Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello Mom’s Choice readers! We are coming at you with another amazing interview with one of our very own Mom’s Choice Award-winning Authors. Maggie Van Galen, Author of The Keeno & Ernest book series, sat down with us to share more about her background as a writer, how her relationship with her father influenced her path to publishing, and what she hopes her books get through to her readers. It’s a good one, so keep reading for the full interview!
MCA: Hi Maggie! Thank you so much for sharing your time with us. Can you go ahead and tell us a little more about yourself?
Maggie: I grew up in a small, rural town in Northern Michigan. I was an honor student and an athlete. I graduated high school with 25 people…the same 25 I had started kindergarten with! It was such a small world that all I really wanted was to be a number and to see if I could succeed on a bigger scale.
I went to Michigan State University (population 45,000…I was student #1076311). I started as a journalism major, but somewhere along the line I switched to advertising as someone told me that I’d never make any money in journalism.
Graduating from MSU in 1991, I lived in Detroit working for a system software company as their sales manager for five years. Advertising turned into sales. I was content and thought I was living up to my high school label as “Most Likely To Succeed.”
Then in 1995, my father died, and my life turned upside down. It made me stop and look around at some of my choices and take stock of what was really important. My path took many new turns.I traded in security for the unknown, broke up with a longtime boyfriend (who my mom and dad couldn’t stand), moved from Michigan to Boston, changed careers from sales to marketing, moved in with a childhood friend and her family. This was the point when I began to realize that climbing the corporate ladder wasn’t the end goal.
MCA: We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. From what you’ve told us before, he was very instrumental in your journey to becoming a writer. Can you tell us more about your path to Keeno & Ernest?
Maggie: I had always considered myself a closet writer until I finally published. This is my journey!
As a child, I remember listening to my father’s stories. He was an amazing raconteur and could bring me right into his stories. I could see the characters and would be transported to the locations and engage in the plots. As I grew older, I was always writing. I used it as a sort of escapism…writing poetry to deal with teenage “stuff”, studying journalism and creative writing in college.
Although I continued to do it for the next 15 years, I found myself pulling out the pen and paper more and more after I decided to make those major life choices I mentioned earlier. I published a book of poetry, An Inside Look…, wrote for a small-town, New Hampshire newspaper, and even formed a business around editing and writing! However, the need to survive and put food on the table always brought me back to the corporate world! In 2000, I moved to London with my husband and worked at The Economist for 3 years. All the while, plugging along and “succeeding” but never feeling really fulfilled.
After having two beautiful boys (now teenagers), true happiness began to shine in my life and the stories and words started to flow. I realized that my dad had given me his gift of gab. The stories my dad told were of Keeno and Ernest. Unfortunately, he never wrote them down before he passed away. My memory recalled the characters perfectly, but not the adventures. When my first son was born, I started making up my own stories around Keeno and Ernest, and he loved them! I added a moral to each story (which I’m sure my dad’s never had…his were ALL action/adventure!) that tied in with things my boys were dealing with at the time.
One day, my son asked me to come to his preschool to share one of the stories with his class. The kids loved it! His teacher came to me after and suggested that I try to publish. She said the content was great and could be used as a teaching tool. Although I was thrilled to hear this, I wasn’t ready yet. I did, however, continue to go into my boy’s schools and tell the stories. We would do teaching activities around the stories, and some of the kids were even inspired to write their own stories. After each visit, the teachers would urge me to publish. I found this so rewarding that after years of telling stories to my boys, their friends, and their classmates, I decided to take the plunge into publishing and share them with the world.
Now that I am a more than a decade into this adventure, I would very much like to see my books in the hands of all children, and have started a new project called The Joy of Reading. The goal of this project is to match individual and corporate donors with charities that focus on children in need.
MCA: That is so special that your father’s characters not only turned into the stories you told your own children, but that they are now able to be shared with the world! You mentioned that you added in life lessons that you are certain your dad didn’t share with you. What are some of those lessons you can find in the Keeno & Ernest series?
Maggie: There are currently three books in the series, The Banana Tree, The Diamond Mine, and A New Friend. These heartwarming stories tell the tale of two best friends navigating the adventures of life in the jungle. Keeno, a mischievous monkey, seems to always go against the advice of his best friend, a wise, young elephant named Ernest, only to find himself in trouble. Follow the adventures as Keeno ends up in great danger and relies on Ernest to rescue him. In the end, Keeno learns about friendship and some very valuable life lessons.
Specifically, in The Banana Tree, Keeno learns about following family rules. In The Diamond Mine, Keeno learns about stealing and asking before taking, and in A New Friend, Keeno learns about staying true to himself and not changing for the sake of others.
MCA: Those lessons sound applicable to children and adults alike! If you could ensure your readers walked away with one main lesson, what would that be?
Maggie: My tagline that I always sign off with is “Always Follow Your Dreams!” Sometimes it takes time to figure out what those may be, and that’s okay as long as you strive toward them everyday. I truly feel that I am living my dream and I hope to inspire my readers and their families to do the same.
MCA: What a beautiful line! I know you’ve also said that to us here at Mom’s Choice, too, which we love. So what has the general response been like from readers of Keeno & Ernest?
Maggie: I am so thrilled with the response that I get from children and families! They really love the stories and totally get the life lessons within each story.
My initial goal was to leave a legacy for my sons, and I have done that. They are very proud of me which, in my mind, is success!
MCA: That is a huge measure of success! I’m sure it makes them very proud and happy to see you pursuing your dreams, and sharing their beloved bedtime characters with the world. So, before signing off, tell us what your favorite part of being an Author has been.
Maggie: My absolute favorite part about being a children’s book author is reading to the children! The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest is a series that targets children of all ages. I’ve read to preschoolers through 5 th graders and even read at a nursing home. My claim to fame is that I’ve read to over 3,500 children and haven’t lost one yet!
MCA: That’s a great claim to fame! We are so glad we got to learn more about you today and share more about you with our readers. We are thankful that you, Keeno, and Ernest are all part of the Mom’s Choice family, and we can’t wait to see what’s next! Thanks, Maggie!