Decorah Public Library

A Few Groovy Questions with Author and Musician Eric Litwin!

Inspire(d) was thrilled to have a chance to ask Eric Litwin, original author of Pete The Cat, The Nuts, and Groovy Joe, a few groovy questions! 

Eric Litwin sang, danced, and read stories at the Decorah Middle School Auditorium in 2017, thanks to  “Friends of Decorah Public Library”.

Mr. Eric is a song-singing, guitar-strumming, New York Times Best Selling author who brings early literacy and music together. His dynamic performances are fully interactive. According to Joan Roach, Children’s and Youth Librarian at Decorah Public Library, “Litwin has a unique musical approach to early literacy. He brings stories to life with interactive songs that get families singing, dancing, laughing, and falling in love with literacy.”

Litwin is the original author of the beloved first four “Pete the Cat” picture books: I Love My White Shoes, Rocking in My School Shoes, Four Groovy Buttonsand Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. These four books have sold over 10 million copies, are #1 New York Times Bestsellers, have been translated into 14 languages, and won 19 state and national literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award!

At the Decorah performance, Mr. Eric will share his “Pete the Cat” books as well as The Nuts and Groovy Joe. Following the show, Litwin will also do a book signing.

And now…. a few groovy questions!

Inspire(d) – I(d): What came first, writing stories or playing music? 

Eric Litwin: Playing music and “telling” stories came at the same time. This means I was a folk musician and storyteller. As a teacher I realized that many of the characteristics within folk music and folks tales, such as call/response, repetition and melody, would help early literacy. So I adapted them to early literacy books.

I(d): We’ve heard that Pete the Cat was based on a real cat. Groovy Joe seems like a pretty neat pup – is he based off of a real dog as well?

Eric Litwin: Groovy Joe is amalgamation of many groovy things. There are some favorite beloved pet/dogs as well as myself and the artist Tom Litchenheld. And, then again Groovy Joe is his own unique groovy personality as well.

Inspired: Your books always include music – with a great story. What was your inspiration for that and how does it effect your readers?

Eric Litwin: All my books have music because music helps children learn to read. It also engages them in the reading process. And, it makes early literacy more FUN.

Inspired: Are you more of a plain ice cream fan or load it up with yummy stuff? What about Groovy Joe?

Eric Litwin: I am a solid chocolate ice cream guy. No need to load it up.

Inspired: The Washington DC area is home for you, correct? Any unsung regional literary or music heroes you’d like to share with our readers?

Eric Litwin: I moved to Washington DC a few years ago. I live in an area called “Shaw” that was the home of many inspiring jazz players such as Duke Ellington. Their creativity inspires me.

Inspired: Who is your favorite Nuts character? Do you think the Nuts have a larger lesson for our world (that often seems nuts)?

Eric Litwin: I love all the Nut Family characters. And, yes, the Nuts have a message. That message is that nutty (unique/fun) is normal. And love and acceptance keeps a family together and strong.

Inspired: Speaking of Dinosaurs and ice cream – do you know how to make a dinosaur float?

Place one scoop of ice cream in a glass of root beer and add one dinosaur… ROARRRRRRRRRR! (It’s a terrible joke, we know…)

Eric Litwin: I love terrible jokes. Keep them coming!

Eric Litwin’s performance is generously sponsored by Friends of the Decorah Public Library with support from the Walmart Foundation. The Decorah Community School District is graciously hosting this event. For additional information, please contact Joan Roach, Children’s and Youth Librarian, at or (563)382-3717. Full details online here.

12 Year old Author Jenna Hartz

Here at Inspire(d) we are big fans of print media (right?)!

When we heard about 12 year old St. Ben’s student Jenna Hartz publishing her first book, “The Guardians of Middle School”, we thought, “Dang girl – you go!” We decided it would be fun to hear a little bit about the book, process, and all that goes along with being a not-even-teenage (yet) author. Not only was Jenna inspired to write the book, but along with her parents researched publishers and worked through the process of bringing a book to life with Outskirts Press of Parker, Colorado. Jenna has also offered to donate her book to all area community libraries, including the Decorah Public Library as well as the Decorah Community School District. You can find out more about “The Guardians of Middle School” and purchase your own copy at Dragonfly Books – including a special Author reading and signing on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 7pm.

Author Jenna Hartz with St. Benedict’s 5th Grade Teacher Mrs. Galligan.

I(d) = Inspire(d)
JH = Jenna Hartz

I(d) – What inspired you to write “The Guardians of Middle School”, and how long did it take you to finish the book?

JH – My friends inspired me, as well as my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Galligan. It took me about 10 months to finish including writing, editing, and publishing.

I(d) – How many pages is the book in its finished form? When you were writing did you have any idea how long the book would be?

JH – There are 95 pages in the book. My goal originally was 100 to 200 pages, but that was a little more challenging than I thought. I’m pretty happy though how it turned out.

I(d) – Writers often have favorite places to work or rituals that help them get words on the page; did you have any special places you liked to write or things that helped you get through any tough spots in the story? 

JH – I always wrote at the computer on the counter several times a week after school. Since I was having trouble coming up with the main conflict, I just typed multiple ideas, and figured out which one worked the best with the rest of the story line. If there was something I didn’t like, I wouldn’t like to keep changing it over and over again because then it would start loosing it’s touch. I’d do it all over again though.


I(d) – Some of the locations and people in”The Guardians of Middle School” are real and local here in Decorah. Can you tell us about those and how you decided to include them?

