Interview with Debut Picture Book Author, Julia Richardson

Julia Richardson, author of Dandelion Seeds the World

In late January, I reviewed a picture book by debut author, Julia Richardson. Her beautiful book, Dandelion Seeds The World, is enjoying its birthday today, which makes today the best day for her interview! Please welcome Julia.

Me: Who were your favorite authors when you were a child and why did you love their books?

Julia: Gene Stratton Porter, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett…and many more. Anything with a focus on nature appealed to me.

Me: Was there a book you never tired of hearing or reading when you were a child, and what was it about the story that you loved so much?

Julia: To this day, I love visiting dear Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I’ve read it so many times I have it memorized, yet it never fails to lift my spirits. Anne’s vivid imagination and appreciation of beauty are pure enchantment.

Me: Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to write for children? 

Julia: I began writing for children when I was just a child myself through my hobby marionette theater. My sisters and I wrote plays and performed for tolerant relatives on a wobbly stage made of couch cushions. This hobby continued into adulthood. Though I wrote into the wee hours of the night, it never occurred to me to attempt publication until the day I received a letter from a mother, who brought her son to a marionette show that I gave at the local library. Unbeknownst to me, the little boy passed away shortly after the show from cancer. She told me he laughed and laughed during the marionette show and thanked me for making his last hours memorable. Then she encouraged me to pursue a career with children. Five years later I had my first offer of publication.

Me: What inspired the idea for your debut picture book, Little Dandelion Seeds the World?

Julia: The idea sprang from my sons’ interests when they were young. One of them adored animals and the other was fascinated with different parts of the world. I wanted to write a book that combined these two topics, a book that both of my boys would have loved. But how?

For months, I wracked my brain for an original way to weave the two topics together. I was at a complete loss until the day my yard bloomed in drifts of dandelions. (For those of you opposed to dandelions, I find them delightful.) The golden blooms seemed to be everywhere. 

Everywhere? 

That thought spurred me into action. I raced to my computer and quickly discovered that dandelions bloom all over the world. Since they are spread by animals and loved by children, dandelions morphed into the nugget of my story. Even better, the addition of seed travel added a STEM component. 

Me: Were there any surprises along your path to publication?

Julia: The biggest surprise was that the path led to publication at all. I know plenty of unpublished writers with talent far superior to mine. 

Me: Describe the moment when your agent told you Sleeping Bear Press wanted to acquire your manuscript. 

Julia: Actually, my first manuscript sold pre-agent. An online platform called KidLit College offered an opportunity to Facetime and discuss a manuscript with an editor. Sarah Rockett from Sleeping Bear Press made a few suggestions for revision and asked me to resubmit. I remember thinking she wasn’t interested or she would have made more suggestions. By that time, the manuscript had been rejected so many times I assumed it needed a complete overhaul. It took me about 20 minutes to complete her suggestions. I stared at it for a few days and then resubmitted. A few weeks later these lovely words arrived in my inbox: 

Me with my family a few weeks before my facetime with Sarah Rockett.

We had an acquisition meeting last week and have decided to move forward with Little Dandelion! Everyone LOVED this story. It topped all of our lists at discussion. We’re so thrilled to add it to our publishing program!

I leaped out of my chair and raced through the house shouting, “I did it! I did it! I’m a children’s book author!”

Me: If you could go back to the day you began your writing journey, knowing what you know today, is there anything you would do differently?

Julia: Since my writing journey began when I was a child, I would follow my passions rather than do the expected. It took a lot of years to realize my creativity was a gift.

Me: Where do you love to write, and what makes this place special to you?  

Julia: My favorite place to write is a hammock hooked to a massive maple tree. It’s a secluded spot next to a big white barn that overlooks a field full of wildflowers. High in the branches, orioles pour out passionate melodies. In the spring, the air is scented with lavender lilacs.

Me: Can you share something interesting most people don’t know about you?  

Julia: When no one is looking, I climb trees.

This is me, pre-published, at a writing conference costume party. I was Eeyore under a black cloud of rejection.

