AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR Spotlight: A Interview with Matt Forrest Esenwine and Fred Koehler in Celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s First Book Birthday!

Flashlight Night_hi-res coverToday I am delighted to be celebrating the first book birthday of the delightful picture book FLASHLIGHT NIGHT which released one year ago today. FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, published by Boyds Mill Press, is an engaging rhyming bedtime story written by Matt Forrest Esenwine. Paired with Fred Koehler’s spooky, yet spectacular illustrations, it captures the imagination and begs to be read again and again.  Not surprisingly, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT has received glowing reviews (pun intended).  Kirkus Reviews (who gave it a coveted star review!) describes it as a “rousing read” with “delicious language and ingenious metamorphoses.” The Horn Book praises it as “an old fashioned, rip-roaring imaginary adventure.” I call it mesmerizing and fun!  Congratulations, team FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, and thanks so much, Matt and Fred, for joining us today to chat about the process that brought this charming book into being.  Let’s get started.

First of all, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/editing. 

30688174_10216331665152702_4983291287571529728_nMATT: Thank you so much for inviting us, Laura! I’m so thrilled to be able to chat with you and Fred about our book. To give you the short version of my journey, I’ve been a creative type and have writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first song when I was 7 or 8, and it was horrible – something about a goat on a boat being swallowed down a throat – but it was really fun to rhyme and tell a story at the same time. (You see what I did there?) Anyway, my first published poem was in a local college’s literary magazine; I was a junior in high school and it felt so cool to have a free verse poem actually published, for all the world to see. Over the years, I had a number of poems published in various  journals and anthologies, but I always felt like my style wasn’t quite right for most adult-focused publications. Then in the late ’90s I wrote a couple of children’s poems, but didn’t know what to do with them…and over the next several years more and more children’s poems started popping out of me, and I felt it was time to do something about it. So in 2009 I joined a local SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI later that year, and started sending out my one manuscript for a poetry collection…which didn’t go anywhere, but it was a good, necessary start!

fred_koehler_MFRED: Hi Laura. Great to be with you. I like to think of myself as an artistic redneck who’d rather be creating cool stuff or out fishing than just about anything else you could offer me. I started working towards a career in publishing when my second child was on the way – he just turned nine. I always knew it was tough to break in to the industry but I just kept showing up, making friends, and revising my work till they had to give me a shot. All in all, it was probably about 4 years of trying before I finally got my foot in the door. Now I’ve got seven picture and two novels with my name on the jacket, and hopefully another half a lifetime to make a bunch more.

Wow, I love how both of you have followed your passion and I spot a common theme of patience and persistence in your journeys into the field.

Now a question for Matt. Your love of language is evident in FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s  rich word choice and rhythmic rhyming verse. How was that love developed?

MATT: The simple answer is, it helps being a nerd in school! I always loved learning as a child, and would read my parent’s dictionary or encyclopedia set sometimes when I was bored. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, I used to make up word searches and word puzzles and my teachers would make copies (remember the old mimeograph machines??) to pass out to the class. I suppose you could say that was my first experience being published! But as I got older I learned how much fun language could be in writing. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Jencks, introduced me to Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, Chaucer, and a wide array of classic poets which really spurred me to learn and practice form, rhyme, and all sorts of other poetic devices.

Sounds familiar  – especially the word nerd part!

And now a question for FredYour spooky and dark, yet not too scary, illustrations pair perfectly with Matt’s text.  What is it about Matt’s story that drew you to the story? Also, tell us a bit about you created such a flash-lit feel in the illustrations.

flashlight-10eFRED: I often follow my gut on whether or not to accept a manuscript. I don’t read the synopsis or the art notes. I just focus on the exact words that the publisher wants on the page. If those words resonate with me, I take the project. Matt’s story for FLASHLIGHT NIGHT created an instant connection. I was a kid again, running through the woods with my friends, playing capture the flag or flashlight tag. Any time words can create that sort of visceral reaction, you know it’s something special. As for the illustrations, I was intentional about what lived “inside” the flashlight beam and what stayed “outside.” Anything outside the beam had to live in the dark and had to be part of the real world. But inside the beam, all bets were off. I did as best I could with my graphite and paper, then let Photoshop enhance the contrast between the light and dark areas.

