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Word S10.7 – Empathy and history with Betsy Coffeen, Kelly Barnhill and Theodore Wheeler

By Tom Maxedon
Published: Tuesday, December 12, 2023 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, December 18, 2023 - 10:45pm

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Betsy Coffeen
Betsy Coffeen is a children's author based in Tucson.

On this episode we catch up with children’s authors who discuss the importance of empathy and interconnectedness as well as a former journalist who has a page-turning new historical novel about an American reporter who turned into a mouthpiece for Nazi propaganda during World War II. 

Guest list

Tucson-based Betsy Coffeen has a new young kid’s book titled “Cate and the Garden Bandits.” It was illustrated by Ginger Seehafer. 

The book is about a garden-tending butterfly and her charismatic bug besties who learn valuable lessons about the interconnectedness of "Mother Nature." 

According to her bio on her author website, "Being a former Childhelp Wings Board Member and Advisor and mother to three kids, my curiosity on how we can provide the best environments for children to thrive has led me to graduate school where I am completing my Master of Science in Psychology degree with a special interest in mindfulness research. I am currently training through the Chopra program to become a meditation teacher."

Janna Fraboni
Kelly Barnhill

Newbury Award-winning author Kelly Barnhill suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2021 that seriously affected her ability to write creatively.

She describes such in a recent “New York Times” opinion piece.

According to her publicist, Peter Marchese "In December 2021, Kelly fell down the stairs, was unconscious for 15 minutes, and has no memory of it. Her concussion was such that, at first she experienced profound aphasia characterized by constantly losing words. She also had double vision and couldn’t drive for months. Still, every day, she sat down at her desk and tried to write. For a long time, the only thing she was capable of was writing a single sentence that pleased her on a post-it note, which she would subsequently throw out.

Now, she can write a group of sentences or the opening of a story, or what she refers to as “the spine of a thing,” but writing fiction beyond that is really outside what she can do. She still disposes of everything she writes. I think this is a fascinating story about what happens to the creative process in the face of injury. Rather than despair, this whole process is compelling Kelly to look at her long history of concussions (the 2021 one was the most significant, but there have been others dating back as far as 2001) and consider what her own creative practice will look like in the future.

But, her story is a hopeful one — she continues to write these fragments every day, and she has been connecting with other people who have experienced similar obstacles as the result of brain injury, long COVID, stroke, and mental illness."

Her middle-grade fantasy work "The Ogress and the Orphans," was just reissued in paperback. It was a finalist for a National Book Award.

Anne Gustafson
Theodore Wheeler.

Theodore Wheeler just released his fourth book, "The War Begins in Paris."

It's a stunning World War II work of historical fiction based on a real life journalist who lived a portion of her life in Arizona and became a foreign correspondent-turned Nazi mouthpiece while reporting from Europe.

The book is written in simple prose, peppered with suspense.

According to his bio on his author page, "Wheeler is a writer, bookseller, and college professor from Omaha. He is author of the novels 'In Our Other Lives' and 'Kings of Broken Things,' and the collection of short fiction 'Bad Faith.'

Wheeler has been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, a Nebraska Book Award, the Marianne Russo Award from Key West Literary Seminar, and a fellowship from Akademie Schloss Solitude.

He helps run Dundee Book Company, a neighborhood bookshop, and teaches creative writing at Creighton University."


Don't forget to enter KJZZ's 'Tiny Library' drawing by noon on Dec. 22. You could win a bundle of books for kids or adults.

Thanks to everyone who became a member of KJZZ during our recent year end drive. If you didn't have a chance to do so, you still can!

We're back with the final episode of Word for the season on Dec. 26. Thanks for listening and supporting KJZZ original podcasts.

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