Woods Woman, Granddaughters Publish Children’s Book

Anytime J. Lee Burke visits her grandchildren in Ann Arbor, she’s bombarded with pleas to help them with their next book.
Burke, along with three of her five granddaughters, ages 8 and younger, co-authored “Can I Tell You Something?” The children’s book, which was published last month by Archway Publishing from Simon & Schuster, includes four short stories and an activity.

“It’s all about adventure,” said Burke, a veteran author whose typical writing falls under the mystery/thriller genre. “I have five little girl grandchildren and three of my grandchildren wrote the book.”

“Can I Tell You Something?” is a collaboration among two sisters from Ann Arbor and their cousin, who lives in Spokane, Wash. Burke identifies them only by their initials to protect them.

E. Jones, the oldest grand-daughter, started working on the book when she was 5. Soon, her sister and cousin joined the process.

“The book should have been done when she was 6, but there were issues with the publisher,” Burke explained. “Each year that went by, they added more short stories.”

The original “Can I Tell You Something?” was quickly completed. Rather than rest on their laurels, the book evolved in the interim.

“We were Zooming,” Burke said. “The girls were telling me their story while I typed it out. I would prompt them and ask, ‘Now what happened?’ … You never know with them.

“… These stories are magical, adventurous and they’re written so other children would want to read and write books,” she added. The first story is based in a place the children have never visited, but where Burke spent time during childhood: the family farm in Port Sanilac.

“The children haven’t seen it yet, but I promised I would take them up there,” she said. “They wanted the story to be about a farm.” The story entails magical adventures on Chicken Annie’s farm and includes a leprechaun who puts a spell on them, giving them and their horses the ability to fly.

“In the story, they learn about sharing and caring, which leads to friendship and support,” Burke explained. “The other stories are just as fun and fanciful.”

Other chapters include stories about a fox and a henhouse, leprechauns and winged goats, and two troublemaking Christmas elves.

The book ends with a Valentine-making activity.

“They spent three years writing this book,” Burke said. “They’re thrilled to death about it. Their little friends now want to get published.”

The girls so loved their collaborative efforts, they named themselves Adventure Book Club Authors, hoping to encourage other children to read and explore other worlds with creativity and imagination.

They’re currently working on a follow-up book.

Grosse Pointe Woods Resident J. Lee Burke

helped three of her granddaughters publish their first book, "Can I Tell You Something?” 

“Every time I go (to Ann Arbor) they say, ‘GaGa, I want to do the next book,’” Burke said. “It’s about a castle covered in ivy with people trapped inside. … The minute I walk in the door, they say, ‘This is where we left off.’

“… They’re really excited about content, plot, story,” she added. “They’re very inventive and move things along. They come up with twists.”

They also come up with solutions, Burke added, each one adding their two cents to how a conflict should be solved.

“They literally collaborate on the book,” she said. “I wish I had this when I was little.”

Hoping to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, 8-year-old E. would like to write a mystery. She’s enlisted help from Burke, whose third thriller is in New York for editing and fourth thriller is well underway.

“I’m a college English professor,” Burke noted. “I work and then I write every day. I start at 5 a.m., I grade papers, then it’s fun with friends and family and then I write at night.”

“Can I Tell You Something?” is available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Archway Publishing, as well as in-store at Whistle Stop Hobby & Toy in St. Clair Shores and Apple Blossom Baby in the City of Grosse Pointe, with more local locations possibly coming soon.

“It’s dedicated to them,” Burke said of her granddaughters. “I also acknowledge how hard they worked, their dedication and perseverance. I can’t wait to continue with them. They’re in a phase right now.”

By Jody McVeigh