MATT: That is probably the one thing people comment on the most, regarding the illustrations: how ingenious it was to keep the darkness reality (which is usually what kids are afraid of) and to make the light of the flashlight’s beam the fantasy.

flashlight-night-workingThe illustrations work BRILLIANTLY to enhance the text. Well done!  

Now a question for both of you. It’s always extra special for me to have both that author and illustrator here together chatting about their book.  Did you interact?  Please give us a little peek into that part of the book’s creation.

MATT: Interestingly, the editing process began even before our editor, Rebecca Davis, called me to make an offer! In Dec. 2014, 4 months after I had sent her the manuscript, I learned that the manuscript had won the New England SCBWI Peg Davol Scholarship, which afforded me the opportunity to have the manuscript critiqued by an established author; I would then be given time to revise it and have it critiqued again by an editor or agent at the New England SCBWI annual spring conference. As it turned out, one week after I had my first critique, Rebecca called to let me know she wanted to purchase my story – and during that time, I had made a couple of small but significant revisions. So I sent her the revised manuscript, and we then began tweaking things here and there over the course of the next couple months.

Although we connected on Facebook, Fred and I did not really interact with each insofar as the book is concerned; Rebecca handled the juggling act of matching text with the visuals She shared with me most of Fred’s sketches and illustrations, asking my opinion about certain things – which was greatly appreciated, since it is not a standard practice with most publishers! Some things we agreed on, others we didn’t – but as the editor, she of course had the final say. One particular change was in one of Fred’s spreads, where there was a lot going on visually – I don’t recall the specifics – and Rebecca and I were concerned that the illustration was so detailed that it took away from the flow of the story. I don’t recall if Fred remembers that at all.

Conversely, another example that stands out is the spread that reads, “Adventure lingers, stirs about,” near the end of the book. Those were not my original lines, but once we saw Fred Koehler’s illustrations we realized that what I had originally written was not going to work with his sub-narrative of the three kids on an adventure. So I had to rewrite that section in order to balance the text with what was going on with the pictures. It truly was a collaborative effort among the three of us!

FRED: My process is to take an author’s words and go sprinting off in whatever crazy direction my brain takes me. Maybe we had one or two emails back and forth? I think he got to see the concept. But otherwise, all of our communication has happened after the book went to press.

MATT: That’s true, we’ve been in touch much more since the book came out than beforehand!

Before we wrap up, what’s your number one piece of advice for aspiring children’s picture book writers/illustrators?

MATT: I know this is going to be more than one piece of advice, but I would say read as much as you can! Get a feel for what’s out there, see what people are writing, learn how they are writing it, and then try to do your own thing. I paid very close attention to detail in my story, choosing every word carefully to make it flow and rhyme and be fun to read, and I never settled for “good enough.” However, I did eschew certain standard writing rules they always teach at workshops:  I do not follow a “rule of 3’s,” there is no problem anyone has to solve, no one is given any names (in fact, there is not even a boy or girl mentioned!), and the main character, grammatically speaking, is the flashlight! So I think it’s important to note that one can bend rules or even throw out rules, as long as an editor realizes you know what you’re doing!

FRED: Here’s practical advice. Create an annual budget for your writing and give yourself permission to spend it. If you can put aside $1,000 a year, that might get you a couple of local conference or maybe an out-of-state trip to attend a bigger book-making workshop. If you want it to become more than a hobby, treat it like an investment.

MATT: That is, indeed, very good advice. I budget for one SCBWI workshop each year, plus I’ll be heading to my second Highlights Foundation workshop in October to spend 5 days with Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Georgia Heard, I budget for my website and postcards and such, and I also set aside funds for purchasing books (not just other books, but my own, to sell). Creating books might be a lot of fun, but it’s still a business.

Thank you both so much for joining us today and happiest of birthdays to FLASHLIGHT NIGHT!

To learn more about Matt visit his website

To learn more about Fred visit his website

And now, since this is a birthday celebration, we have an extra special treat –  not ONE but TWO GIVEAWAYS!  In celebration of FLASHLIGHT NIGHT’s first book birthday, Matt is offering ONE SIGNED copy of the book to one lucky winner.  And a second winner will receive an awesome packet of KidLitTV swag! (The book was featured on KidLitTV’s StoryMakers last year.  To see that episode, press here.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win one of these book birthday treats, let me know by commenting below. All entrants will be entered in both giveaways. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident, ages 18 and up.) The giveaways end Wednesday, 10/3/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winners will be announced that day!

