An 87-year-old grandmother is proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Diane Cohen, a constant presence in her grandchildren’s lives while they were growing up in Malibu, has not only just published her first children’s book, she’s also just released her first song. For a soft-spoken and shy woman, she’s a dynamo of creativity, especially in her later years.
Cohen’s daughter, Lynne Friedman, says when she was growing up, her mother never read to her from other author’s children’s books. Cohen always made up hundreds of stories to lull her daughter to sleep.
“She literally told me stories that emanated from her imagination with many different characters,” Friedman said. The tradition continued when Cohen’s two, now-grown grandchildren were growing up in Malibu.
Cohen and Friedman had for years talked about publishing some of Cohen’s fanciful stories, but never got around to it until the pandemic hit. The two then had more time and inspiration to fulfill Cohen’s dream and “get something out there.”
The idea for the book “The Elephant in My Backyard” came to Cohen when “I looked out of the window and I saw this little sparrow.” The bird was perched atop an elephant statue at her residence.
“I thought, gee what an inspiration,” she continued. “I decided I wanted to write something about it and I did. What a lovely thing to write about.”
The book, with colorful painted illustrations by Andrea Bolton, is about friendship and diversity. In the story, an unlikely friendship develops between a lizard, a sparrow and an elephant.
“The nice thing about the book is it’s really a book about friendship,” Friedman explained. “The characters at first don’t know much about each other. They are from diverse backgrounds.”
The elephant is from India and asks the other animals about where they are from. Eventually, the animals with all different backgrounds become good friends. The end of the book has a clever feature: blank pages for a child to draw pictures of themselves and with their friends.
The book’s story is similar to Cohen’s own. She was born in Burma, now Myanmar, where she witnessed the bombings of World War II. She then grew up in India and London, finally coming to California at age 17. In her younger peripatetic life, she spoke seven languages. She sought out friendships with other people of all races and religions.
One of those friends is Ella Jenkins, known as the “First Lady of Children’s Music,” who is still today an iconic performer in her genre. Cohen is in a documentary made about Jenkins. Friedman says her mom became part of the burgeoning folk scene in San Francisco, and has composed many songs herself.
“When she was with my kids, she did the same thing for them as she did for me,” Friedman said. “She was a fount of creativity for stories and songs. Constantly.”
Unrelated to the book, Cohen just uploaded a song to YouTube called “I Love You Los Angeles.” She wrote the music and lyrics, and sings the jazzy number solo backed by a terrific band. Her style is similar to Peggy Lee’s.
The octogenarian advises anyone, especially older folks, to “pursue your talents and make sure you get something out.” When asked if she was proud of her accomplishments, her new book, and recording she confidently answered, “I sure am.”
A quote on her book jacket reads: “I have been shy all of my life, but I believe, whatever your age, if you have a dream or creation, you must put it out there. It’s never too late.”
“The Elephant in My Backyard” is available on Amazon.com.
“I Love You Los Angeles” is available now on YouTube and soon on other platforms. To see it, go to youtu.be/n5UsBMa776o