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Play it again- BookWorthy Chat with Tama Fortner

BookWorthy Chats with Tama Fortner
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Valerie -Today we're talking with Tama Fortner, the author of many devotionals in children's books. I had the joy of talking with her last year on my Again and Again Instagram interview series, but today we're going to talk about the second book in the God I Feel series that Tama wrote with Michelle Neitert called, God, I Feel Scared. Both books focus on showing kids how to give their big emotions to an even bigger God. Welcome to Book Worthy Tama.


Tama -Thank you so much Valerie for having me.


Valerie -It is my pleasure. Now I get things going since we're in October, we have to answer the question we all need to know. Is it pumpkin spice or apple cider?


Pumpkin spice

Tama -Ah, so I love pumpkin spice for about maybe three cups of coffee and one pie. And then, um, but apple cider, I could do all the time.


Valerie -Ah, so it has to be the right season for pumpkin spice. Now the first book in your series, the God I Feel series dealt with sadness. And this second book deals with fear. I have kind of a personal question for you. What was your biggest fear as a child?


Tama- Oh, so when I was about maybe eight or nine years old, and keep in mind that I'm in Tennessee and the whole bell witch thing is not too far from us, it was cool in my class to read about the bell witch. It was a mistake. So, can I make a huge mistake? So here's where there's something under the bed in the story and so under the bed as a kid, I Would get like this Running jump, you know and so clear it, you know as far as that arm could reach out from under the bed, I was clearing that and I will confess there have been a time or two that I've still done that as an adult There's something about that under the bed thing that oh, that's not good. It's scary


Valerie -Those hidden shadows that you're just like, but there could, there could be, there could be. And there are plenty of movies that play on that fear too, so they're not helpful.


 Tama -Yes, I feel like that's kind of a universal one that nobody likes under the bad thoughts.


kid on bed

Valerie -No. I agree. I think that was it I live here in Texas and we're kind of in Tornado Valley. And so I think for me tornadoes were always just a big fear. And so anytime there was a storm as a kid, my mom would find me in the closet with a box packed with my most precious treasures. And she just always gets the biggest kick out of what's in this box. And so yeah, it's interesting all the fears that kind of follow you as you get older.


Tama -Yes, and some of them real like tornadoes and not so real like, you know, things under the bed.


Valerie -Well, I think that's kind of one of the things about your book, God I Feel Scared, is the goal of talking to kids about this feeling and understanding what fear is and what being scared is and that even when we are scared, we can trust in a God that is bigger than our fears. Now, when you were writing this book, has God moved in your heart, kind of as you're talking about fears and you know, and how has God moved in you as you've written for children on this topic?


Tama -You know, and I have to say that so much of this is due to my co-author, Michelle Neitert. She is a licensed counselor, and so she really brought the expertise to this book because I may be able to put words together, but I don't know this as well as she does. But I have learned so much in the writing of this In dealing with little children, you know, sometimes their fears may seem a little silly to us, but they are very real to them. And we need to address that as a real thing. We talk about in the book how fear is God's alarm system. And they're still figuring out which alarms are real, and which aren't, you know, which is the monster under the bed and which is the tornado's own life, I think the biggest thing is learning to turn those fears over to God. And it's something I think we learn our whole lives through and practice our whole lives through because, I mean, I don't know about you, but I know your mom like me, and that's where some of my biggest fears come from, the what ifs and the maybes and should I have and could I have. And so God and I just kind of have a

Tama Fortner Quote

morning chat, you know, and a lot of times it covers the same ground, you know, please shield, please protect, please guide, you know, please don't let me mess this whole thing up. But even though I'm turning those same fears over to God every day, He's filling me with peace as I do. And it's in my own, I guess, imperfect faith that makes me have to turn them over to Him every day maybe. But oh, He is so there and so faithful to give us that peace and to help us keep going, even on those what-ifs that don't go away.


Valerie -I hear you. What is it? I think, uh, do not fear is said in the Bible 365 times because we need to hear it every single day. Because there's always something just tripping our hearts to be like, uh-oh, this could, this would, what if? And because we just don't know our future, but we do know the one who is in charge of our future. And that's such a hard concept to grasp, even as an adult, that I think equipping kids at such a young age with that realization is like, this may not be good, but God is. And that I might be feeling scared, but my feelings are real, but they're not reliable. They're not always the truth. And so I think that's sweet. What was the funniest part about working on this book with Michelle?


Tama -Oh, you know, we wrote this book. She was able to come to Nashville for something else. And so we just sat in the living room and chatted and she kind of downloaded her expertise and I'm over there furiously taking notes. And so just that collaboration process is so fun and figuring out the exact word choices. But a close runner in that race is Seeing the sketches, our illustrator, Nomar Perez, we are just so blessed to have him on our team. Words can only do so much, but these images, 'll be backward on the screen, I'm sure, but he just has such a way of bringing the emotions to life. And so that's fun to see the sketches and so, not my talent area. To see the words come to life is just wonderful.