Learn more about Julia HERE.
Link to Julia’s book on Amazon HERE.

Many thanks for visiting today.

Until next Friday.

Raven Howell – The Promised Interview and Winner Announcement!

Due to an unforeseen situation, I’m posting my blog early this week.

As promised last week for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I invited the author and poet of Glimmer -Sing of Sun! and Chuckles and Smiles to visit my blog for an interview today. And… I asked her to choose two people from those who left a comment to each win one of her magical books of poetry.

Raven’s son jumped in to lend a hand and chose the winner lottery style. Drum role please. The winners are….

Ann Wendell and Linda Dryfout!

(An email will be sent out to each of you shortly.)

Without further adeau, please welcome Raven Howell.

I’m glad you could be here today. Can you take us back to the exact moment you knew you wanted to write poems for children?  

If you were to ask my beloved grandmother, she would probably tell you about my being born with the poetry bug fluttering about inside of my heart. Apparently I was making up and reciting poems and rhymes aloud before I went to kindergarten and learned how to write. She would spend my pre-school days at home with me and whenever possible, jot down my poetry and stories, those rhymes and sing-songs that sprang from my imagination. 

Zoning in on writing specifically for children happened almost 30 years ago when I left the music business and had success with writing verse for greeting cards.

What were the first steps you took to begin your journey toward your first publication? 

As a youngster, my mother submitted my poetry for magazine publication. Later I published songs as a songwriter (my lyrics were in a poetry format) in my teens and twenties before having my poetry published for various whimsical greeting card companies. After that I focused on writing for children’s magazines. Finally, I transitioned into writing and the publishing of my books. So my first steps were less relevant on their own, and the journey was more about the evolution and progression for me.

What is the most challenging or favorite aspect of creating a collection of poems? 

My favorite thing about poetry collections is that there is much more room for me to “paint outside of the lines” as opposed to when writing a fictional story or non-fiction. Poetry inherently allows more freedom. I get to play with words, delve deeper into enchanting themes if I want, express my vision/style, and have fun!

An idea for a poem pops into your head. (I love it when that happens.) Take us through the steps you take to write a poem.  

MUSHROOM NAPS from Chuckles and Smiles / Morning dog walk, I spot some wonderfully fairy-like mushrooms that have sprouted in a tree stump. The air smells of earth. Morning dove sings in the brilliant sunrise. It’s me, the dog, and the mushrooms. Hmmm…who else is with us? Who else would be enjoying the mushroom life? Little bugs! And certainly they are small enough to fit under those spongy mushroom tops. Inspiration! Look – there’s a beetle! “Mushrooms wear those spongy caps for little shaded buggy naps.”

Where do you most love to write and what makes this place special to you? 

For over two decades now, I’ve found my “writing nook”, my space to create and write and be inspired in a most unusual place – a solo early dawn hike that I take into the mountains just outside of the village. These years, having a cell phone (and the Notes app) with me makes the writing aspect easier! At first, I’d be trying to recall the verses and ideas dancing around in my head when I returned home, sometimes with success, sometimes without. 

What could NOT be special about a dawn nature hike? Wooded paths, the fading stars, critter chirps, the gentle sunrays kissing the mountainside…

For each manuscript I’ve written, I remember the Ah-Ha moment that sent me running to my laptop to type up my ideas. Can you share the source of inspiration for one of your books? 

An “Ah-ha” moment? When a couple of years after illustrator Carina Povarchik and I released our successful Glimmer, Songs of Night nighttime-themed poetry collection, I realized I had written probably about 3 dozen poems of the opposite theme: whimsical poems about subjects relating to light, the sun, and daytime wonder. It appeared we were meant to have a companion book to our Glimmer! And our editor agreed – ha! It was exciting to collect those poems for the book, and an “Ah-ha” moment for sure.

What surprised you most on your writing path from the book idea to its publication? 

