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! Today we have the chance to talk with Ruth Amanda, author of Geckos in the Garden. This children’s picture book, a whimsical story of hunting for geckos in one’s garden, is a delightful counting book. Its whimsical rhyming couplets invite young readers to explore the joy of tromping through nature to look for geckos—and painlessly learning to count. As Ruth is clearly a woman with a sense of humor, it’s no surprise to learn that her favorite quote is Einstein’s comment: “Creativity is Intelligence having fun.” An avid hiker, she also enjoys swimming in the sea and admits being addicted to chocolate. She also tells us she thinks answering interview questions is “tougher than putting socks on a rooster.” Let’s see what else she has to share with us today!
MCA: Ruth, we love your sense of humor! So let’s start off the interview by asking you to tell us about yourself.
I had a semi-nomadic childhood, wherein we lived in many parts of Western Canada. I was born in Ontario, and my parents and most family were from the Eastern Townships near Montreal, Quebec. We left Ontario when I was six and headed west into Saskatchewan and later Alberta. As an adult I have lived just below the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, in Canada’s far north, as well as Vancouver on the West Coast.
My mom always took the time to get us involved in our new communities, which exposed us to all sorts of interesting cultural events, and she herself developed an interest in spinning, weaving, and natural dying of wool. I often accompanied her to major art markets across the prairies and was exposed to creative people from an early age. These activities fuelled my desire to create and learn new things always.
I also had a deep love of reading passed on to me by both parents, who always enjoyed a good book. It was a bit of a tradition, that if you truly enjoyed a book, you likely purchased another copy or gave the used copy to a family member. The more used the book, the more the expectation that you would love it. One book I gifted to my mother, she gave to my sister, who passed it on to a cousin, who passed it to their mother, and, lo and behold, I received a package one day from my aunt with a note saying, “I think you’ll love this book!” It still had the sticky note in the front flyleaf that I had left for my mom!
My parents, and particularly Mom, kept us in touch with farming and gardening, and we always had pets, so learning about animals firsthand and how to find them by knowing their habits just comes second nature to me now.
MCA: Sounds like a wonderful place to grow up! What was your path to becoming a writer like? What inspired you?
I have always enjoyed reading and writing and loved the way books could transport you through space and time to other countries. You could become Scheherezade or Laura Ingalls. You could travel the wilds of the North with authors like Jack London and Farley Mowatt. You could experience life through animal characters such as in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. There were no limits on who or what you could be in the imagination as you read the book. The magical possibilities of the first page … the inevitable hunting for sequels when the adventure ended before you were ready to let go. Thank you to the literary gods for long sagas like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings et al., or Sir Terry Pratchett’s ongoing sagas of the Discworld. So many stories and yet they all ended way too soon.
As a grownup I have worn many work hats, primarily in accounting and bookkeeping, but also restaurants, retail, farming, and other industries. With a little encouragement from my husband and a leap of faith, I have stepped back from that and into the me I was always meant to be, I think. Writing and illustrating.
I have never quite grown up and love finding “critters” and turning them into characters, and imagining their stories. Every day is an adventure full of magic when you are creating!
I wanted to be able to provide young readers with that same magical experience. I want to see them become immersed in the colourful illustrations. To let their imaginations explode in a way that I don’t think video games or television can provide. Creating the image of the world in your head lets you experience a story in a way that even the greatest movies cannot. If you’ve ever had that feeling when watching movie that it just looks wrong? Or the main character should be taller? Or the hero or heroine is so good-looking that they are obviously the main character? Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, and my imagination tends to take the descriptions of those characters and morph it with someone I know. That being said, in the movie of my life I will be played by Charlize Theron or Gal Godot … the beauty of magic is I can imagine myself less ordinary.
My books are aimed mostly at the impressionable 3- to 8-year-olds when magic is still a thing and they want their parents to do the voices. As an adult, I hope to keep that sense of magic going for myself and others.
MCA: What was your inspiration for writing Geckos in the Garden?
My husband and I moved to Barbados from Canada in 2022. One of the first acquaintances I made was Stumpy, a young Barbados Green Lizard who happened to live in the bougainvillea along the patio. He was a wonderful conversationalist, if a little shy at first, and we soon became friends. It seems he had always wanted to be in a book…
Then we moved to a different villa in a little subdivision with lovely gardens, a community pool, pathways, and neighbours of all descriptions. The day before I wrote Geckos in the Garden, I was lying on my belly in the grass under a hedge in the gardens near our villa. I was attempting to take some cool photos of a gecko I had spotted between the leaves, so I had moved carefully, crawling slowly on my belly.
