Today I’m delighted to be interviewing picture book author Danna Smith in celebration of her newest picture book THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE. Published by Candlewick Press and beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE is a non-fiction tale told in verse about a young girl and her father, the falconer at a medieval castle, as they experience the joys of taking a goshawk out for a training flight. It has received glowing reviews, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Kirkus Reviews calls it a “rhapsodic tribute to the craft of falconry” and School Library Journal hails it as “An imaginative and unique title to introduce elementary schoolers to hawks and falconry in a medieval setting—an ideal read-aloud selection, too.” I couldn’t agree more! Treat yourself to the book trailer below and then join me for the interview with my questions in green to match the books lovely landscape.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Danna. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?
Thank you for having me, Laura. For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed writing poetry and stories. In my childhood, I would often turn my creations into handmade paper books, stapled at the spine. I’d give them to my mother who saved them in a keepsake box like precious treasures (she has always been my biggest fan). I wrote my first poem when I was 8 years old, my first short story when I was 10 and my first picture book when I was 17. As I grew older, I didn’t have a clue about how to follow my dream of becoming an author so I went to college, got married and started my family. I kept writing in my spare time. It wasn’t until I found the organization, SCBWI, in 1996 and went to my first conference in 1999 that I got serious and gave it a real go. My first book was published in 2004 by Disney-Hyperion and many books followed such as Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, Arctic White, and Swallow the Leader. Today, writing is my full-time job and I feel so very blessed to be doing what I love.
A lovely journey, for sure. I’m glad you discovered SCBWI back in 1996 – and for any aspiring writers, exploring the SCBWI website and attending a conference is a great way to get started!
What inspired you to write a book about falconry in medieval times?
Growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of creatures through my father who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals. My father was also a falconer and I enjoyed going out to train and hunt with birds of prey with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but falconry is an unusual art and sport, and not something many children are exposed to. As I look back, I’m happy to have had these experiences, especially since I am a writer because I now have an opportunity to share this fascinating sport with others in a whole new way.
I chose to set the story in medieval times because I am fascinated with a time where falconry was a part of daily life. Also, as a writer who understands the need for layers in a picture book, I thought the setting would add extra appeal, what child doesn’t like castles?
I’d love it if I had a picture of my father and me with the hawks but if there is one in existence I haven’t been able to locate it. Instead, I’ll share a picture of my cousin, sister and myself holding one of the hundreds of snakes my father bred (I’m the monkey in the middle). And another of my dad at around age 23 with a couple of his birds. My dad was a falconer for 50 years and as far back as I can remember, if he wasn’t at work, he had a bird of prey on his fist.
What an amazing childhood! Your dad must be so proud of all your accomplishments and honored to be such a source of inspiration!
I was immediately drawn to your lovely verse – reminiscent of “The House That Jack Built” but without the cumulative element. How was your gift for verse developed? What made you decide to tell this story in half-rhyme?
Thank you, Laura. My gift for verse comes naturally, my grandmother was a poet and my sister is a songwriter. I also had an uncle who taught me the meaning of rhythm and cadence (and always had me giggling) with his off-the-cuff limericks and other forms of poetry while we clapped our hands to the beat.
I wrote The Hawk of the Castle in several formats (rhyme and prose) to see which worked best. There were many, many drafts but when I hit upon the current hybrid format which had the feel of an old-fashioned poem, I knew I had found the perfect way to tell this story.
That’s the sign of a true writer – ie. writing “many, many drafts” and in “several formats”!
Bagram Ibatoulline’s magnificent illustrations beautifully complement text, for they truly do transport the reader to a different time and place. What was it like to work together?
Unfortunately, I have not met Bagram Ibatoulline but working with him through my amazing editor, Andrea Tompa, was a wonderfully positive experience. Because this book is non-fiction, the falconry details and medieval elements had to be spot-on. Bagram Ibatoulline rose to the challenge and surprised me at every turn with his detailed life-like illustrations. It is truly an honor to have been able to collaborate with Mr. Ibatoulline.
An honor indeed. (And thanks for sharing this delightful spread with us today!). It’s truly magnificent.
Finally, can you give us the inside scoop on some of your current projects? What’s a typical writing day like for you?
Unlike many writers, I do not write creatively every day. But that doesn’t mean I am not pondering, scheming, and dreaming up rhymes and stories in my head daily (in fact, I do this so often that my family accuses me of being in Lalaland much of the time LOL!). I sit down at my computer only when an idea is worked out in my head (I need to have a beginning and an end before I start). When I’m not writing a new story, I am revising, critiquing the work of others, reviewing picture books on my blog, connecting with editors and my agent on various projects, and promoting my books.
My agent is currently submitting several of my manuscripts (crosses fingers), and at the moment I have several manuscripts in various stages of completion.
I have five Little Golden Books under contract so I’ve been revising the text and enjoying sneak peeks of covers and interior art. Getting to see the art for the first time is a thrilling part of the process! Watch for Springtime Babies (available for pre-order now) and The Colors of Winter in 2018 then Rocket-Bye Baby, Wake Up, Freight Train! and The Colors of Summer in 2019.
So many wonderful books on the horizon! I look forward to checking them out. Thank you so much for joining us today, Danna.
