C. Behrens grew up in Pearl River, N.Y. and graduated from Dominican College (Blauvelt, NY) in 2010. In his last semester at D.C., Chris wrote his debut short story, The Paladin, in a creative writing class that was taught by Author Stephanie Stiles. While The Paladin didn’t earn any awards in the Lorian Hemingway Contest that same year, Lorian praised the story and said it was in her top 100. Chris followed that up with another top 100 story in 2011. Chris recently finished two more short stories: “Balls & Strikes-Learning to Hit” & “One More Day”. And he had a poem accepted to be published in “Sunflowers and Seashells”. In June 2010, Chris was a guest-blogger for Kathy Temean, the head of the NJSCBWI. Chris loves spending time with his daughters, who were the biggest inspiration for his children’s book. Chris continues to work for a small town government and coach H.S. basketball in his spare time.
Hello, Chris! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, Savanna’s Treasure. Please tell me about your story.
My story is about the unlikely friendship between an African field mouse named Shamba and a baby elephant named Kali and the troubles they face in one of the wild places on earth: Africa’s Serengeti region!
Early in the story Shamba and his best friend Panya are freed from a poacher’s trap and upon returning to the human tent camp where they were living, they find the camp in ashes, burned down by poachers. And all of their human friends/protectors are gone. As poachers chase Panya and Shamba from the tent camp, the mice friends become separated. It isn’t long before Shamba befriends Kali and travels with her and her herd as they migrate north in search of water and greener grass. However, another scary encounter with the same gang of poachers leaves Kali and the herd scrambling for safety. In a dramatic battle between the matriarch of the herd and the nasty poachers, the matriarch manages to save Shamba and encourage Kali to be strong. Unfortunately, the matriarch is not heard from again and the herd is split up with several of the elders being surrounded by the poachers.
From this point on, Shamba and Kali find themselves alone on the Serengeti, where they encounter wild dogs, leopards and eventually pirates. The battle with the pirates happens aboard a ship after a brief stay at an elephant orphanage. At the orphanage, Shamba was reunited with his human friend, Sarah. She was Shamba’s and Panya’s main protector at the tent camp, so their reunion was meaningful for both. With Sarah on her way to the U.S., it is suggested that she bring Kali with her, so she could live at an elephant sanctuary. The traumatic events with the poachers have left her emotionally distressed.
The battle with the pirates leaves Kali injured and the decision is made for her to return the orphanage, to recover. But, she seems proud of her bravery aboard the ship and she is ready to return to the orphanage and be the strong leader that her grammy wanted her to be. Note that the pirates are actually the same poachers in my story, so my villain is the same throughout. During my research, I came across credible sources that stated poachers were also acting as pirates in that region of Africa. (This is a lot of info. and gives away the ending, maybe you can revise it just a bit to leave more mystery and make people want to find out what happens!)
What age group does this story fall under?
Kirkus Reviews called it: “…a good fit for early readers…” And Midwest Book Reviews said, “…it will be an enchanting tale for children in grades 2-4…” Midwest also said it is a great read for children and adults alike. I agree that it is a book that can be read by children of all ages, and I think adults will enjoy it, too. All that said, my target age group is the 7-11 age group, give or take a year or two.
What made you chose African for the setting of your story?
When I first had the idea for this story in 2006, my daughters were still into the Disney stuff, and we were watching a lot of Discovery channel shows that were set in the Serengeti. I’ve always enjoyed watching shows about nature, especially those with lions and cheetahs and elephants. I am intrigued by it all. I loved the new African Park in Disneyworld, and we visited Disney in 2007. I remember watching one documentary where a baby elephant became separated from her herd and was struggling in some deep water. I was shocked when a passing herd ignored her and actually knocked her trunk down. I remember thinking that that would make for a good story. A seed was planted!
What is the message in your story you would like young readers to grasp?
I would like all my readers, young and old, to come away with a positive feeling. To realize that one should never give up on anything, ever, and that we can sometimes enjoy the most unlikely of friendships. I hope they learn how important it is for all creatures to help one another, and how important it is to respect and help wildlife. If we lose it, it will be gone forever. And that will be sad.
Please give an example of a fun fact in your story.