 

 

 

 

LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour STOP FIVE: A Simply Seven Interview!

IMG_3148 2Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Jena Benton as part of her Simply Seven Interview Series.  Interested in learning a little bit more about the backstory behind LOVE IS KIND?  Then grab one of these virtual cookies, baked by Miss A, and head on over!  I’ll make it easy for you.  Click here.  Oh, and there’s a giveaway too! Thank you for having me, Jena! I enjoyed answering your very thoughtful questions.

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE Blog Tour: Stop SEVEN

spring book eventsFor today’s stop on the DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE blog tour, we have a special treat – a JOINT interview with illustrator Rebecca Gerlings! Joint interviews are extra special because they require extra coordination – especially when the illustrator is from the UK and the author is from NJ!  Thank you for having us, Kidlit411!  Here’s the link so you can pop on over.  (Oh, and there’s a giveaway too!) Happy reading!

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BLOG TOUR: Stops FOUR and FIVE!

IMG_6273The official Diva Delores Blog Tour continued yesterday and again today with stops at Vivian Kirkfield’s PICTURE BOOKS HELP KIDS SOAR blog.  Yesterday, DIVA DELORES was featured as Vivian’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick  and today I’m featured today on her Will Write for Cookies series weighing in with my thoughts about cookies, of course, as well as some hopefully tasty insights into why I write for kids, who my favorite favorite authors were as a kid and more. Oh, yes, and there’s a giveaway as well!

Please pop over. There are cookies!

*Delightfully decorated cookie (shown above) created by Miss A!

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse BLOG TOUR: Stop THREE

Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Melissa Stoller over at her blog.  Her format is the “3 Question Interview” and for one of the questions I talk about glasses – special glasses (pictured above). Curious?  Then, grab a cup of tea and head on over. That’s what I’m doing.  I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link. Thanks, Melissa for having me!

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE: We’re Going on Tour… BLOG TOUR!

It’s official! In celebration of the release of my newest picture book, we’re going on tour! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be making stops at the following blogs. There will be interviews, giveaways and more.  Please stop by!DIVA DELORES BLOG TOUR FLYER pdf

‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS: A Joint Interview with Author Glenys Nellist & Illustrator Elena Selivanova (And a GIVEAWAY!!!!!)

 

Today, I’m thrilled to be a part of the ’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS blog tour. At this stop, I’m pinching myself because I get to host author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Elena Selivanova in their first ever joint interview!  It’s always a treat to interview an author or an illustrator, but it’s extra special to have both chiming in at once, especially since Elena lives in Russia and speaks Russian! 

ABOUT THE BOOK: ’Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova and published by Zonderkidz, echoes the familiar language and rhythm of Clement Moore’s beloved poem, but instead of focusing on Santa, it focuses on Baby Jesus, who is, after all, the true hero of Christmas.

Get a preview with the book trailer, then join us for the interview below, which has been edited for clarity. I thank both women for joining me and apologize if anything was lost in my understanding of the translation.

Thanks so much for joining us today, ladies. Well let’s get started with my questions bolded.

Question #1: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.

Elena: Ever since I can remember, I have always drawn. Perhaps, it was predestination? I was born in Siberia, but grew up south of Kazachstan.  Later I moved to Moscow, where I had an excellent education at the Moscow State University of Printing Arts which gave me incredible freedom and confidence. I studied world literature, the theory of composition, fine art, history of religion, material culture, history of costume and more. 

What a rich background you bring to the drawing table.  No wonder your illustrations sing. And let me also add from the book flap that Elena has worked for twenty years in children’s book illustration and has illustrated over 100 books!

Glenys: I have loved reading, writing and anything to do with words ever since I can remember. It all began at primary school in England, where one day a week, I was one of the lucky few withdrawn from the classroom to sit in big, comfy armchairs in the teachers’ lounge and write. When I became a primary school teacher myself, I wrote poems and stories to use in my classroom, but it wasn’t until my husband and I came to pastor a small church in the United States, that the publishing world opened up for me. It was at that little church that I began to write my own curriculum, to be used in children’s ministry, and pretty soon had this crazy dream of writing a children’s storybook Bible. It was a dream that would take me ten years to fulfill, but it was worth pursuing!

And I’m so glad you followed that dream, Glenys!

 Now, Glenys, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story?