JH – The characters from the book were all people that were in my life including my friends from my class, and my teacher at the time. After I got the main idea of what the book was about, I let my friends help with deciding their elements. Then I tried figuring out a part for my teacher to play. After a lot of thinking, I decided that she should be our trainer and our mentor. As for the locations, I decided to pick ones that my friends and I love.

I(d) – Being print magazine makers, we love the process of creating something you can hold in your hands and read – desktop publishing has revolutionized the ability to do that as well. Can you tell us how you went about getting the book printed?

JH – After I finished editing, I looked for great publishing companies with my parents.  They helped me find one that didn’t just have a computer edit it, but with an actual editor who could work with me. That’s when we found Outskirt’s Press. With all of that done, then we had them help us with the cover. We took the photo of my hand, and combined it with an amazing design that Outskirt’s Press came up with. Finally, they printed the books and we ordered a bunch of copies.

I(d) – What has been the most fun part about having the book finished and out to the public?

JH – The part that I find most fun is that I can actually say that I am a published author. I really hope that this will inspire others to do what they love, and to follow their dreams.

I(d) – Any plans for future writing projects?

JH – I don’t have any plans right now, but I’m hoping to get more writing done in the future when school work begins to slow down a bit.

I(d)  – What’s your favorite snack to have while writing?

JH – I honestly don’t know what my favorite snack is, but while writing I usually have a range of things from fruit to chips.

I(d) – Anyone you would like to acknowledge for helping with the process?

JH – I’d like to acknowledge my friends for being so supportive through this writing process, my family for always being there for me, and especially my 5th grade teacher for inspiring me so much and for being so trustworthy.


And of course, to every great (almost) teenage writer, there is a great support network! Jenna’s parents (Jodi & Michael) and two brothers were all excited to support the endeavor, especially once they realized how in depth Jenna had taken the idea of writing a book! Jenna also credits her 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Galligan, for sparking her interest to write a book. Jenna encourages others to pick up a book, hold it, and read from real pages!

Don’t miss a special evening at Dragonfly Books – including an Author reading and signing on Monday, November 28, 2016 at 7pm.

Interview with Local Author Jennifer Gipp: ‘Breaking Through the Fog’

JenGipp_WebDecorah author (and Optometrist!) Jennifer Gipp is celebrating the release of her first novel, Breaking Through the Fog.

Breaking Through the Fog explores the unique culture and art scene in San Francisco and offers a unique perspective on life, love, relationships, and the resilience of the human spirit.”

You can catch an author reading at one of the local dates below, or purchase a copy of the book here.

July 8: Dragonfly Books, Decorah, 7 pm
July 22: Badger Brothers Coffee, Platteville, WI, 4 pm
July 23: Platteville Public Library, 10:30 am
August 4: Decorah Public Library, 6:30 pm

We caught up with the newly published author (and Mom, Book Cover-Breaking Through the FogRotarian, literal Marathon runner… we could go on!), to ask her a few questions about being a self published author in the Driftless!

I: For our readers who don’t know you, by career you are a successful optometrist with Gundersen Health System, currently based in Decorah. How did you make the leap of writing a novel!?

JG: That’s a great question!  I’ve always loved reading and creative writing, but didn’t have time to do much writing until I had to stay home from work because I was sick one day in 2011. I didn’t want to waste the day, so I pulled out my laptop and started to write a story. I enjoyed the process and wrote 5,000 words by the end of the day. I liked the characters and kept working on the story for several months. Before I knew it, it was a full-length novel!

I: Through your schooling and travels, you have seen a lot of different locations – near and far – how did you pick the locations set in the book?

JG: I visited San Francisco and the Bay Area with my husband when we first started dating. He was a wonderful tour guide and I quickly fell in love with the area. I wanted my book to include the America’s Cup Yacht Race and decided that a city located on the water like San Francisco would be the perfect setting.

Many of the characters are from places that I’ve enjoyed visiting. Jonathan is from New Zealand, where I lived as a foreign exchange student in high school, and Claudia is from London, which is one of the cities my husband and I visited on our first anniversary.

I: What has it been like to self-publish a book? Is it a crazy process?

JG: Self-publishing worked out really well for me. I did a lot of reading about various publishing options.  In the end, Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon’s CreateSpace seemed like the avenues that aligned the most with my goals. I was able to design the cover and format the book to my exact specifications.  Amazon’s CreateSpace uses “print-to-order” technology, so I can order books based on demand, which has been a wonderful tool.

I: Your sensory detail and attention to character detail stand out often in the book – did it take a lot of work to get these details right, or was it something that just happened along the way?

JG: The best part about writing the book was that I got to remember all the wonderful details that I love about San Francisco and really hone in on the food, the atmosphere, and the neighborhoods. I’m a bit of a foodie, so it was fun for me to think back on some of my favorite dishes that I’ve eaten in San Francisco and then write about them.

I: Do you have a favorite character from the book?

JG: Although I like all the characters in the book, Alexis is my favorite. I admire her because of her tireless dedication to her patients, her incredible medical knowledge, and her willingness to forgive and move on with her life even in difficult times.

I: Are you excited to get out and read in front of audiences?

JG: Yes! I’ll actually be giving a presentation on creative writing rather than doing an actual book reading.  I’d like to share my experiences with others and encourage those with a passion for writing to pursue it.

Find out more about the author and get your copy of “Breaking Through the Fog” here!