• 70°

Retired educator returns to hometown of LaGrange after 30 years and publishes her first children’s book

Judy Gilliam is a retired educator who returned to her hometown of LaGrange after 30 years. Now, she’s a published author, celebrating the release of her first children’s book, “Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree.”

“I always had a passion for stories with children,” Gilliam said. “When I taught school, I always read good children’s literature to my kids, my students, and I followed that up with my own two children and my grandchildren.”

At the time of her retirement, Gilliam was assistant superintendent for Fulton County Schools. She spent more than 40 years working for public and private schools, also serving as a teacher, principal and chief academic officer.

The idea for “Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree” came when Gilliam was discussing her family history with her eldest granddaughter. 

“[She] started to have a lot of questions about who certain people were and how relatives were connected and who belonged to who and where they fit in her life,” Gilliam said. “There had been divorces and remarriages and things like that, adoption and so forth.”

Gilliam said that, as a teacher, she taught many children who were confused about their family. The book, she hopes, will teach kids that their family isn’t different or strange just because it isn’t a nuclear family.

Gilliam explained that what were once considered non-traditional families are now the norm. 

According to the Pew Research Center, in 1960, 73% of children lived in a two-parent household with parents in their first marriage. That number in 2014 was 46%, with the majority of children living in other situations —remarried parents, unmarried and cohabitating parents, single parents or no parents.

“The theme is ‘Every family is unique and should be celebrated,’” Gilliam said.

Writing a book is one thing, but getting it published is another. Gilliam sent her manuscript to about 100 publishers and received “lots and lots of rejections” before she finally received an offer from Familius, a California-based publisher of family-oriented books.

Since then, it’s taken about two years to make the book a reality — she’s had to go back and forth on the editing process, and also with the illustrator, Laura Addari. 

In addition to the book, Gilliam has developed supplemental materials for teachers, parents and counselors that are available on her website. These materials provide questions and activities that adults can pair with reading the book to their child or student that further drives home the theme of the book.

Were it not for the pandemic, Gilliam would be launching the book face to face, probably at a local school. Instead, she’s hosting a storytime and launch event on Facebook live. The event will be on Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. on her Facebook page, By Judy Gilliam.

In the coming weeks, Gilliam’s also doing some virtual readings through bookstores in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Rosemary Beach, Florida, and Woodstock.

“Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree” is available for about $17 and can be ordered from Amazon, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and Books-A-Million.

Looking ahead, Gilliam hopes to continue writing and is already working on another book.

“I have a feel for kids who are struggling, always have,” Gilliam said. “I do look at topics that might help ease a child’s burden, rather than just being a fun story.”