Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Purple Elephant and an Interview with Donna McFarland

"Don’t touch the purple elephant!" the king warned, but the purple elephant’s skin looked so soft that Prince Carmel couldn’t resist. He stretched out his hand and gently touched the elephant’s face. Immediately, the purple elephant raised his trunk and trumpeted. Then, he reared up on his hind legs...”

Start with the adventuresome Prince Carmel Cornelius, then throw in a mysterious purple elephant, a friendly fire-breathing dragon, a wicked wizard, a reluctant princess, a chattering parrot, plenty of cocoa cookies, and a generous dose of humor. What have you got now? A fun 78 page picture/chapter book with an imaginative tale that is sure to delight your children either as a bedtime read aloud or as a read alone. My kids laughed a lot while I was reading it to them. At one point, one of them snuck off with it to finish it, not wanting to wait for the rest of us.  Later, we couldn't find it and staged an all out hunt for it -- we were determined to finish it! I think we managed to polish off the book in three sittings since my kids were eager to read several chapters one after another. We all need upbeat and life-affirming things to read!

I know that some home school families are concerned about the use of fantasy, but rest assured that the wizard really is presented as wicked and all of it is just plain fun. The Purple Elephant is not a Christian book per se, but the values in it are quite compatible and the author, Donna McFarland, is an very sweet Christian. That’s a tale in itself! Donna was actually one of my very first Christian friends. I met her in 7th grade, about a year before I met Jesus, and her encouragement helped me so much as a new believer. We’ve kept in touch ever since then -- and she still looks the same: friendly and full of joy! A few years ago, Donna and her husband Scott adopted a baby boy, and this ultra-clever preschooler (who goes by the name Munchkin on her blogs) is the inspiration behind much of her writing. Donna also teaches music at Eugene Bible College in Oregon, and is passionate about cooking with organic, locally grown food. This past summer, Donna wrote, “We went blueberry picking last week. Munchkin wasn't really interested in picking berries, only popping them into his mouth (from my bucket). He had hoped there would be kids to play with, but when we got to the farm there was no one but grown-ups. Finally, a family arrived, but I overheard them talking in a language I didn't recognize. I told Munchkin that the kids might not speak English -- a hard concept for him to grasp. He puzzled over that one and then he crawled beneath a blueberry bush. When the kids approached, he let out a "RRRROOOOAAAARRRR!" There was a moment of stunned silence, and then the little boy responded, "RRRROOOOAAAARRR!”

Check out Donna’s blogs at:  and

The Purple Elephant is available from Amazon both in color ($15.95) and in black and white ($9.95) versions.

Now, for a special treat, an interview with Donna!

Tell me about how you wrote The Purple Elephant.

As a child I loved to read and I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book myself. The times I tried, though, I stumbled over the plot. So when I happened upon Chris Baty’s book, No Plot, No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, I was intrigued. Baty proposes a writing method in which you just write, write, write, and then edit later. He founded National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is a web based group. Tens of thousands of people participate by writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I decided to give it a try, and that is how my first draft of The Purple Elephant came to be written.  (Virginia's note: my sister Barb and two of my daughters are participating in NaNoWriMo this year!)

It turned out that writing the first 50K words was the easy part. I spent the next two years cutting and rewriting and then hired a professional editor to help me finish the job. Illustrator Kim Sponaugle's watercolors perfectly captured the look I’d envisioned. Kim is also a believer and was a joy to work with.

You wrote the book for your son whom you adopted. Can you tell me a little about that?

My husband and I were very blessed to carry Andrew home from the hospital when he was just one day old. After a lengthy attempt to adopt, our agency told us that it didn’t look like the domestic program was going work out for us so we should look at international programs. We prepared mounds of paperwork and were days away from sending it all to China when we got the call that a birthmother here in Oregon had chosen us.

The adoption process was grueling. Along the way, I felt like I gained new understanding of faith and I learned more about God’s character. The passage in James about considering it all joy has new meaning for me and, five years later, I’m still seeing growth that resulted from all our trials.

I wrote The Purple Elephant for Andrew when he was still a baby. If I’d known, I would have included firemen and tools, but instead he got a handsome prince and a talking parrot. Andrew loves the story and illustrations, but he still doesn’t quite understand why Mommy’s picture is on the back cover. He is all energy, all enthusiasm, obsessed with construction and has a gift for language.

Tell me about your blog.

I began my blog ( around the time Andrew learned to talk. He said such cute things that I wanted to share them, but if I didn’t write them down I’d forget them a day later. Blogging turned out to be the perfect medium for me because I could record the cute little stories as they happened and share them with friends and family.

After a short time blogging, I realized that I had things to share of my own and my blog became a way for me to write about my interests which include cooking from scratch with local & organic food, environmental issues and books. I am an avid reader, which is probably where I got my love for writing, and I write book reviews for my own blog and for The Blogging Bookworm. I don’t intentionally preach, but I hope that my Christian faith shines through. I try to be salt and light.

You’re also a piano teacher. How does that fit into your life?

I studied music in college and I’ve taught piano lessons since I was 16. I finally found my calling when I was hired 13 years ago to teach music theory at Eugene Bible College. Most of the students at EBC are headed into full-time ministry and so music is very important in their studies. I get to work with future worship leaders to teach them not only the basics of music theory and how to play the piano, but I also get to influence the values and attitudes that they will bring to their future churches. It is exciting to be able to help shape these young leaders.

So what can you tell me about your new book?

The Purple Elephant is just plain fun. I wrote it in such a way that it could be read a chapter each night as a bedtime story, but I’ve found that most kids just like to read it straight through. The story is lighthearted, funny and is the sort of story that I want to read to my son. And if you want to bake the cocoa cookies, the recipe is on the website listed on the back cover of the book (

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