Interview with Mom’s Choice Award-Winner Connie Thornell

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.

Welcome, Mom’s Choice readers! Today we have with us Connie Thornell, author of the delightful Mom’s Choice Award-winning Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley picture books. All three books in this series can be used as read-alouds for infants through preschool. They are also a great teaching resource in the early elementary grades—and with their positive lessons, a poetic style, and figurative language throughout, they can also serve as teaching tools in secondary schools, as well.

MCA: Connie, thanks so much for joining us today! Won’t you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a lifelong educator. I recently retired after teaching for 36 years in the public school system in Texas. During those years, I taught every grade from 3-year-olds to college students, excluding grades 7 and 8. Since retiring, my husband and I enjoy time with family, babysitting, baseball, time at the lake, and driving around in our 1923 Model T Touring car. 

MCA: I look forward to hearing more about your Model T! But first, would you tell us what your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?

My love for reading and sharing books with children was one of the sparks to begin writing children’s books.

The other spark that really ignited me to move forward was Cassidy’s story. When I was teaching at The Woodlands College Park High School, we had a tragedy with one of our students, Cassidy Hess. Cassidy was a loving daughter, sister, friend, honors student, cheerleader—someone who loved life. Tragically, she lost her life to suicide.

It was at that point that I realized students of all ages need messages of hope. Cassidy’s family formed The Cassidy Joined for Hope Foundation to bring awareness of and to prevent teen suicide. My inspiration was to write books that not only could be used by teachers for the teaching of literacy, but that would provide a message of hope to students. In my experiences, I felt there was a need for more picture books that addressed the social and emotional side of learning.

MCA: Preventing teen suicide is truly an admirable goal, as is the desire to share messages of hope with young people. What was your inspiration for writing the Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley series?

My husband inherited a 1923 Model T. His family had restored it in 1961, but it had not run in over 50 years and was in very rough condition. We had it restored for a second time. I documented the entire process through pictures and a poem as a keepsake for my husband. After many drives in the Model T with my husband and our Boston Terrier dog, stories began to pour into my head. I would wake up in the middle of the night and type my thoughts into my phone. Soon I had over 10 books in rough draft form.

I have always loved poetry, and when I think of stories, the words always come to me in the poetic style. As we drive in our car, my husband will honk the horn at people and children we pass. They smile, clap and cheer when they hear the horn. Knowing there seemed to be a shortage of picture books that used onomatopoeia, I realized my style also always included some form of it in my writings. Thus began the adventures of Tinzie Jo and Brindley.

MCA: Could you tell us a bit about all the books in the series—and the lessons each imparts?

Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley: From Rust to Radiant is the first book in the series. I wrote the book with the goal being, every one of us may feel we’re covered in rust at times, but there is beauty and radiance just below waiting to be waxed out. I felt it important to introduce the characters in this book before Tinzie Jo and Brindley went on many adventures together. My niece, who is in college studying to become a teacher, agreed to illustrate the book. The reception from family, friends, and strangers has been overwhelming. People seem to have fallen in love with Tinzie Jo and Brindley just as we have. They are both part of our family.

As to the lessons imparted: The books are written to brighten one’s day, and help young readers see that they are radiant, they are loved, and they are enough. For each book, the best way to answer that question is with quotes from that book—each ends with a lesson shared:

The lessons from Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley:

Have faith.

Restoration can also come your way.

Like Joe taught this antique car:

Love reaches you

Just where you are.

Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley: A Centennial Birthday Surprise is the second book in the series. The book centers around Tinzie Jo’s friends planning a surprise 100th birthday celebration for her. The inspiration for the book was the fact that Tinzie Jo is a 1923 Model T and was 100 years old last summer. To kick off the book launch for the first two books, I hosted a 100th Birthday Celebration. It was complete with a birthday cake, dog balloons, face painting, pictures with Tinzie Jo and Brindley—and lots of fun was had by everyone.

The lesson:

Friendship isn’t found just in the ride–

true friendship sparks love from deep inside.

Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley: Hats Galore! is the third book in the series. I have a collection of antique ladies’, men’s and children’s hats. When anyone takes a ride in Tinzie Jo, I share my hats and clothing from the era. The hats were the inspiration for writing the book. I tied in a message encouraging the readers to let their gifts grow.

The lesson:

Friend, in life it’s not hats you need–

You being you is enough indeed.

MCA: What a charming trio! Could you tell us what kind of response you’ve received from kids, family members, and educators?

The response has been so positive and rewarding. Many teachers are using the books in classrooms of all ages. They send me pictures of the smiles on the children’s faces after reading the books. Friends and family share videos of their children enjoying the books. Seeing the children smile and make the sounds during the books is a highlight of my day.

MCA: With such positive responses, could you tell us what’s next for Tinzie Jo and Brindley?

A fifth book is almost finished. It is a holiday book that tells the Christmas story as Tinzie Jo and Brindley drive around on Christmas Eve. The illustrator, Callan Thornell, is finalizing the pictures and then it will be released. We are both very proud of it and can’t wait for everyone to see it.

Callan will then begin working on the illustrations for the sixth book. It is a fun book in which Tinzie Jo and Brindley spend the day at the park. However, a big surprise awaits them. Sorry, I can’t give away the surprise. Our target goal is for both books to be published by the end of summer.

There are more to come but they are further down in the editing process.

MCA: Connie, we’re delighted to hear that more books in the series will be coming soon—and wish you the very best!

You can learn more about Mr. Joe Tham and her award-winning series, the Touring with Tinzie Jo and Brindley picture books, by visiting her MCA Shop pages.

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