An Interview with Camille Cohn: Cooper and the Big Apple

Nov 2, 2015 by

An Interview with Camille Cohn: Cooper and the Big Apple

Michael Shaughnessy –

1) Camille, tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Fredericksburg, Texas and have two teenage daughters. I teach art at our elementary school, which is a complete blast. Before I started teaching, I was a stay at home mom and worked as a freelance graphic designer. In my former life before children, I was an Art Director and worked at advertising agencies in Dallas and Houston.

2) How did you first get the idea for the story?

My family and I were at the Austin Airport getting ready to go on a ski trip when my daughter Riley met a lady who was traveling with her cat. She said the lady’s name was Jennifer and the cat’s name was Cooper. After that, every time we were in the car going somewhere, we would talk about where we thought Cooper and Jennifer were going and somehow it just ended up that we thought that they were headed to New York City.

After Riley illustrated her first book about Martin the dog, she really wanted to work on a book about a cat. She is a cat person and I am extremely allergic (insert itchy eyes, wheezing and hives here), which is probably a good thing because we would have 7 cats to go along with our 7 dogs if I wasn’t. So, Riley, Sydney-my other amazingly talented daughter, and I started thinking of places that Cooper and Jennifer might go in New York and we just decided to try to make another book because Riley had so much fun with her first one.

3) Who did the illustrations for this book – tell us about her?

My daughter Riley is the illustrator. She is 16 years old and is a Junior in High School. She loves drawing and painting, doing water Zumba, making drip castles at the beach, and swimming in really cold water. She works as the manager for Fredericksburg High School’s Cross Country team and the Girl’s Soccer team. She is Autistic and has such an amazing view of the world. I learn something from her every day because of her unique perspective. She keeps everyone in our family real and is a true gift to anyone who knows her.

4) Those in the field of autism, know that there are some language difficulties. Tell us about them.

Autism affects language in a couple of ways. The social “us” of language is difficult. Simple things like saying hello and good-bye have to be learned and practiced. All of those social interactions that seem to just come naturally to most of us are just not natural to people on the spectrum. In addition, people on the Autism spectrum are literal thinkers, so the use figures of speech, nicknames and even sarcasm becomes problematic. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to slow down and explain things to Riley when she gives me a horrified look about something I have just said. One time she asked me where her dad was and I told her he was “working his tail off”.

She looked at me in confusion and said, “But Daddy doesn’t have a tail.” There are many more. When we took a trip to New York City right after Riley finished all of her illustrations for this book, she asked if we were going to see the giant apple. I explained (again) that it was just a nickname and she said, “Well Chicago had a giant bean.” She was talking about the Cloud Gate sculpture that we saw in Millennium Park when we went to Chicago. And she was right. It’s a giant bean.

5) Why the Big Apple? (although I did like the highlights of New York City ?)

The Big Apple just naturally happened. We were planning a family trip to New York City and Riley wasn’t too wild about the idea at first. Talking about all of the landmarks and drawing pictures was a great way to familiarize the idea to Riley and make it a little less mysterious. A lot of people with Autism don’t like change or new experiences, and Riley can be the same way. The more information I can give her to keep her informed up front, the better. As I was brainstorming ideas for the book, it dawned on me that so many of the nicknames and figures of speech that have to do with NYC can be really funny if they are taken literally. It gave me a reason to explore that as well as explain it to Riley for our trip.

6) Who are you trying to reach with this book?

My hope is to reach anyone who has been touched by Autism. I think the book can be used as a tool to teach children to have empathy towards people on the spectrum by giving them a window into what it might feel like to be confused so often. I also think it is great for kids to see a young person with Autism being highlighted for their talent and not their difference. I know as a parent, I am always searching for stories about people on the spectrum being celebrated for their unique talents.

7) Have you done any other books? Tell us about them.

This is my first book, but it is Riley’s second book. Riley illustrated Martin in the Narthex, which won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award.

We are finishing up a book about two dogs from Fredericksburg and what happens when the new dog park opens in town. The hope is to publish the book and donate a portion of the proceeds to the Fredericksburg Dog Park Association.

And then there is a second book in the works about Cooper going to visit his Aunt Alice, an older relative who uses a lot of Texas “sayings” and colloquialisms. Imagine Cooper’s horror when Aunt Alice tells him to sleep tight and not to let the bedbugs bite!

8) What have I neglected to ask?

I think the most important thing I want people to know is that people with Autism might be different, but they are not less. Most people on the Autism Spectrum are extremely intelligent but they are wired differently and have a hard time expressing themselves. My hope is that as awareness increases, the general public will be able to give Autistic people opportunities that celebrate their unique talents instead of seeing them as individuals who have something wrong with them.

I tend to get on a soapbox about spreading Autism awareness and acceptance. There are so many great kids out there who have amazing things to offer the world. We just have to teach people to have a little patience and empathy.

About the Author:

Camille Cohn currently lives in the Texas Hill Country with her two teenage daughters, Riley and Sydney and their seven dogs. She currently works at the Fredericksburg Elementary School as an art teacher.

Prior to becoming an elementary school teacher, Camille worked as a freelance graphic designer as well as an art director at advertising agencies in Dallas and Houston and enjoyed a successful career, working in print and television. Throughout her career, she had won several different awards. She also holds a degree in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. Cooper and the Big Apple is her first book.

About the Illustrator:

Riley Cohn is a junior at Fredericksburg High School in Texas. She lives with her mother Camille, and sister Sydney. She enjoys drawing, painting, water Zumba, and swimming. Her gift of autism gives her a unique perspective and special ability to capture a character’s true essence in her artwork.

Cooper and the Big Apple is Riley’s second book. Her first book, Martin in the Narthex, received a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award.

Cooper and the Big Apple is now available in hard cover ($15.95) on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in other bookstores.

Learn more about Camille and Riley at CooperandtheBigApple.com, CamilleCohn.com, and RileyCohn.com. Connect with them on Facebook.com, Instagram.com and Twitter.com.

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1 Comment

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    Tammy L

    Congrats on being a mother that sees both of her children as gifts and plays to both kids strengths! Amazing book, loved the illustrations, looking forward to many more.

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