Cheryl Johnson has developed quite a following as a wildlife photographer working under the pseudonym “Backyard Bird Nerd.” Her photos have been featured in magazines, websites, and art galleries. As the owner of an advertising agency, writing has always been a part of her life and career. Her literary work has included producing text for websites, brochures, television and radio commercials, and a variety of magazines articles. Delving into the world of children's literature has been an exciting and challenging adventure, and pairing these books with her love of photography has proven to be the perfect outlet for her passions and talents. When not prowling around in nature looking for something to “fly” by her lens, she lives in South Texas with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
How I Spent My COVID Vacation
As a full-time business owner, when COVID came to visit, my business model changed and I found myself with a little extra time on my hands. Combined with a random phone call and a wandering imagination, a new adventure took flight!
As many businesses and business owners learned during these last several months of the COVID-19 craziness, our business models needed to have some adjustments if we were going to continue to exist. Many people don’t know that for me, photography is a bit of a side gig that I do mostly on the weekends on evenings. My “real” job is as the owner of Outburst Advertising. Our primary business model is working with small businesses here in Victoria, developing marketing campaigns, printing marketing material, and producing logo products such as screen printed shirts, pens, cups, etc. When COVID hit and businesses started to temporarily shut down and restructure, we definitely saw a change in the types of services we were offering our clients. Luckily, our business has stayed steady, but as the main sales person for Outburst, I found myself with some extra time on my hands... until that fateful day early in the pandemic- induced mayhem when I got a text from my friend, Leiloni.
She sent me a photo with sketches of twelve different birds and asked, “Hi! Can you tell me which of these is a cardinal?”
“Red one with the black face. Second from the bottom on the left.”
“Do you have any pictures of one?”
“Would you be willing to do a small picture book of them? I would like to send it to my God-daughter. She has this bird book and says cardinals are her favorite. She’s 4.”
And from this quick exchange, an idea was born. This simple picture book evolved into a more involved picture book with information about each bird... which then morphed into a second book with a “scavenger hunt” theme for her older brother. One evening, in the middle of working on Leiloni’s project, I shared with my husband a concept that was rolling around in my head.
“So, I have this idea...”
He looked up from the pot of spaghetti he was making me for dinner (yes, ladies, my man does all the cooking and I consider myself one lucky lady!) with a raised eyebrow, “Oh?”
“These books I’m working on for Leiloni... I was thinking that I could develop them into a line of personalized childrens books that I could sell. I’ve done some research and there really isn’t anything like them out there. And with my booklet printer they would be super easy for me to print at the office.”
James, who has always been my biggest champion, immediately saw my little project going global and me becoming a world-famous author (I love him!).
So, with the husband on board and COVID-related time on my hands, I was off and running. As I started to pull photos together, write text, and develop ideas, it suddenly dawned on me that I’m not sure I can write a childrens book. Sure, I had kids (although they’re adults now so aren’t in my target demographic), but all the writing I do nowadays is for adults, and I was pretty sure that writing for kids would require a completely different style.
“What I need,” I thought to myself, “Is an elementary school teacher and a focus group!” Thank goodness that I’m a gal who knows people! A quick message to my friend, Kristine King, and I was in business. Kristine is not only an amazing teacher (having helped mold the mind of my youngest during her 5th grade year at Rowland Elementary), but she’s currently teaching 1st grade and has a built in focus group of little people that are her own two children. Score all the way around! I bribed Kristine with free copies of the finished books and she was on board!
So here we are, several months into COVID and I have discovered that writing childrens books about birds is the perfect outlet for my nerdiness, creativity, and photography! So far I have completed two books based on the original books I did for Leiloni. The first is about common backyard birds and the second is a scavenger hunt where the reader has to figure out, based on the photo and clues, where each bird lives and what it eats. A third book about bird feathers (REALLY, this is an interesting subject!) is in the works. I hope to have all the books ready to sell in the next month and will be premiering them on my Etsy store (www.etsy.com/shop/backyardbirdnerd) and at some of the local markets going into the holidays.
Truth be told, I’m pretty excited about this. I’m having a great time working on them and every time I turn around I have an idea for another book pop into my head.
It reminds me a lot of Victoria in Motion... a magazine I published for over 10 years that started out with a simple conversation and developed into something amazing. I’m excited and hopeful that my books will do the same thing. It’s all about adventures and dreams, and taking the time to bring them together and share them with the world.
Share the Beauty of Nature with Your Child!
Nature is Amazing
These beautiful books by writer and photographer Cheryl Johnson, are designed to not only engage your child but to encourage their imagination, exploration, and discovery of the world around us.