There’s little that I could say surprised me in general. When it comes down to it, you are in control of some aspects, and not others when you work with a team of editors, illustrators, an agent, etc. I was surprised when I found the font for the dyslexic version of my rhyming picture book, My Community was just as easy to read for someone without dyslexia. I suppose I expected the letters to be shaped differently.  

I’ll add, with my new book, Chuckles and Smiles, the editors’ choice of illustrator Jordan Wray to collaborate and create the most wonderful, befitting artwork surprised me most! I had no inkling, no forethought that the artwork would visually push the poetry to life in the way it did. There was very little we asked Jordan to edit or change. He just got my ideas from the start – and jumped on board the chuckle train.

If you could go back to the first months of your writing journey, knowing what you know today, what advice would you give to yourself? 

Well, first, I’m big on practicing forgiveness, and I try hard to include myself in this. So, I see it this way: it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell my 20 year old self to pay more attention to what’s going on from a 5-year old’s point of view or write from a parental advice angle. That’s just not where I was creatively situated at that point in my life. I NEEDED those years of adolescent complaint poetry, those poetry journals of my twenties that I filled with the ups and downs of love, or the bone-tired poetry from my thirty-something new mom hands learning a brand new role in life. 

What advice I would give to any poet at any age in life is to write from your heart, write what you know, experiment with various formats and keep digging into and staying true to your own specific style. You may come across many who criticize your work. That’s ok. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Still, that doesn’t mean you should change your vision if the one you have feels like home to you and you’re passionate about it.

What was the best comment or reaction you received from a child about one of your books or poems? 

Last year two students in different schools and locations reached out to tell me my poetry inspired them to write and publish their own poetry books! 

Can you share something interesting or unexpected most people don’t know about you?

My adolescent crushes were Cider House Rules (among many other books) author John Irving (whom I’ve met!) and Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin.  No doubt, in a subtle way, their words influenced my own writing.

In everyday moments- a baby’s laughter, a joyful tear or toddler frown, a kite stuck in a sugar maple, in the joy of eating chocolate chip cookie dough, in the creak of Grandfather’s rocking chair, in the scent of summer jasmine, the bee sting, or the heart-thudding bang of a thunder clap, there’s a poem to be uncovered and shared. To me, poetry is a creative interpretation, the echo of wonder and inspiration, the celebration of life!

Raven’s website includes great links! www.ravenhowell.com
FB page: https://www.facebook.com/raven.howell.75/
Author FB page: https://www.facebook.com/RavenHowellAuthorandPoetPage/?view_public_for=456558957829379
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pickward/boards/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/atpearthkeeper
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/atpearthkeeper/

Many thanks for visiting here today.

Until next Friday.

An Interview + Book Review with Chana Stiefel this Perfect Picture Book Friday!

This Sunday we’re celebrating Father’s Day! So, for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I invited my friend, critique partner, and author of over 25 books for kids, Chana Stiefel, to join us and share some of her writing life and history behind her picture book, Daddy DepotChana Stiefel

Welcome, Chana!
When did you know you wanted to write for children?
Way back when I was at NYU Journalism School, studying Science, Health, & Environmental Reporting, I got an internship at Scholastic, which was down the block. I immediately became hooked on writing for kids. The internship developed into a job editing Scholastic’s Science World, a hands-on classroom magazine that makes science fun for kids. When I left Scholastic, I continued to freelance and started writing books for kids. Writing for children makes me see the world in a whole new light. I love exploring new topics for every new project.

What inspired the idea for your picture book, Daddy Depot?
One night, I was putting my daughter to bed. She was 7 at the time, and for reasons I can’t recall, she was very mad at her dad. She said, “Let’s return him to the Daddy store!” We started to laugh and made up a story about a girl who returns her father to the Daddy Depot. After bedtime, I ran downstairs and started to write. Daddy Depot was my first fiction picture book. The first drafts were over 1,000 words, had too many characters, and were written in terrible rhyme. But I persisted and learned the ropes of writing picture books. And eight years later, Daddy Depot was published by Feiwel & Friends.