I was my pleasure, Laura! Again, thank you for having me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danna Smith is a SCBWI member and award-winning author of over a dozen picture books including ARCTIC WHITE, SWALLOW THE LEADER, and Little Golden Book, SPRINGTIME BABIES. Her most recent picture book, THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE: A Story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Danna is currently living in northern California with her husband and two grown children where she is hard at work on her next book. You can learn more about Danna and her books at www.dannasmithbooks.com
To learn more about Danna and her books, please visit the following:
I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum’s humorous new picture book BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER, published by Scholastic Press and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, is…
Congratulations! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.
Thanks again, Andria, for taking time to chat in this preview interview, and for offering to send one lucky winner a copy of your new book.. I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on this week’s post and to my daughter, once again, for lending me her snazzy hat for the drawing.
A special part of my recent trip to England was spending time with a friend who recently moved to London with her husband and three adorable daughters. My day with Charise began with a reading of “Goodnight Ark” to her girls’ classes at their lovely school in Hampstead, a village of London. That was a wonderful treat in and of itself and I especially enjoyed answering the children’s questions after each reading, asked in charming British accents.
The readings ended at 10:30 and I think Charise’s youngest, who is just three, was a little sad not to get to spend the rest of the day at school with her sisters. It all turned out okay, though, because in the end, since Emaline was with us, it was she who got to show me the snails.
This is how it happened. First, Emaline and her mom gave us a walking tour of Hampstead. As we walked Charise pointed several spots that will be featured in the upcoming film Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, which I now can’t wait to see. After our walk, it was still too early for lunch so we stopped in at their home for a few minutes.
Once home, Emaline took great pleasure in showing us her garden – and that’s where I met the snails. This particular morning there were only two. “Do you think this one’s the other one’s mum?” Emaline asked as we watched them move slowly across a patio stone. “Perhaps,” I answered. “Or maybe they’re friends. Maybe they play together. What do you think?”
Then, in quiet whispers, Emaline and I watched them for the loveliest long time. And, as we crouched there, I thought how good it felt to pause from the busyness of the day to ponder snails – how they might be related, where they might be going and what they might be doing etc.
This adorable interaction got me thinking about life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying days are those in which, like Emaline, I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder snails (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world anew.
Heaven knows, the publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from crouching down and seeing the world – snails and all – from the perspective of a child!
Now, in celebration of three-year-olds, snails and slowing down, I offer you:
FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)
- SPEND TIME with a CHILD. There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one. Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes.
- CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel! And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
- DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS. Settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ! Pick old favorites as well as newer titles. Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.
- Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS. These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings. I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it. I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.
Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and ponder the snails this week.
I’ve been on holiday in England (as the British say) this past week and have enjoyed every moment, from touring several London museums, to exploring the narrow streets of Salisbury and listening to a choral festival in the glorious Salisbury cathedral. Today and tomorrow we will explore Bath with its stunning Roman ruins.
But the jewel of the visit was getting to meet Jane Chapman yesterday. Jane has illustrated over 100 picture books including all of Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON books, and, to my delight, both GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER.
It was a great honor and pleasure to meet her and her husband Tim Warnes, also a talented illustrator. Thank you for having us! And now a few pictures to celebrate the day.
First, it was quite the adventure getting to her lovely house in the heart of Dorset on roads, some of which were barely one lane wide with gorgeously thick brambles, grasses, high hedges and sometimes stone walls on either side.
As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Jane and Tim and quickly settled in with some lovely conversation on their patio. They fixed a delicious homemade lunch including a chocolate pear cake that Miss A insists I ask Jane the recipe for.
After lunch, Jane showed me their studios and then we spent a lovely long while in her studio. She pulled out her files of sketches and finals for both books. I found it very interesting to listen as she shared her process with me. It got me thinking about process too, so you can look forward to another post on when I return.
Finally, my dad snapped that nice picture of Jane, Tim and me at the top of the post. Then it was time to go. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and I hope that our paths cross again. I’d also love to do more books with Jane!
Happy Wednesday, all!
This week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!
Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!
That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK. I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca. The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.
Rebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.
How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved? By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag. Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.
Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt. Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find. Have fun!
Do you have favorite stories? Ones that have profoundly changed the way you look at the world? My childhood favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME and Kate Seredy’s THE CHESTRY OAK. But the story that’s had the biggest influence on how I view the world as a writer comes from the Old Testament. It’s found in the book of Joshua, chapters three and four. Here’s the gist of the story.
After wandering for forty years in the desert where God repeatedly provided for His people in amazing ways, yet repeatedly, they forgot His blessings, it was finally time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. As God had done before when He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely flee Egypt, He again parted the raging waters of the Jordan River so all of Israel could safely cross into the Promised Land. This time, in hopes they’d never forget His great provision, God instructed Joshua to have twelve men hoist twelve boulders from the center of the still-parted river and place them in a pile on the shore of Promised Land. “In the future,” Joshua explained, “when your children ask why these rocks are sitting here, tell them the amazing story of how God helped us cross the Jordan River.”
The stories and poems that we write are like those stones. When read, they have the potential to leave a deep imprint in a child’s memory, serving not only as a reminder of experiences past, but offering glimpses into ways that are good, offering hope for the future, and joy in the present moment. It is my deepest wish is that the words I write, whether religious or secular, point kids towards goodness, hope, joy, and God.
What about you? Have you ever thought about why you write? If stories are rocks, what kinds of rocks are you writing?
(Note: This post first appeared on my blog in November 2102, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our mission as writers and thought it worth revisiting.)
Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Rosie on her blog Life, Army Wife Style! Thanks so much for having me, Rosie. Please pop over, dear readers, for this fun interview! Happy reading, all!