My favorite fun fact has to be that mice are considered a delicacy in eastern Africa! I will never forget the look on my creative writing instructor’s face when I told her about this. She was floored and didn’t know what to say. I had been struggling to find the driving force of my story, and when I found that, things just took off. I felt like I had something similar to Charlotte’s Web. In the first few pages, I mention that mice are “tasty little creatures” for the local villagers. A ton of research went into this story and this was just one thing that I discovered. I haven’t met anyone who was aware of this fact. Google it and you will see. They are hunted over there and sold as treats!
Initially, I used the word delicacy in the story, but removed it. I went with tasty little creatures instead!
How long did it take you to write your story and who designed your book cover?
I began this story near the end of my sophomore year of college in 2006. However, between working full time, raising my two daughters (by myself) and going to school, it had to take a backseat until I finished school. I did work on it between semesters and whenever I had some free time. And received some great feedback from my creative writing instructor in the spring of 2010. Once I graduated in 2010, I was able to do the necessary research and really put some time into it. But taking on a second job in 2011 slowed things down a little. I didn’t stop working on it and kept writing other stuff. As noted in my brief biography above, I continued to write short stories and received some recognition in 2011 from the Lorian Hemingway Contest. In the spring of 2013, I decided that it was time to finish. So, for one year straight, I worked with a second editor and hired my illustrator, Kim Johnson, and released it in late March of 2014!
Kim Johnson designed my cover, and she also did the 12 interior illustrations. She had some design work featured on The Today Show in New York, and she had already been published so I knew she was a professional artist. Her other works featured colorful illustrations of lots of animals. I knew she was right for the project. She did a great job.
Have you received any recognition for your story?
Kirkus Reviews gave me a great review for the story. They said it is a great fit for early readers and has an inspiring animal alliance.
Midwest Book Reviews gave it an even better review, saying it was a great read for young and old alike. MBR nailed the primary age group as being grades 2-4. MBR loved how I depicted my characters. Here are some quotes from the Midwest review:
“Be forewarned, Savanna’s Treasure is about surviving adversity- and being an animal on the African plane, this includes a degree of violence – tastefully depicted, but present nonetheless.”
“…an overall powerful story line with fine drawings and you have a winning tale.”
“…C.Behrens does a fine job of creating personable creatures that are engaging and fun.”
The entire review is well written.
A local newspaper gave me a great write-up back in July.
Just recently, B&N’s Small Press Department reviewed my book and information and is planning to order copies for its shelves! A portion of this letter can be seen on my Facebook cover picture.
What book project are you currently working on?
I have an idea for Savanna’s Treasure II, but it’s just an idea right now. I have an adult novel that needs a lot of revising. It’s the novel version of my short story: The Paladin. The Paladin placed in the top 100 of the 2010 Hemingway Contest. It’s a story based on a real event. The novel version spans a longer period of time and is near and dear to me. I am also working on another short story.
Where in your home do you like to write?
I can write anywhere. In fact, when I am working on a project, I find myself making notes wherever I am: out to dinner, at stores, at work, even at the gym. I thought all my little notes on napkins, coffee cup sleeves, etc., etc. were a little odd until I read that Virginia Woolf did the same thing. I also thought my constant revising was crazy until I read that Raymond Carver revised relentlessly. Know that the first draft of Savanna’s Treasure was hand written in a notebook, and I saved it. I even have the original cover illustration that I did for it when I handed it to my professor. I eventually bought a MacBook, and it became my desk. Most often I will write in my living room even if my daughters are around and doing their daily routines. I grew up with 3 brothers and 2 sisters, so I learned to focus on my work in a noisy house. Occasionally, I need things quiet, and that’s when I go into my bedroom and work at a makeshift desk. I enjoy writing in my living room on Saturday mornings the best when the house is quiet.
Where can readers buy your book?
Right now my book is available everywhere online, but it should be available on shelves at B&N stores soon. I am waiting to hear back from them about where and when! I suggest buying it online at B&N for now. It can also be purchased at Amazon.com. Other online stores include Alibris and Powell’s. I hope to see it on shelves at some Indie Bookstores in the near future.
Thank you, Chris!
Thank you, Stephanie!!