Daddy Depot-Chana
Were there any surprises along the way from the point when you started writing your book to the moment it was published?
Yes! Daddy Depot was my learning book. It was also the book that landed me my first agent. And I was surprised at how long the process took—four years from contract to publication! Now I’ve come to understand that that can be typical in this industry. Live and learn!

Can you share something interesting or unexpected most people don’t know about you?
I love nature adventures. I have hiked on glaciers, watched Kilauea erupt into the sea, snorkeled in Molokini Crater, and ziplined over a cloud forest in Costa Rica. 

Title –  Daddy Depot

Author – Chana Stiefel

and illustrator – Andy Snair

Published by – Feiwel and Friends – 2017

Suitable for ages – 3-5

Topics – Dads and humor

Opening –
Lizzie loved her dad, but he was always watching football.
“Dad! Check out my new ballet twirls.”
“You’re a star, Lizzie… TOUCHDOWN!”

Amazon Review HERE – Come to Daddy Depot! The Dad Megastore! From Acrobats to Zookeepers, we have the perfect dad for you! Exchange your old dad for a brand-new one. . . TODAY!

Lizzie loves her dad, but he tells the same old jokes, falls asleep during storytime, and gets distracted by football while Lizzie does her ballet twirls. When she sees an ad for a store called Daddy Depot, she decides to check it out―and finds dads of all kinds! Will Lizzie find the perfect dad? Join her on this sweet and silly adventure that celebrates fathers with lots of love.

“This father and daughter are a perfect match!” —Publishers Weekly Review
“This colorful, humorous tale is sure to be a read-aloud hit.” —School Library Journal

Why I like this book— Although I never thought to trade in my dad for a different or better dad, I loved the humor in Chana’s picture book, Daddy Depot, and understood why Lizzie wanted to exchange her silly dad for a “perfect” one. Lizzie goes so far as to load her dad in a wagon while he’s sleeping and pull him over to the Daddy Depot in hopes of trading him in on a better dad. Like Lizzie, I’ve thought that certain things in my life weren’t as perfect as they could be and considered exchanging them for replacements only to discover, as Lizzie did, that what I already have is exactly, perfect for me.

Follow Chana @chanastiefel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Learn more at https://chanastiefel.com/.

Until next Friday.

 

 

 

Kathleen Doherty – Author Interview and Book Giveaway of Don’t Feed the Bear

As I found an open seat on the last day of the three-day, Marvelous Midwest SCBWI Conference last month, I had the joy of sharing a table with picture book author, Kathleen Doherty. As children’s writers, we fell easily into conversation and talked about the stories we love to write, what we’re currently working on, and she shared some of her “behind-the-scenes” journey for writing Don’t Feed The Bears (like receiving her publisher’s acceptance for her manuscript while enjoying an Alaskan vacation!) Then, I asked if I could interview her and follow up the next week with a review of her book.

She said, YES!  

When I came back home, one of the first things I did was purchase a copy of Kathleen’s book, read it (of course), laughed like crazy at the zany antics between the bear and park ranger in the story while I wondered how a picture book could be written in such few words and tell such a thoroughly entertaining story.  I LOVE IT!!!

From Kathleen’s website –

Kathleen Doherty is a Reading Specialist and an Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s written standardized test items for Pearson, Inc. in alignment with the Common Core Standards. She’s also won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry Contest, and received a letter of merit from SCBWI’s Magazine Merit Competition.

Kathleen donates 100% of her author earnings to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

THE INTERVIEW

Me: Some writers have always known they wanted to write picture books while others stepped onto this path after having children. Can you take us back to the moment when you knew you wanted to write for children? 

Kathleen: The idea to write a picture book sparked years ago while I was working on my master’s degree in reading and taking a children’s literature class. My professor’s love for children’s books was palpable. I remember wondering why he never wrote a book . . . and I told myself someday I would.

Me: What were the first steps you took to begin your writing journey?

Kathleen: I was first published in TIME Magazine with a letter to the editor. It was so much fun seeing myself in print, I started to pursue writing. I took classes from the Institute of Children’s Literature, Highlights Foundation workshops, and joined SCBWI.

