Preschool teacher Janelle Martin has always loved to write.
“I came from a family of storytellers,” she explained, “and I guess it’s in my genes.” She said her grandfather loved to write and tell stories — greatest storyteller ever — and her father, also. It was only natural that she inherited the love and talent of spinning stories — “a chatterbox.”
Originally from Erie, Pa., Martin’s parents, Wayne and Jean Goodwill, moved to Cleveland in 1972 when she was 7. Her mother died in 2001, but her father still lives in Cleveland. She was honored that, after her mother died, local storyteller Judy Baker read her mother’s story at a Tellabration.
“I hope to carry on the tradition,” Martin said, as she voiced the desire to also be a part of the storytelling guild. “Writing and storytelling is a big part of my life.”
When you share a story, she said, “you share commonality with audience. You meet other people and learn new things from them.”
Martin married her musician husband, Dana, in 1984. He serves as “my other editor,” she said. “He’s creative and a wonderful supporter — ‘in my corner.’” She said he’ll read, then say, “You probably want to fix this,” or make the decision, “Well, let’s just do this.”
“Lexis, the Hiccupping Lion” is Martin’s first book. She said, as a preschool teacher, one day she needed to fill time, so she had the students sit down and assigned them animals to tell stories about.
One little girl said hers was a giraffe “on roller skates.” One chose a hippopotamus and another chose to be an elephant. Martin began telling about Lexis, the lion who had hiccups, and the children filled in the story with their creativity. Children learn from play, she said, and storytelling is play. Children, she added, love to build a story. “It’s a fun way to process thought — a teachable moment.”
Later, she typed up the story of Lexis the lion as it was made up and sent it to parents to read. Then, after embellishing it a bit, Martin made it into a book.
And yes, her storytelling talents are also used in a church setting, as well as school. Martin is involved in her church music program — besides teaching children’s choir, she plays in the handbell choir, sings in the choir and ensembles and participates in drama productions at North Cleveland Baptist Church. She also plays clarinet with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Chorus and sings with the Tennessee Ladies Chorale — “lots of fun,” she said.
As director of the children’s choir at North Cleveland Baptist Church and dayschool director at Westwood Dayschool, she loves the opportunities she has to work with children. She would tell them, “If you’re good, I’ll tell you a story,” and ideas for books stem from that.
Kids, she said, think the stories are funny. “That is where my heart is,” she declared, “as a teacher, mom and grandmother.”
She added, “God gave us kids for entertainment.” She has two children, Amanda and Darrel, and three grandchildren, Serenity, Donovan and Henry. The whole family are musicians, she said. “It’s something we do.”
Martin wears many hats during her hours with children. Storytelling opens the door, she said, along with sharing feelings in play acting and pretending — it’s healthy.
Storytelling and public speaking are needed skills. She said students should have skills and be able to do a good presentation — even a job interview. As an educator, constantly writing, sharing points of view and imparting skills are important, she explained. “I encourage students to express their creativity — the root of good writing. You should be able to write it down. Writing is the ability to tell a story.”
Her advice on writing children’s books reveals the process:
1. Tell it first.
2. Begin to write it down.
3. Read aloud.
4. Get a second pair of eyes.
5. Test it on a child.
Ask: What would you title it?
How would you change it?
When Martin was considering a publisher, it was with the intent of self-publishing. She knew it would cost more, but she could “own the book” and have more control over this — her first work. She chose WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, because the book has a Christian message and, to her, that was important since this, she said, was an investment.
Martin has six more books waiting for a series, “Adventures of Missy,” a story of a little girl growing up in a big family. Any future books, she added, will be children’s books.
Currently, she is going to Cleveland State Community College for an associate’s degree in early childhood. “I can’t see myself leaving teaching,” Martin said. She has taught children since she was in her early 20s and said it was part of her even before beginning to teach. “I have no plans to quit.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Lexis, the Hiccupping Lion” can be ordered directly from Martin’s website: janellemartin books.weebly.com. The book is $7.50 plus shipping and handling. It is also available from Amazon.