Welcome to the online home of Audra Jennings, a book publicist and crafter. Here I share about both. I hope you'll find books you'll want to read and crafts you will want to order. I live a rather boring, single life. At times I would like to think I am humorous. In the past, blogging about current seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette were a big part of the blog. I'm giving that up though. I just can't handle it anymore.
New book gives kids a glimpse into life in Africa
An interview with J.A. Myhre,
Author of A Chameleon, a Boy, and a
Nearly 80 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. For globally-aware parents
who want to give their children a glimpse of majority-world reality, long-term
medical missionary to Africa J.A. Myhre has penned A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest(New Growth Press/October 6, 2015/ISBN:
beautifully-written adventure book for young readers brings to life the African
savannah Myhre calls home, inviting readers to explore the country through the
eyes of a 10-year-old boy named Mu. Orphaned as a toddler, Mu has served his
whole life in his great uncle’s house where he is unloved and ignored. In his
drudgery-filled life, Mu has little hope of happiness and doesn’t believe
anything will ever change. Then one morning something special happens.
Q: You have
served as a medical missionary for more than 20 years. How did you make the
leap to children’s author?
I have always been a writer at heart — letters, journals, blogs. At the
time I wrote this book, we were living in a very remote area on the Uganda-Congo
border, and I wanted to come up with a Christmas gift for my four kids. They
were all avid readers, but I noticed none of their books had any relationship
to their world. So I decided to write them a story for Christmas with
characters and a setting they could recognize. That became a tradition, so for
four years running I wrote them a short novel each year. We would begin reading
it aloud on Christmas Eve and continue each night through New Years.
Q: Can you
share more about the inspiration behind A
Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest? How old were your children when you first
wrote this story for them?
They were ages 7 to 12 for the first book. I wanted a story in which
African characters were the heroes. The setting is basically the same as our
village and the surrounding savannah and mountains. My kids often kept
chameleons as pets and would walk around with them on their shoulders, and I
thought the little reptiles looked wise. Africa does not have such stark
divisions between the material and spiritual worlds, between what is seen and
what is real, so imbuing animals with communication and painting the background
of spiritual forces made sense. We also had a yellow lab that once saved my
daughter from a cobra on the path and was a true protector and friend. I often
thought a good dog and a guardian angel are very close. I also wanted to draw
attention to the lives of our neighbors and friends. Most of the kids who hung
out at our house every day had lost one parent, or both, and struggled to stay
in school. Our next-door neighbor ended up in a rebel group. This is reality
for kids in much of the world. So I wanted a story where kids who live with
that kind of challenge had courage and hope, even if they made mistakes.
Q: By the
title of the book, we can assume a chameleon and a boy are the main characters
in the book, but can you tell us a little bit about Mu and his reptilian
Mu is being raised as an orphan in the home of his great-uncle, started
school late and is bright but has had few opportunities. He is treated as a
servant in the home. His situation reflects daily reality for many of the kids
who grew up around us. Because this is all he ever remembered, he does not
question this situation until he meets Tita, the chameleon. Tita is a messenger
that accompanies him throughout his adventures, giving comfort and advice as
events in his life spiral out of control.
Q: What kind of quest does Tita take Mu on?
The nature of the quest is mysterious. Basically, Mu is finding out who
he really is as he faces extreme challenges of survival. But his ultimate quest
is to save someone else’s life, and I won’t give that away!
Q: Of all animals
in Africa, why did you choose a chameleon to be the guide of this quest?
My kids had chameleons as pets. They are small, concealable and look old
and wise. In the economy of the Kingdom of God, the smallest and least likely
are often the most important. I don’t think I have ever read a book featuring a
chameleon, so that seemed like a gap that needed to be filled!
Q: How were
you able to tackle some difficult Third World issues, such as orphans, child
soldiers, slavery and the Ebola virus, in a way that was honest but not
disturbing to young readers?
These were the realities my kids and all the kids around us lived with
daily. They are issues for our entire world, and it is valid to be disturbed a
bit about them. But the book presents them in a hopeful way. Even though Mu is
severely affected by many of these evils, he is able to hold on and persevere
and come through them, which gives kids an honest but empowering view of the
world and themselves.
Q: Why do you
think it’s important to educate our kids about how the rest of the world lives?
I think this question addresses American readers, so let me start there. Short
answer: Because that’s the world we all live in. I think our kids are the
generation that will grasp justice. They know we are all connected as humans
and all responsible to struggle for those who are oppressed. I hope by giving
the poor names and stories, kids everywhere will embrace their struggles.