Valerie -What is it? There's so much power in books with words, but books with pictures. I don't know, they sit with you more because they just resonate in so many different levels of your own emotions and your visual and even auditory when you're listening to it. I think the great thing about your illustrator is they've made the character so simple, but so relatable. So like, yes, this face. I've made this face. This is the way I feel and it's one of those things that connect because, I don't know, fear just comes in so many different shapes and forms, but for a kid to be like, yes, that's exactly what I've, that's the face I'm making, even if it's not the one on my actual face. It's like, that's, that's exactly it. And I think that's the power of children's books for sure. Oh my goodness.


Tama -Yeah, I mean, just a few lines. How many times have we made these faces, right? But that kind of skill and talent, that's just something that he is blessed with. He's just so talented.


Valerie -Yes. So fun. Now, what do you hope to communicate with kiddos with this book? If they could have one takeaway.


Tama Fortner

Tama -That fear is on purpose. It's something from God to help us and it's something that we can take to him and he will help us through. That would be our one takeaway. You know, there's lots of practical things in here like belly breathing and things that you can do in the moment. But as you and I talked about earlier, fear never really goes away in our lives. It's always there in some shape, form, or fashion, but if we can instill these tools in littles to recognize it, to be able to cope with it, to know what is it, okay, I need to face this and deal with it, and what is it, I need to run and get help kind of fear, to be able to distinguish those. If we can give them those tools at this age, then it just equips them so much better when they're older. I mean, I don't know about you, but my generation didn't do that. We did not talk about these kinds of things. And so our goal is to equip kids better than we were equipped.


Valerie -Yeah, there was, growing up a bit of a suck it up buttercup mentality. It was like, you don't got anything to fear or I will give you something to fear. It's like, oh yeah, that's a good old Gen X. Oh, too funny. Now you have worked with a lot of different authors on a lot of different projects like Lou Giglio and Levi Lesko and Jamie Ivy, what has it been like to work with so many different people that are, I don't know, kind of at the forefront of I don't know, Christian What's the word I'm looking for? I don't know, Christian platforms and thoughts at this time.


Tama - You know, it has been such an honor. I wanted to stay home with my kids and working on these books that God has brought into my life has allowed me to do that. But it's also, I guess, digging into the research for like the Levi Lesko and Louis Giglio books, just seeing how other people play out their faith, it's been a tremendous blessing to me in writing those books and the different personalities and the different approaches. But it's also very hopeful. Um, you know, we can look out in the news or our internet or however, we get our information and there's so much. It, you know, just it out there, but there are people out there who love God, who are preaching and teaching and writing for his glory and to help others find him. And it's just such a joy to be part of that. I'm just blessed.


Grandma and Grandkid reading

Valerie -Well, I love how you and these other authors have taken really deep concepts and made them available and accessible for kids because I think, I don't know, kids kind of get the short end of the stick sometimes, you know, things get kind of dumbed down for them a lot and they're so able to grasp things that, you know, I don't know that I would have been able to when I was six or seven, but it may be. But it's one of those just through those devotionals and through stories like God, I feel scared. It's just that these are big concepts about God that, man, if I had understood these at a younger age, I mean, there's no telling where I'd be now, but it is still kind of one of those like, wow, I would have saved a lot of heartaches and a lot of my fear and anxiety having those tools at a younger age.


Tama -I was at a conference once where one of the audience members asked me about writing for children, or I'm sorry, asked another person on the panel about writing for children. And she was like, oh, well, you know, it's not that important what word choice you use. It's only a few words. You can just kind of throw it out there. And I just wanted to jump up and down and shout. No, no, that's not the case at all. As children's writers like yourself, you know, we have this not only opportunity but obligation to give them our very best because we can spark in them not only a love for reading and curiosity and discovery but a love for God and laying those foundations that they can really and truly learn to trust him with the real problems they encounter in life. It's a wonderful privilege and a huge responsibility.


Valerie -Most definitely. It's one of those like, I love when my kids ask questions about God, because they come up with the most, I don't know, bizarre questions, but questions I would have never really thought of as an adult to be like, oh yeah, we should talk about that. And you know, their questions are valuable. And I think we kind of forget that as an adult to be like, oh yeah, you have your thoughts and your ideas of how this should go, don't you?


Tama -Yes, Kids are brilliant, and I think we sell them short when we forget that.


Valerie -I agree, I agree. Now, Tama, did you always want to be an author?


Tama - You know, I read, and I know this is so many people's origin stories, I guess, but when I was about eight years old, I read Little Women, and I had always loved reading, but I

Little Women Cover

connected with Joe March, oh my, you know, so many of us did. I even set up a little cardboard writing desk, and I had a big closet, and set up that with a little lamp and my notebook, and I have wanted to write ever since then book opened up the fact that it was a possibility, that people like me could do that.


