By TAMI OLSEN
In the increasingly competitive field of children’s book publication, a BYU professor has overcome the challenges of the trade and successfully authored books geared toward a younger reading audience.
Michael Tunnell, a professor in the Teacher Education department, has published six children’s books in the past six years, many of them winning awards.
Between 1992 and 1997, Tunnel wrote what he said has been his most successful book so far, titled “Mailing May.” The book is based on a true story about an Idaho girl who was mailed via parcel post to her grandmother in 1914.
Tunnell said the parcel post system was new at that time and could take more weight than the regular postal system. The girl’s parents shipped her by rail to her grandmother in Lewiston, Idaho, for 53 cents. Because only two living things were allowed to be shipped at that time — chicks and honeybees — the box she traveled in was labeled “Baby Chick,” and the girl arrived safely at her grandmother’s, who didn’t even know she was coming.
Tunnell went as far as riding the rail line the girl had traveled on to research the book which won awards including an American Library Association’s Notable Books for Children honor in 1998, A Parents’ Choice Award and a Teachers’ Choice Award. The book is in its third printing since its release in September 1997.
Along with Skip Chilcoat of the Teacher Education Department, Tunnell also researched and wrote a non-fiction book for young readers titled “The Children Of Topaz.” The book is based on an illustrated diary of a Japanese-American third grade class in World War II.
Tunnell said he saw a copy of the diary and knew there was a book in it.
“There was a story to be told,” he said.
He found the original diary in the Utah Historical Society and began working.
The National Council of Social Studies awarded “The Children Of Topaz” with an honorary Carter G. Woodson award, given to books with a minority slant.
Tunnell said the 1943 8- and 9-year-olds, who the book is based on, reunited in October 1996 as a result of the publication.
The book also won a parents’ Choice Award and appeared on many best-books lists.
Other children’s books written by Tunnell include 1993 publications “Chanook,” “Beauty and the Beastly Children” and “Joke’s on George.” He has also written a ghost story novel called “School Spirits.”
Tunnell plans to have two more books come out in 1999. One will be a Halloween picture book, the other a historical fiction novel about German Nazi protestors who were captured. Their leader was executed and they eventually came to the United States and lived in the Salt Lake area.
Book ideas come from his own life, things he has read and his imagination, Tunnell said. He plans to continue in the book-writing business for quite some time, though the area is difficult to succeed in, he said.
“It’s a tough world — the publishing world — I tell you,” Tunnell said. “It’s tougher now than it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
Tunnell said everything is market-driven and it is hard to break in as a new author, but he is grateful he has his foot in the door and plans to keep doing it.