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New Port resident Barbara Joosse is celebrating a milestone—the publication of her 50th children’s book
Ozaukee Press staff

Barbara Joosse is celebrating her 50th this year.

It’s not her birthday or wedding anniversary; it’s something harder to come by.

Joosse will publish her 50th children’s book.

“The 50th is a big deal for me.

That’s probably the biggest one I could have imagined, and I’m not done. I’m not nearly done,” the 69-year-old Port Washington resident said.

In 41 years of publishing, Joosse has learned nearly as much about child development as she has writing.

Some of her research, much like the inspiration for her stories, comes from her own family.

Joosse was the first one to read to her first granddaughter when she got home from the hospital.

Joosse started with a board book — few words per each page made of paperboard — and the infant wasn’t interested.

She switched to one of her books and the baby “stretched to reach toward the book and her eyes got big,” she said.

“It’s absolutely wrong to think that extremely young children can only digest a few words per page.

You could read a novel to children if it had nice words,” she said, adding poetry is also beneficial.

By the time babies are born, Joosse said, they already have heard noises and their mother talking. After that, four words per page “is a clunker.”

“Seeing is new to her,” she said of her grandchild, “but she’s been hearing for nine months.”

Babies, she said, like “motherese” words that have cadence such as “oopsy doopsy.”

When parents hold their babies on their laps and read them stories, the parents’ heartbeats helps establish the story’s rhythm, she said.

After hearing that trusted voice, the infants go to bed and dream, and “that’s where the work gets done,” Joosse said of brain development.

She writes with that in mind.

Her stories are lyrical and her diction is intentional and efficient.

She has learned, she said, that words are not “precious.” Her philosophy is “every word in service to the story. If it doesn’t serve the purpose, give it up,” she said.

Joosse didn’t find her purpose until college.

She grew up in Grafton loving books. Her favorite as a young child, she said, “was an art book because I could make up stories about the people in the paintings.”

She didn’t know writing could be a job until after high school when she interned for a summer at Ozaukee Press.

That’s what sparked her interest in the craft.

Publisher Bill Schanen III had high standards and was “outstanding as a mentor,” she said.

“I saw my words in print. That was pretty exciting,” she said. “You could still smell it (the ink).”

Joosse majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and started to figure herself out by copying other writers’ styles.

“When you feel comfortable in your own skin, you develop your own voices. What 19-year-old has their own voice?”

Early on, she knew she wouldn’t write for newspapers.

“I wasn’t a very good journalist because I couldn’t keep the fiction out of it,” she said.

Joosse started in advertising where she learned to be efficient with words. She could make money in the field but said she couldn’t sell what she didn’t believe in.

She already lost a premature baby and left advertising and got pregnant again. Since it was considered an endangered pregnancy, she had to stay home and started writing poetry.

“You write to affect others or heal yourself. When you write to heal yourself, it’s not good for others,” she said.

Once she had children, she saw how their brains developed. She did commentary for the Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Public Radio and Milwaukee Magazine, and took graduate classes in writing at UW-Milwaukee.

Within a year and a half, she had her first book accepted. Then she had to decide between continuing with classes or getting paid to write.

“That really wasn’t much of a choice,” she said.

Her first book was “The Thinking Place” about her daughter.

Holding the first copy in print was surreal.

“My eyes blacked out. I couldn’t see. It hasn’t happened before or since,” she said.

A later book was inspired by her son. More than 2 million copies of it had been sold.

She was reading “The Runaway Bunny” to the boy, a story in which a rabbit goes on adventures but gets corralled by its mother and made to eat carrots. He grabbed the book and threw it across the floor, she recalled. The idea of being confined was not appealing to him.

Joosse told him she loved him and his adventurous spirit, which led to the book “Mama, Do You Love Me?” which has been translated into 26 different languages.

Set in Alaska, the plot has a daughter asking her mother if she would love her even if the girl did bad things such as turning into a bear and chasing her around the tent.

“Inside the bear, you would be you, and I would love you,” the mother said.

Joosse recently published a book with her daughter Anneke Lisberg, a science professor at UW-Whitewater.

Most of the book’s characters are animals with “everything proven by science,” Joosse said.

Half of Joosse’s books are sold to libraries and schools — she likes to include teachers’ guides — and the other half via Amazon.

Her 50th book will be on Milwaukee, part of a city adventure series.

“It captures the spirit of the place in a way that ties you to it emotionally,” she said.

Joosse’s lyrical language has led her to write songs as well, and she helped write a script for a musical, “Lovabye Dragon,” based on a series of her books that ran at First Stage Children’s Theater in Milwaukee last year.

“I have never been prouder of anything in my life,” she said.

Her recent move to Port Washington is providing new inspiration.

She said her heart beats faster as she comes home from her studio in Cedarburg.

Future books, she said, will incorporate her new surroundings of the city, sky and lake.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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