Children’s books inspire Encinitas woman to write her own
Phyllis Schwartz, a three-time cancer survivor, crafts uplifting tale based on her own experiences
At an early age, Phyllis Schwartz was an avid reader.
“I love rhyming books,” the Encinitas resident said in a recent interview. “What really influenced me early on were the rhyming books. I loved Dr. Seuss books, I loved the Madeline books, I loved Mother Goose.”
Nowadays, Schwartz is busting her own rhymes.
Her first book, “When Mom Feels Great, Then We Do Too!” is scheduled for release Sept. 23 by Acorn Publishing.
“This book is me,” said the 67-year-old author, while acknowledging it is not strictly speaking autobiographical.
“It’s meant to show how family and friends were able to get me through decades of tough times.”
The tough times include surviving three separate bouts with cancer. About age 27, Schwartz was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She recovered through radiation treatments and surgery.
In 2013, she said she had breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Four years ago, she received news she had pancreatic cancer. Miraculously, she fought through that, but remains closely monitored to make sure it doesn’t resurface.
Throughout these experiences, Schwartz said, she kept working except when she underwent surgeries.
A graduate of SDSU’s journalism program, Schwartz forged a career in television news broadcasting that spanned three decades at Chicago and San Diego stations.
“The spirit and collegiality of the newsroom really helped me and cheered me up,” she said. “That was the seed for this book. That spirit helped me to beat it.”
She’s also credited her family, including her husband and two daughters, with the support they gave her during her periods of illness. The importance of maintaining a positive attitude around loved ones who are going through pain is a prominent theme in the book.
“This book is purposely upbeat, fun and optimistic,” she said. “I want this book to be a trigger for families to talk about someone who is sick or hurt in their family.”
For instance, one page reads, “Dad said, ‘Mom’s recovery will be swifter ... if you make her laugh and don’t pinch your sister.’” It features a picture of Dad making the clown-like gesture of sticking his thumbs in his ear and wiggling his fingers while sticking out his tongue.
Emphasizing the value of helping Mom out with the housework, Schwartz’s child narrator says: “We made her funny videos and colored a card. We even helped weed daisies in the yard!”
An essential aspect of a children’s book is vivid art. Illustrator Siski Kalla demonstrates a deft touch in crafting water-colorish images in both soft and bright hues that complement Schwartz’s word pictures.
To Schwartz’s surprise Kalla’s rendition of the dad caught the essence of her husband’s appearance.
“She is wonderful,” Schwartz said. “She really connected with the subject matter.”
The high quality art was one of several reasons Acorn was attracted to the book, said company co-founder Holly Kammier of Carmel Valley.
“We fell in love with the book’s beautiful illustrations,” Kammier said in an email. “They are truly fantastic!”
Kammier said she and her colleagues saw the potential in Schwartz’s story for helping families with mothers coping with traumatic situations.
“It is such an important topic, as there are so many moms who either battle with chronic illnesses or must face something unexpected and devastating,” Kammier said. “‘When Mom Feels Great, Then We Do Too!’ gives parents an excellent tool in their toolbox to help kids get through scary and confusing times.”
Kammier said they were also impressed by the author’s compassion and vitality.
“It’s an honor to collaborate with her. ... With a book this good, she had a lot of options for publication,” Kammier said. “We are honored she chose our local publishing imprint.”
While the book clearly espouses the benefits of optimism to someone in convalescence, it does not specify cancer as the mom’s illness.
The book’s release, however, is purposely timed to lead into Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Schwartz will do her first book-signing on Sept. 25 from noon to 2 p.m. at Warwick’s, 7812 Girard Ave., in La Jolla.
That will be followed by signings on Oct. 1 at the American Cancer Society (ACS) Discovery Shop in Point Loma; Oct. 16 during the ACS Breast Cancer Walk in Balboa Park in which Schwartz will give 100 free copies to children; and Oct. 22 at the ACS Discovery Shop in Rancho Bernardo. Sale proceeds at the ACS shops also will go to the society.
Details on these events, the book and how to buy it, including preorders, are available on Schwartz’s website, phyllisfeelsgreat.com.
“I’m doing this because it makes me feel good and might help people to talk about (breast cancer) and it helps the breast cancer community,” she said. “It comes from my experience with having cancer, fighting cancer and surviving cancer.”
While Schwartz is focused on promoting “When Mom Feels Great,” she said she has completed three other rhyming children’s books and is working on another one without rhyming.
One of the yet-to-be unpublished books, she said, was inspired by her experience as a girl when she resided in India. She lived there for a year in the 1960s with her family while her father was there on a Fulbright Scholarship.
“It was a huge influence on my life,” she said. “We lived in a very small village in the western state of Gujarat. That was a profound experience for a 10-year-old.”
From childhood, her passion for reading and writing propelled Schwartz on her path into a career in broadcast journalism.
“My whole life, I always loved writing,” she said. “That’s what led me into news.”
After graduating from SDSU and interning at KFMB-TV, she moved to Chicago. There, she progressed through the ranks and worked at various stations, ultimately becoming vice president of news and creative services at WMAQ-TV.
“I consider Chicago to be the best local news town in the country,” Schwartz said. “I really dug it. It was fantastic. It was fast.”
She returned to San Diego to be president and general manager of NBC’s station, KNSD-TV, from 2000 to 2007. From 2007-2009, she was executive vice president of news, promotion and original content for 10 NBC-owned stations throughout the region.
She left the news business in 2009 to pursue her own business interests.
No matter what job she was doing in the work world, Schwartz said she continued writing in her spare time, particularly poetry.
“I’m excited about the book, but it’s not a career for me. It’s a passion,” she said.
Most importantly, she said, “My family loves the book. This book cracked them up.”
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