Me: What is the most challenging aspect of writing a picture book? 

Kathleen: It’s difficult to write a tight story using creative language  . . . to make sure there are 14 different page spreads . . . and to include a twist at the end.

Me: For each manuscript I’ve written, I remember the Ah Ha moment that sent me running to type up my ideas. Can you tell us what inspired you to write your picture book, Don’t feed The Bear? 

Kathleen: While visiting Alaska, I saw signs that said Don’t Feed the Bears. I began to play “what if.” What if campers were feeding a bear. What if the bear could read and got angry seeing the ranger pound a Don’t Feed the Bear sign into the ground. What if the bear retaliated….?

Me: What surprised you most on your writing path from the book idea to its publication? 

Kathleen: I had an agent at the time who turned down my manuscript. She said Don’t Feed the Bear was a cute story, but she didn’t think it would sell. So I was free to submit it myself. It sold to the first editor I sent it to.

Me: If you could go back to the first months on your writing journey, what important advice would you love to give yourself?

Kathleen: Play with words, experiment, and take risks. Confidence, skill, and voice will develop with practice.

Me: Where do you most love to write and what makes this place special to you? 

Kathleen: I have a comfy leather chair with an ottoman and a tray for my computer. It’s a special place because it’s my favorite room. Can you tell I love clocks?

Kathleen Doherty-sm

Me: Some authors take one year to write and polish a picture book manuscript while others write and edit over many years. What was the time frame for writing Don’t Feed The Bear? 

Kathleen: It took about six months to write and revise Don’t Feed the Bear.

Me: In your story, Bear’s favorite grub campers leave him are mac and cheese, carrot cake and meatball stew? What are your favorite foods to snack on while you’re writing? 

Kathleen: Ha! No crunchy Cheetos. No chocolate covered peanuts. No chewy caramels. Just fruit. Boring.

Related image

Me: What was the best comment/reaction you have received from a child about your picture book? 

Kathleen: At one school visit, a little girl was waiting in line to get her book signed, and she was jumping up and down saying, “I just love my mother! I just LOVE my mother! She bought me a book by a real live author!” [as opposed to a dead one]

Me: I’ve often imagined sipping coffee in a small café when an author I admire breezes in and happens to sit at my table. Which author would you love to chat with over coffee? 

Kathleen: Kevin Henkes. . . Kevin, if you’re reading this, I’d even buy lunch.

(On a side note, Kevin Henkes is the picture book author and illustrator of Chrysanthemum, Lily’s Big Day, A Weekend With Wendell, Owen, and many more. And frankly, I’d love to chat with him over a cup of coffee, too.)

Me: Can you share something interesting or unexpected most people don’t know about you? (A hobby? Something on your bucket list that you did or hope to do? An unusual pet you had or have?)

Kathleen: Years ago, I ate fried mealworms and a chocolate covered cricket at Purdue Lafayette’s Bug Fest. I wrote a story about the experience and sent it to Highlights Magazine. But the story never sold. Blech.

If you’re interested in reading other interviews with Kathleen or reading reviews of her book, click on the links below. 

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kathleen-doherty/dont-feed-the-bear/

https://picturebookbuilders.com/2018/04/dont-feed-the-bear-a-giveaway/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHRjxfThM4k

https://redreadinghub.blog/2018/06/19/dont-feed-the-bear/

http://literallylynnemarie.blogspot.com/2019/01/ppbf-dont-feed-bear-by-kathleen-doherty.html

https://www.nightbuddiesadventures.com/childrens-literature/all-you-need-to-know-about-the-world-of-bookstagram/

https://readitdaddy.blogspot.com/2018/06/dont-feed-bear-by-kathleen-doherty-and.html

You can connect with Kathleen on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

And now for the Giveaway!

One lucky person who leaves a comment will receive a copy of Kathleen’s picture book, Dont’ Feed The Bear. I’ll announce the winner on next Friday’s Perfect Picture Book review of this very book!

See you then!