Valerie - So fun. What is it? That's a character that impacted me as well and brought me to tears at times, too. So fun and I think it's great what makes the mark of a really good book is that it does not it's the origin story for not just one person, but you know for so many people because they get impacted in so many different ways. So, what has been the most impactful book in your life other than the Bible and Little Women?


Tama - Oh, wow. Oh, you know, that would be like choosing a favorite child, I think. I love the books from my childhood that stuck with me. Little House series, Nancy Drew. I did not grow up a Christian, so these books kind of led me indirectly to Christ because, you know, Nancy went to church and of course, religion was a big part of little house and little women. Yeah, so those sorts of books. There was another one I've always remembered. Who gets the drumstick? I think it was a great one. Biographies about great women in history. Dorothea Dix Elizabeth Blackwell and Harriet Tubman. Can you tell I was a nerd? So, is that showing? Is my nerd showing?


Valerie -You're a well-rounded child. You're in good company then. Because what was it? I think I still have on my bookshelf the encyclopedias that my grandparents had that we would go over and there's not much to do at grandma's house but read through the encyclopedias. So there were lots of fun memories of digging through books and finding out new mysteries and such. So super fun. Now, when did your writing journey begin? I know you said when you're eight or so, you kind of got the idea, but when did you take it seriously?


Tama - So, I mean, I had kind of been writing a little bit all along, but I was an editor at Tommy Nelson, the children's book division of Thomas Nelson, wanting a way to go freelance so I could stay home with my kids. And I had an opportunity to work on the Jesus Calling Children's Books. And that was my first professional writing job. And I mean, I had done some

Jesus Calling Cover

little things behind the scenes while I was working at Nelson, but that was the one that got me started, and seeing my name in teeny tiny print under Sarah Young's name, just kind of cemented something in my mind. I think that this is something I can do for a living. So it's been a wonderful, it's all been a God thing. Everything has, everything. He's just placed opportunities into my life and I would be nowhere without him.


Valerie -I love that you have just followed God's leading and he has just put people in your path that have allowed you to bless my kids, myself, and so many other people too. So.


Tama -Well, as I'm sure you know if you don't follow God's leading, He kind of kicks you. You know, you're going down this path. A loving kick.


Valerie -Yes, I have been kicked a few times, yes. Lovingly kicked, yeah. As parents, you kind of get those like, okay, you are not going to obey. So we will just guide you a little bit stronger now. To find, well, what is your favorite children's book other than your own?


Tama -Oh, goodness. You know, there was a book from another time. I don't know. I mean, there are books that I read to my kids that I loved. If you give a mouse a cookie, the Junie B series. But as far as my childhood, I remember there was a cat book I made my grandmother

Cat snuggles

read every day. But for me, it was more the experience of a picture book. You know that that snuggle time and it's just you and the book and, you know, your loved one. And, um, I think that was the thing that stood out for me more so than the actual book itself.


Valerie - Yeah, there is something really special about that time sitting in someone's lap and having someone read to you. And I think that's probably why audiobooks are so popular, too. It's like everybody wants to be read to, right? So fun. There's a quote that I love is like, readers, children are made readers in the laps of the parents who read to them or the caregivers who read to them. And it's like, that is so true. It's just this opportunity to love on each other with words. And I don't know, they're precious moments with my kids too. They may not know this, but anytime they asked me to read, I told myself I would never say no. And so it's like even today with teenagers and preteens, like, hey mom, will you read this? I'm like, yes, I will. I will do it. So fun. Well, what can we expect next from you, Tama?


Everyday Joy Devotional Cover

Tama -So switching to the other end of the spectrum, I have an adult devotional coming out in January, Everyday Joys devotional. It's about finding God at that intersection of ordinary and divine, finding him in the everyday and his joy that is really what sustains us through the hard times. So I'm looking forward to that releasing in January.


Valerie -Sounds wonderful. That's neat to make that big jump from children to adults. Was that an easy transition?


Tama -You know, I just write. I guess it's maybe a break. So I alternate, you know, children's and adults and trying my hand at a little middle school at the moment. So I just love to write. It's so, it's just, I love it.


Valerie -Well, too fun. Where can people find out more about you and your books?


Tama -So the easiest place to find me and my books is on my website at That has all the links to the books and the socials and that's just kind of the one-stop shop for all of those things.


Valerie -Well, I hope some of our listeners will reach out and discover all the fun books you have out there because you have quite a few. Thank you so much for joining me, Tama.


Tama -Thank you for having me. Have a wonderful day.


Valerie- You too, and thank you for joining Tama and me on this episode of the Bookworthy Podcast. Check the show notes for any books or links that we discussed, and let us know in the comments what was your biggest fear as a child. Then hit the like and subscribe button to help us discover more great books together.

Happy reading!


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