As I was worming my way under the shrubs, a young family with two small boys was approaching. I didn’t notice them until two small feet plonked down near my head, and a small boy asked, “Whatcha doing?”
I whispered, “Looking for geckos,” and pointed at the rather brave gecko who had not (as geckos normally do) run away as fast as his legs could carry him at the sight of this intruder. The little boy flopped down, in an un-stealthy way. The gecko still didn’t move. The boy’s brother plopped down on the other side of me.
I pointed out the gecko and then spotted another one, which I pointed out.
Questions streamed from the boys. “What’s he doing?” “Do geckos bite?” “Why doesn’t he move?”
I tried to answer these questions while still getting a good photograph. I also was quite surprised the gecko hadn’t moved and wondered if it had, in fact, died of fright.
Ah, no! With a flick of its tail, it was gone. The second gecko was instantly not there also. Poof! A magician would have been proud.
As I stood up, brushing grass and leaves off my shirt, I answered as many questions as I could. Realizing the parents were looking at me rather oddly, I introduced myself with a sheepish look and let them know I write children’s books. Looking unconvinced, they gathered their offspring and headed for the pool.
The next morning, while enjoying my breakfast in the sunshine on the patio, I spotted a gecko hiding nearby. Into my head popped the words that will forever more be enshrined in the pages of Geckos in the Garden:
In the morning, after breakfast,
In the garden, in the sun,
I can see my little neighbour—
It’s a tiny gecko. ONE!
I grabbed the notebook and pencil that are usually nearby. I wrote it down. Then I spotted some movement and saw two more geckos. Before my eyes, the whole story unfolded on the page. Organically. I scribbled furiously. I crafted. I smiled. I added some more. It kept coming. I styled, I shaped, and the geckos ran amok. They were everywhere. Now there were six. Then seven! Ten geckos, TEN!
MCA: A delightful story, Ruth—you must be a gecko “whisperer.” And your rhyming is wonderful. As we know, rhyme and repetition help children develop literacy skills. Tell me, what are some of the key lessons found in the book?
Watch your step. You don’t want to squish someone by accident!
Seriously, though, the only lesson that was meant to be in the book is “Reading is fun! Read some more!” You might find yourself learning to count with this one. The kids seem to enjoy hunting for the geckos in the pictures.
But there’s another, equally important lesson: Enjoy nature, experience it with abandon, and know that even when it’s time to come inside, there will be more adventures tomorrow!
MCA: Loving to read, experiencing all the treats that nature has in store—no wonder your book is such a favorite. Speaking of that—what kind of response from readers have you received?
The best review I have is from my granddaughter Jessa. Upon reading the “sample” that I made using a printer at Staples, she immediately cried out, “Again!” That was all the confirmation I needed that I was moving down the right track with this one. Quite a relief really, since it was already on its way to production…
Several parents and teachers have commented on it quite favourably and provided excellent feedback for future projects.
MCA: Speaking of future projects, what is next for your writing endeavors?
Funny you should ask. Two further books should be releasing soon (September/October).
There’s a Buzzard on the Balcony is an adventure in a child’s imagination as they are about to have some snacks and a hungry-looking buzzard shows up…
There’s a Buzzard on the balcony.
He’s come to stay for tea.
He’s looking very hungry—
And he’s looking right at me!
Told from the child’s point of view and featuring a Buzzard, Teddy, and Bunny as the party guests, you may learn some manners. Don’t expect to learn them from McDuff the Cat, though—he’s kind of rude but adds a touch more drama to the tale!
There’s a Seagull on My Sailboat will be releasing at the same time with the same cast of characters, and McDuff will certainly be up to the same old tricks here. This time the child telling the story is planning to play boats, but a Seagull hijacks the plans and takes over. There’s a glossary provided for non-sailing readers.
There’s a seagull on my sailboat.
He’s sitting on the rail.
He’s waiting, oh so patiently,
He wants for us to sail!
What I enjoyed with these was creating the story through the child’s eyes so the books are truly “inclusive.” The child can be any background or ability, any gender, and from any background. All the reader has to do is imagine themselves right there.
Also keep an eye out—there’s a little mouse who wanders around the illustrations because I had so much feedback on how the children enjoy hunting for the hidden geckos, so we added a small side element to the illustrations.
I do have other writing projects in the works for more mature audiences—10- to 12-year-olds—but they are still in early research.
MCA: We’re so glad that you have more children’s books in the pipeline, Ruth!
You can learn more about Ruth Amanda and her award-winning book, Geckos in the Garden by visiting her MCA Shop pages.