By Kristin Boza
Francoise Johnson didn’t waste a single moment of the pandemic lockdown.
Johnson, born in France and a Chicago resident since 1965, spent her career working as a writer and translator for the City of Chicago’s Language Bank, established by former Mayor Jane Byrne. During her 40-year career, she worked with numerous foreign dignitaries and Chicago mayors to translate between English and French. Her latest endeavor is authoring a children’s book, “Little Johnny Superman and His D-Day Adventure,” giving today’s kids insight into what World War II was like, particularly the events of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Used to being busy all the time, thanks to her demanding career and full family life, Johnson wasn’t sure what to do with herself once the city locked down last March due to coronavirus. “I’m very active and am always running around. When Mayor Lightfoot announced the city would be locked down for three weeks, I thought ‘I’m going to go out of my mind if I have to sit here for three weeks without going anywhere!’ So, I sat down and finally put this story that’s been in my mind for years onto paper,” she said.
The story is based on a TV interview Johnson saw a few years ago. In it, a 94-year-old man told the reporter what it was like to be a part of the battle on D-Day.
“The reporter was so excited for the man to tell us all about his experience. This man was so humble and said ‘you know, I just did what I had to do. I thought I was Superman!’ That stuck in my mind; the idea of a man, who was probably 18 or so at the time, from a small town and all this is going on in Europe. Then, he decides to enlist because he wanted adventure and probably isn’t conscious of the danger,” she said.
Johnson was also inspired by her visit to Normandy and watching American families find their buried loved ones among the 10,000 small white crosses at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. “The guide was telling us how the ocean and sand were just filled with blood on D-Day,” Johnson recalls. “It was so moving to see these American families moving among the crosses to find their loved ones. When they found it, you can see the change on their faces; they were transfixed and it must have been a feeling of ‘finally, my person is right here under the ground.’”
All of these feelings and ideas rested in Johnson’s mind until she finally began writing. She gave a copy of the story to her daughter who thought it was really good and suggested illustrations to accompany the text.
“I wanted the pictures to reflect exactly what I was saying,” Johnson said. “Once the pictures and sentences came together, the woman who owned the illustration business suggested that I publish it.”
From there, Johnson assumed it would take months to get the story published. It only took 48 hours. ABC Educational Materials & Training in Hickory Hills, which also illustrated the book, said they wanted to publish it.
“My daughters could not believe it, and the entire family was stunned. I’m quite surprised by this entire thing, but I’m happy and it’s my little contribution to the world and to my family,” Johnson said.
In the book, Johnny is 16 but pretends to be 18 so he can serve in the Army. He fights the monsters on the beach in Normandy and tells all about his experiences of feeling like Superman. The book also inspires kids to learn more about D-Day and the history of WWII.
“The good guys win in this book, and kids really love that and can relate to it,” Johnson said. “I also hope it’s a realization to them that their ancestors participated in this event and they should be proud. The book also encourages kids to look at their whole family and realize there are heroes all among them; they don’t have to look far to find big heroes.”
Bookie’s, 10324 S. Western, carries copies of “Little Johnny Superman and His D-Day Adventure.” Order online or in–store for pick-up.