Monday, 8 February 2016

Pen Pal Posts - Marlene Reimer

I met Marlene, when her sister, Verna introduced us. Verna and I have been friends for years, and a few years ago we spent part of the day in Steinbach, a town where she grew up in. We stopped for coffee at Marlene's place, and had a lovely visit. With both of us being writers, most of the conversation was about our books. Marlene showed me her delightful set of picture books. They are sweet stories about her childhood. Most amazing of all, is what she does for illustrations. She's created little dolls, buys doll house, farm animals and any other props she may need. She sets up scenes to match the stories and takes pictures of them. I saw all those amazing props. What an absolutely brilliant way to create illustrations! A few years ago I reviewed her first set of books, you can find it here.

I'm delighted that Marlene agreed to this interview! Here's a quick peek at her books:

Before we talk about your books, please tell me a little about yourself; where you grew up, your family and where you make your home now.

I was born in Steinbach and grew up "in a yellow house, on the edge of town, under the big prairie sky". I was the middle child of five children. My dad was a machinist and my mom a homemaker. I got married at the age of twenty-one. My husband, Jim, and I had four children. We first lived in a small house in Steinbach. We then lived in Alberta for two years. Then we moved back to Steinbach and raised our family in an old Heritage Home, where we have lived for thirty-two years.

I love how you start each book with the same line: "I am Molly. I live in a yellow house..." Marlene, your books are absolutely delightful! How did you decide to tell your childhood memories via children's books with unique illustrations?

I had a very happy childhood , and at about the age of fourteen I wrote down some of my memories, in order to remember them.

What a great way to preserve and share childhood memories! When I think of unique illustrations, I think of Barbara Reid, who illustrates her books with Plasticine. Yours are every bit as clever and lovely as hers. How did you come up with the idea of creating the characters and some of the props yourself? Do you make them all yourself, or does someone help you?

I thought my artistic talents were not good enough to illustrate my books in the usual way of drawing or painting the pictures. I had made a nursery rhyme book, with my children, years ago, using toys and items that we found around the house. I also made a book with costuming and posing students who I worked with as an Educational Assistant. I initially had help from my daughter in making the faces for the dolls. I made their bodies and sewed most of their clothes. I have since switched the bodies to more pose-able, purchased dolls by scouring second hand stores to get dolls other than the 11 1\2 inch ones. I have kept the heads from my original hand made dolls,  so they essentially still look like the old ones. I make props when I need to, and always keep my eyes open for miniatures in second hand shops.

It looks like you're having a lot of fun with your 'illustration'. Do you ever do presentations at schools or other places? What are some of the reactions you receive?

Yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed doing presentations at several schools and at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach. The reactions that I have received have been very favorable. The children (and adults) usually are very interested in the dolls and props. One school class had made dioramas for me to see when I visited their school.

I can totally understand that students and yes, adults, too would love seeing your props. I know I was amazed when I saw them. I know our students would love seeing them as well. So far you have published a set of five books, and I understand you're planning to publish another set soon. Can you tell me about them and when you plan to have them printed?

I have written and photographed the pictures for five more books. They are about some pesky roosters, when our car was stolen. I won't give out all the details... something to look forward to. I am now at the stage where I fix up the photos with photo shop. Final editing will have to be done; and my computer savvy daughter does the page lay out. Then off to the print shop.

Very interesting! I'm looking forward to sharing your new books with my students once they get published. Authors usually have wonderful experiences once their books are out there; sometimes heart warming letters and or phone calls... I'm sure you do as well. Would you care to share some of those?

Yes, I have had many favorable comments.

Here is one from an e-mail to my husband from his sister (also a writer):
"Marlene is amazing the way she keeps on reinventing her stories and presentations. Such an entertaining and meaningful art form. She must be flying high with all her creativity and hard work paying off as children produce their own sets and stories. She is making a contribution to the innocent enjoyment of childhood."

Here is part of another letter from a complete stranger:
"I bought a set at Toad Hall before Christmas to send to my niece's two girls. They had just moved to Phoenix in September and thought this was a great series to remind them of Manitoba. They are 2 and 3 and apparently, they have become their nighttime books-all five, one after the other. My niece says , they are totally in love with them. They have also brought back some fond memories for my niece."

Those are very sweet messages. Thanks for sharing them. Where are your books available? How can people contact you , should they wish to?

Right now my books are available at The Mennonite Heritage Museum, in Steinbach and from me personally. If people want to contact me, they could e-mail me at:

Is there anything else you'd love to share?

I love recreating my childhood, and I think that my siblings are thankful that I am keeping those memories alive.

I'm know for sure, Verna is thankful. Marlene, thank you so much for sharing your stories and for agreeing to this interview. I hope your books find their way to the shelves of many schools, bookstores and of course homes. I highly recommend these books! They delight children and adults alike. My favourite is The Tomato Tornado.


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