Photo of Jaimee Bowen

5 questions with… children’s book author, legal assistant Jaimee Bowen

2020 was a defining year for many people, and Jaimee Bowen was no exception. Just after launching her own freelance paralegal business, COVID-19 hit, and everything—including many legal proceedings—stopped abruptly overnight. That disruption meant Bowen’s clients no longer needed her assistance, and the work that had been sustaining her dried up. She felt like she was spiraling.

“My world came to a screeching halt after years of hustle. I was devastated, and not sure what to do,” said Bowen, who started taking college courses at just 14 years old. In January, she landed a role as a legal assistant in Case Western Reserve’s Office of General Counsel where she supports wide-ranging matters, from helping craft the university’s remote work policy to assisting with risk management issues.

Photo of the cover of Bella & Nonnie: The Journey to Ellie's Springs

The move prompted Bowen to revamp her home office, where she uncovered old journals full of stories she wrote as a child with her grandmother, Nonnie. And the discovery reminded her of a promise she and Nonnie made to each other years ago: to expand the stories and turn them into a children’s book.

They couldn’t take on the challenge together, as Nonnie died when Bowen was 8 years old. But Bowen pushed forward. The result? Bella & Nonnie: The Journey to Ellie’s Springs, a fully illustrated children’s book.

The book explores the relationship of a young girl and her grandmother, “Nonnie,” as they talk through an adventure together via nightly bedtime video calls—a detailBowen said was influenced by COVID-19. To further celebrate Bowen’s relationship with her grandmother, her main character’s name, “Bella,” takes inspiration from the confirmation name Nonnie picked for Bowen: Gabriella. The adventure in the story is set in Nairobi National Park in Kenya, where Bella and Nonnie explore alongside two elephants, which were Nonnie’s favorite animal.

The plot, Bowen said, came to her in a dream. Waking in the middle of the night, she wrote down as much detail as she could remember. The next morning, she recounted it to her mom who proudly proclaimed: “You did it!”

Even though Bowen’s grandmother, always a storyteller, didn’t have a direct hand in writing the book, Bowen gives her credit: “I feel like she gave me that little gift of the nudge.”

Bowen’s vision fully came to life when she connected with Monica Paterson, an illustrator from South Africa, and she took to Kickstarter, where the project was fully funded. She also partnered with an organization to have the book translated into braille and donated to libraries.

“This book is really [about] our short time together,” Bowen said of her Nonnie. “And giving people a glimpse into that and our wild imaginations.”

Get a copy of the book. But first, see how Bowen responded to our five questions.

1. What are you listening to, watching or reading that you’d suggest others check out?

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus; I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I’ve listened to some excerpts, and I’m really excited. It’s on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s set in the 60s and it’s about a woman who’s brilliant in chemistry but, of course, 60s patriarchy takes over and she can’t show the best of herself. She ends up having a cooking show, but through her cooking show, she’s secretly and quietly teaching women about chemistry and asserting her power in unique ways. I’m really excited to read that one. 

2. What is the most memorable life lesson you’ve learned?

It has been a tough lesson because I’ve lived my life “go,go, go,” but what I try to remember all the time is that the time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. We’ve worked so hard that I’m sick of feeling bad that I just sat there and watched TV, I just sat there and scrolled through TikTok. I enjoyed that time and was having fun. I shouldn’t feel bad about enjoying my time and spending it how I want to.

3. Which Cleveland neighborhood is your favorite and why?

For me, it’s always been Asia Town; St. Clair, 55th, Paine Avenue, that little region right there. I love being down there. It’s a melting pot of so many different Asian cultures and influences. It’s not just the Asian influences as well. You also have the street art influence with the flea market and ingenuity is right there. So it’s this amazing, creative area. I feel more alive and youthful when I go down there. It sparks joy.

My other place: I love going down to The Flats to sit at Music Box [Supper Club]. I will go see a show and go sit out on the patio and just watch the river. That’s my place to relax.

4. What season is your favorite and how do you like to celebrate it?

My favorite season is the transitional seasons, so I like spring and autumn. I think there’s so much beauty to be had in the life and death of the transition. In autumn now, we have beautiful changing colors. 

That being said, it’s the absolute worst season for me to do anything to celebrate the seasons because I have horrible seasonal allergies. So when I’m not wheezing, sneezing or [have] eyes that are so blurry and bloodshot  from watering all the time, I love to go hang out by the lake as much as possible.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

It’s the accessibility that we have here. We have this wide array of knowledge and experiences. We have an amazing diversity with all the different areas that you can tap into. To be somewhere that you can have an opportunity to learn so much—anything that you really want to you—you can get access … that’s unmatched.  I’m excited to be here. I love it so far.