Jamie Ruthenberg created Miles the rabbit for her children’s book series, which she writes, illustrates, and reviews on her Youtube channel. Photo by Phil Custodio
BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Author Jamie Ruthenberg of Clarkston is racking up thousands of views online on her new YouTube channel, “Jamie’s Book and a Bite.”
“My daughter loves YouTube,” said Ruthenberg, author of a childrens’ book series featuring Mile the rabbit. “She watches it like TV, and I thought, wait a second, I can start a series where I talk about a book and move into the kitchen. It’s unique – I haven’t seen anything like it.”
Her idea was to bring together great literature and the culinary arts, presented as a book discussion then cooking show, preparing a dish inspired by the book.
“I’ve always been crazy about the Food Network– I love cooking shows,” she said. “I brought the two together. What I want to do is talk about a family- and child-friendly book, and then move into the kitchen and make something that’s related to that story in some way, maybe a comical way, maybe in a direct way.”
For her first episodes, she focuses on her Miles series created in 2015, starting with “Miles and the Sneaky Squirrels,” followed by “Miles and the Wren House Toad” in 2016; “Miles and the Best Birthday Gift,” 2017; and “Miles Finds a New Friend,” 2018.
“All of them are there based on my experiences,” she said. “They’re about helping others in need.”
In the books, Miles heads to the kitchen to prepare special treats. In “Miles and the Best Birthday Gift,” he makes a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.
“That’s the cake his mother makes,” Ruthenberg said. “I make it for everybody. I catered this cake in real life.”
She has been cooking as long as she can remember.
“I have been a foodie about my whole life,” she said. “When I was a very small girl, I would be in my grandmother’s kitchen, cooking with her. When I started actually cooking on my own, as a teenager, I start creating things. So food ends up in everything I do.”
She includes the recipes used in the story in the back of all her books.
“It helps the children reading it, and draws them in even more because they can experience it through the food,” she said.
In the books, Miles also writes letters, short stories, and poems. The rabbit writes some of the letters to the readers themselves.
“They’re a throw back to a simpler time when people took the time to write,” Ruthenberg said.
She commissioned a plush toy version of Miles as another way to make connections.
“It took a year and a half – he had to be perfect,” she said. “I had parents coming up to me and saying their kids loved Miles so much, they were sleeping with the books. It serves an educational purpose because if they can sit with Miles, the main character, it motivates them to read about him. He’ safe and soft and everything. He’s very cool.”
Ruthenberg may have been writing books about Miles for only four years, but she’s known him all her life.
“When I was 5 years old, I used to obsessively draw this little rabbit. Throughout my entire life, I used to doodle his face,” said Ruthenberg, who writes and illustrates the series of children’s books. “I fleshed him out and gave him a soul, so he’s not like a cartoon, but a real character.”
Raising her daughter, Grace, inspired her direction into children’s books, via elementary education.
“As a writer I just wanted all these books for her and I started getting into the children’s genre,” said Ruthenberg, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education with certification in 2013, and was a long-term substitute teacher at Clarkston Elementary.
Grace is now a 17-year-old junior at Everest Collegiate High School, and is working on her own novel.
“I love bouncing things off of her because she’s a writer, a very gifted writer, and she’s also an actor and singer,” Ruthenberg said.
She was a track standout at Chippewa High School, and attended Michigan State University with a heavy emphasis on athletics, but a knee injury caused her to reevaluate.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I went right into the English thing.”
She served an internship at Channel Seven TV news, where she was a writer and producer for their Creative Services Department. She freelanced after graduation, and did some writing and producing for them.
“I’ve always been drawn to TV, so now I’m back in that realm – YouTube is kind of like TV for the younger generation,” she said.
She moved to North Carolina with her husband at the time, and earned a Master’s Degree in English. She was a professor there for a while, teaching English composition and oral presentation skills to engineers.
They moved back to Michigan in 1998 and settled in Clarkston, she she has stayed.
“Once we were here, I was so happy because, without question, this is my absolute home,” she said. “It’s quite an artsy and historic place.”
She wrote poetry books and worked on her paintings before deciding to open a writing business and start the Miles series in 2014. The Youtube channel started as an idea to open a storefront business.
“A place here in Clarkston, like a bookstore meets a bakery,” she said. “But obviously it takes a lot of money to buy a building.”
She’s working to build up her number of subscribers and views on her Youtube channel, releasing one or two videos a month. She writes, films, and edits her videos by herself.
“I write a loose script, but it’s definitely a script for me to follow,” she said.
She has two cameras, one in front of her on a tripod and one to the side for close ups – the beauty shots of the final product.
“Two things that I realized after researching that are super important for professional videos are lighting and sound,” she said. “So I made sure I invested in a really good microphone and professional lighting.”
She uses various rooms and kitchen in her home for sets, and her experiences old and new are useful in creating her videos.
“Being in television in the past gives you an intuition on how to deal with editing, just in terms of how you address the camera and all of that,” she said. “Editing can make or break an entire video.”
For style, she watched several YouTube videos to learn the culture expressed online today.
“The YouTube culture is completely different than TV, it has a different look, a more quirky feel to it. It’s actually really fun,” she said.
She’s working on a fifth Miles book, as well as a young-adult chapter book.
“An adventure kind of thing, character driven with the same themes of empathy and understanding others,” she said.
Another goal is to start a movie screenplay this year.
“I want to make Miles into an animated series,” she said. “I know his voice in my head. I’d use a child, an actual child, for it.”
She’s also working on her painting, using pencil and watercolors.
For more information, go to jamieruthenberg.com,. Her books are available on Amazon, and her YouTube channel can be found under “Jamie Ruthenberg.”