However I’d also like to answer that I hope some of the kids who read
this book will identify with the characters because they are actually living a
story that is not so far from this one. And for those kids, I think literature
is empowering because it gives a sense that while evil is part of their story,
it is not the end of their story.
Q: In what
ways is Mu a hero? How will young people be able to identify with him?
Mu is an unlikely hero. He does not seek his quest — it finds him, which
is often true in our lives. He mainly just keeps moving forward, reacting to
events as they unfold. But he does have to make some decisions about who to
believe, who to trust, what to risk. I think kids everywhere will identify with
the conflict of wanting to trust in friendship even when a less-charitable
interpretation of motives and events would be easier and in taking a stand
against the pressure of peers to do something wrong. Or, more to the story, NOT
standing against that pressure and living with the consequences.
Q: There is a
strong theme of redemption in the story. Do you think all actions are
Yes, all actions are redeemable. There is no evil done by humans that is
too great for forgiveness, and even terrible suffering and loss can be part of
a bigger picture of good, moving toward an “all shall be well and all manner of
things shall be well” ending.
character in the book did you most identify with and why?
I suppose I am closest to the well-meaning but marginal nurses in the
rural hospital scene. They symbolize a place of safety for some kids along
their hard journeys, a source of some comfort, food, healing.
parents would like to see their children trade in their electronic devices for
a book at times; however, parents have to be watchful of what fiction they
allow their young readers to pick up. What sets A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest apart from other books available to
This book does not gloss over or sugar-coat evil, but neither does it
blur evil into an amorphous world view that everything is equally good. The
story respects children as valid and essential actors in the story of our
world’s redemption. It takes seriously the inevitability of wrong choices and
mistakes, but it shows hope. In the end it also affirms the ties of family and
community, and as Sam says to Frodo, there is some good in this world worth
fighting for. Lastly it’s a page-turning story and uses decent vocabulary and
paints a picture of a world many American kids never see.
research suggests as many 1 million children are orphaned every year in Africa,
most of them due to AIDS. It seems like a daunting, untouchable problem, but what
are some practical ways Christians in America can help?
Get to know organizations that are supporting families on the ground. In
most places, extended family is available and committed to caring for their own
orphans, but those grandmothers need help to maintain large families of kids.
School fees and food are the main concerns for most of these families, so
supporting scholarships for education and agricultural projects for food are
the best ways to help African families remain intact.
Q: A big part of your work in Africa has to do with helping to train indigenous
leaders on issues like HIV prevention and nutrition. Why is this key to your
We try to follow the model of Jesus, who touched and healed the sick,
taught people to live in a way that would maximize life and thriving and
gathered disciples around him to do the same. So we keep a focus on both
curative care for immediate illnesses and big-picture, long-term projects to
prevent those illnesses, all the while training others to carry this much further
than we can ourselves. Nutrition and HIV prevention are two key areas for
holistic change that draw in the entire family and community relationships and
impact in key times of life, such as pregnancy, birth, and early childhood. Preventing
HIV transmission to a baby and ensuring that baby’s early nutritional status is
the difference between life and death or between a stunted and struggling
existence due to a malnourished brain and living up to one’s full
Q: How did
living and serving as a medical missionary among the poor in Africa change your
family? Your children?
This is the only life we have lived; we moved to Uganda in 1993 with an 8-month-old,
and all our children were born and raised overseas. So I can’t say what
“changed,” but I can say I am thankful for this life in spite of its
difficulties. Our kids have known war and disease firsthand and have dealt with
being different and, at times, ostracized. But I think they are amazing people:
resilient, kind, loyal. They are aware of what it means to live in extreme
poverty. They care about issues like AIDS, orphans, Ebola, rebels,
environmental degradation, wildlife preservation, abuse, slavery, early
marriage and the entire range of injustice because those issue have names and
faces for them — they are not abstract constructs. It is a privilege to have
friends from a part of the world that is very isolated, whose appearance and
beliefs are very different from your own. They naturally think globally. They
also had the privilege of camping in game parks and hiking in the mountains and
drinking in the natural beauty of our area of the world.
Q: What is
your ultimate hope for the young people who read A Chameleon, a Boy, and a Quest?
That they would hunger for an encounter with a deeper spiritual reality
and see in the story a picture of the love of Jesus for them. And for those who
are not from Africa, that they would respect and relate to an African character
in a way that makes that continent a real, interesting and valid place, which
perhaps sparks them to think about their own quest in life.