
her home state of Michigan, and later in Australia, Nevada, and Wisconsin. She has
also been a proofreader, ghostwriter, developmental editor, recipe indexer, and transcriber
of children’s books from print into braille. Her writing has appeared in magazines
including Parents, Hopscotch, Highlights, and Cricket.

picture book.

twitter: @PBSharkey


  1. Thank you ladies are sharing this awesome insight. Congrats Paulette, what a beautiful book! Sincerely, Kaitlyn Sanchez

    1. So happy to see you here, my friend! Thanks, as always, for your support!

    2. Thank you, Kaitlyn! I'm excited to get my book into the hands of children living in families touched by Alzheimer's disease.

  2. Thank you for sharing your process... i've been published in other genres but am still waiting for any one of my picture book manuscripts to be picked up. This sounds like a wonderful book! I can't wait to read it!

    1. Thanks for visiting Yvona! For more Stories Behind the Story (coming soon) be sure to sign up for updates and follow this blog! Best of luck to you! And feel free to check out my Sunday PB Chats at 6:30 PM EST

    2. BTW i tweeted this & shared on FB

    3. Thanks for reading my "story behind the story" of A Doll for Grandma, Yvona!

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book. I enjoyed reading your journey in creating it.
    It looks like I have to comment as a former blog I used to write because it's on blogspot. I'm blogging again, except through my website, I am a children's book author and am querying a manuscript I wrote about a little girl and her grandpa.
    Thank you for your post. I would love to follow you.

    1. Thanks, Barbara! We're following each other now on Twitter :)

    2. Very nice to meet you, Barbara! Hope you get a chance to stop by again soon!

  4. Replies
    1. Natalee -- so happy to see another Beaming Books author here! I love the way we all support each other! Can't wait to see your post, too!

    2. Thanks, Natalee! Glad to be in touch with you again after you helped me last year in my search for Korean language children's books :)

  5. Your book sounds wonderfully beautiful and much needed. Congratulations, Paulette!

    1. Thank you for your kind words for Paulette's important book, Kim! I agree! Should you want to check out another book from Beaming Books, please see Natalee Creech's Story Behind the Story for When Day is Done. Thanks for visiting!

    2. Thanks for reading, Kim! I hope my book will help children understand what is happening when a loved one develops Alzheimer's and see that despite the disease, moments of real joy are still possible.

  6. Love this story. My grandmother had Alzheimer's and was very protective of her doll. I caused a few scuffles in her ward. Thank you for writing this book!

    1. I'm sorry to hear that your grandmother had Alzheimer's, Rebecca, but glad to know that she found comfort in her doll. That doll gave her a way to express the love still in her heart.

    2. I am so sorry to hear about your Grandmother, too, Rebecca. My Grandmother also suffered from it. When I was in my 20s, I would turn the corner to my block on my way home from work, and my grandmother would be there, shivering, waiting for me to get off the school bus. It was very sad. And I would try to convince her that I'm not a child anymore and that I was married and have a job and was having a baby and she would tell me not to talk like that, that people would think I was "forward." Which was her way of saying trashy. LOL But what's funny, now that she's gone (many years now), I'd give anything for even the sad times.