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Michelle GilmanBy BERNIE BELLAN
In our May 14, 2014 issue we published a story about a new book written by former Winnipegger Michelle Gilman (Shenkarow), titled “What Grandma Built”.


In that story we wrote: “How do you explain to your children about the death of a grandparent? And how do you pay proper tribute to your own parent once he or she has passed?
“That was the dilemma facing Michelle Gilman (née Shenkarow), who lost her mother Phyllis to a sudden, previously undetected bout of cancer in October, 2011. In the obituary that appeared in The Jewish Post & News following Phyllis’s death, it was said of her that ‘Becoming a Bubbie was, without a doubt, the highlight of her life. She shone in her role as Bubbie and had a direct hand in raising all nine of her grandchildren. Her family’s most cherished memories involve winter vacations, time together at the lake, Shabbat dinners and holidays, eating her pies and pickles, taking family photographs, picking flowers and watching the loons.’
“In trying to relate to her own children the impact that their grandmother had on her life – and how that impact continued into her grandchildren’s lives, Michelle Gillman had the idea to write a small book which, she told me during a recent phone conversation, was originally meant to be a private gift to her children.
“In Michelle’s words, ‘ “What Grandma Built” was inspired by a conversation I had with my children after my Mom died. We discussed her life and her legacy and wanted to capture what made her so truly special.’

Now, less than two years later, “What Grandma Built” is about to be re-released by a major publishing house, Harbour Publishing.
A recent press release issued by Harbour, stated: “Join author Michelle Gilman as she celebrates the release of her picture book, “What Grandma Built” (Harbour Publishing, $14.95) with a book signing in Winnipeg. The event will take place at Indigo Kenaston (1590 Kenaston Blvd., Winnipeg) on Sunday, April 10 from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Admission is free, and all are welcome.
“ ‘What Grandma Built’ is an enchanting new picture book by Michelle Gilman about Grandma’s castle–a home filled with love that will last for generations.
“Grandma finds the perfect spot for her home on the shore of a lake. As her family gets bigger, the house grows too–and eventually becomes a castle! Bursting with toys, bunk beds, bedrooms and pies, the castle is a magical place full of love and traditions. Entire walls are reserved for family photos and grandchildren’s drawings, and a huge playground fills the yard. Grandma and her family love boating, watching the loons, and having meals together in Grandma’s giant dining room.
“The castle is built on a stone foundation so that it will last for years–and Grandma and her love will last forever in the memories of her family.
“Inspired by a discussion Michelle Gilman had with her children after their grandma (Bubbie) died, and featuring vibrant illustrations by Jazmin Sasky, ‘What Grandma Built’ is the poignant story of one family and its extraordinary grandmother. It is both a celebration of how the people we love leave a legacy, and a whimsical take on the difference between a house and a home.”

When we received the press release I was intrigued why it was written in a way that suggested “What Grandma Built” was being released for the first time. The publicist from Harbour explained: “She did originally launch the book two years ago–I’m sorry, I should have clarified! Michelle self-published “What Grandma Built” two years ago, and because it was so successful then, Harbour Publishing picked it up to launch a new edition of the book (with revised text and a few changes to the illustrations) to keep the book in print and give it a wider audience–one of the benefits of a traditional publisher!”

I contacted Michelle Gilman to try to find out what led to the book’s being re-launched by a major publishing house. I also asked her whether the new version of the book differed in any way from the original version.
Michele wrote back:
“I was quite blown away by the response/sales of ‘What Grandma Built’. In a short period of time, approximately 15 months, I sold nearly 800 books. They were sold by bookstores: Kidsbooks, Hager books and Book Warehouse in Vancouver and McNally Robinson in Winnipeg. I worked with Arbor Funeral Homes who bought books directly from me and gave them out as part of their funeral package. And, I sold directly through my website. I donated the book sales to the Canadian Cancer Society, specifically to Camp Goodtimes which is a summer camp for kids and families both battling and recovering from cancer. My proceeds will still be donated to the camp where I am actively involved.
“I was contacted by a fantastic literary agent, Brian Wood, who heard about the book and asked me if I would consider selling it to a publishing house. At that point, I felt ready to let go, and was open to the changes I knew a publishing house would like to do in order for the book to fit their catalogue. Brian sold the book to Harbour Publishing.
“Upon meeting with Anna from Harbour Publishing, she asked me if there were any changes I wanted to make to the book. I told her I was sorry I didn’t have baby loons in the illustrations because the adult loons were so featured throughout the first version of the book. I always felt badly that after the Mom loon died, the Dad was left alone which I felt contradicted the message of the book. In that same meeting, she told me they’d like to change the word cathedral (which referred to Grandma’s house) and we discussed other options and agreed we both liked the word castle. Those were the two main changes (as well as word choices and grammar that I overlooked). It was really a fun process and the team at Harbour included me every step of the way.
“Harbour also describes the book as a whimsical take on the difference between a house and a home. They changed the entire focus of the book from being a book about death (which I thought it was) to a book celebrating life and family. “

Michele also noted that “I am working on two books now. Every time I get close to thinking I’m almost done, my editor sends me back to the drawing board. It’s a long hard process to write a children’s book; to tell an entire story with a lesson in roughly 700 words. Every word counts. I’m not done, but hopefully I will be by this summer.”

No doubt, considering the huge crowd Michelle drew to her original book launch at McNally Robinson two years ago, there will be another large crowd on April 10.