Glenys: Well, I’m sure like many families, when my four sons were young we would gather round our candle-lit Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and read the much-loved words of Clement C Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Even though we only heard it once a year, it’s such a classic poem that we all knew it by heart. When I began writing for children, that poem popped up in my memory and I wondered if I could rewrite it, using Moore’s familiar rhythm and rhyme, but instead of basing the story around Santa, it would be based on Jesus—the real hero of Christmas.

Elena, your magnificent illustrations bring beautiful fullness to the book. What drew you to Glenys’s ’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS story?

Elena: Probably this is the most exciting and magical story in world literature
and Glenys’s delightful accents gave a powerful impetus to the work.

And you did a glorious job!  I just love how your intricate illustrations bring Glenys’s text to life in a special way on each spread.

And now a question for both of you: What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Elena: Serenity and peace.

Glenys: I never intended this story to replace the Christmas classic, but I hope that it might be used alongside it, so that little ones won’t lose their focus on the One who would change the world. I hope they take away a real sense of the love God has for them, in sending baby Jesus to earth.

Your shared story is indeed a wonderful companion piece for the Christmas season.  I will be reading your delightful collaborative work with my Sunday School classes in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to see their eyes light up as the story unfolds in this charming new way.

Finally, since this book celebrates Christmas, do you each have a favorite Christmas tradition that you’d like to share with our readers?

Glenys: I am from England, where my four sons grew up, and so our Christmas traditions are quite different to those in the USA! (For example, in a British home, you won’t find folks decorating cookies….you’ll find them making mince pies!) But I think my favorite tradition has to be pulling Christmas Crackers at the dinner table before we eat our turkey, sprouts and roast potatoes! I think you might know these as ‘poppers’. The idea is that two of you grasp both ends of a cracker and pull. It ‘pops’ open and you get to keep what’s inside. There’s always a corny joke or two, a little plastic toy, and the iconic paper hat, which everyone in England wears for Christmas dinner. Here’s the photo to prove it…163726_186641114681398_450526_n

Elena: Every year my family waits, as eager as children, for the arrival of a huge Christmas tree (see picture below).  It’s a sparkling tree and the most charming sight ever.  It’s a great tradition in my family! 

Christmas tree

Thank you, again, Elena and Glenys, for chatting with me!  Zonderkidz sure knew what they were doing when they teamed you up for this book!  Blessings to both of you as we celebrate the Christmas season.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here: Author Website

 See more of Elena’s beautiful art work here:  Elena Selivanova at Beehive Illustration

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!  

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of ‘TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 11/30/17 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday! The GIVEAWAY is now over. A winner has been selected. Thank you to all who entered.  

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Carol Gordon Ekster in Celebration of the release of her newest book YOU KNOW WHAT?

YouKnowWhatbookcoverPlease join me in welcoming four-time picture book author Carol Gordon Ekster as we chat about her newest book YOU KNOW WHAT?, illustrated by Nynke Talsma and published by Clavis, a Belgian publisher, about a little boy who’s doing his very best to postpone bedtime by asking lots of questions.  Her other books include RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM (Character Publishing), BEFORE I SLEEP, I SAY THANK YOU (Pauline Press and Media) and WHERE AM I SLEEPING TONIGHT?  (Boulden Publishing) Take a look at the YOU KNOW WHAT? book trailer below, then enjoy the interview that follows, with my questions in warm blue to match the book cover..

 Question 1: First of all, welcome, and congratulations on this latest book.  What inspired you to write YOU KNOW WHAT?

I love writing on planes…the confinement, the focus…my mind flies off into its best creative space. So there I was, in August 2014, on an airplane to meet my grandson two days after he was born. My laptop was on the tray and I was working on a story. I heard the child in front of me say to his parents, “You know what?” And my fingers immediately started typing a new document. That day I began brainstorming, more of a cause and effect exercise with every sentence beginning with, “You know what?” But when I returned home and began the real work on that draft, it developed into a conversation between a mother and son where Oliver uses the repeated, “You know what?” to postpone his bedtime.  The story wasn’t planned, it came to me like a gift. I wonder if I hadn’t been in that exact seat or not heard this child’s “You know what?” would I have picked it up somewhere else? I think catching the right story idea is a miracle!

I think you were meant to be sitting in that exact spot.  What a wonderful example of being intentional and ever on the look-out for story sparks. 

Question 2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey.

No, I did not always want to be a writer! Writing is hard. I was passionate about teaching and lived and breathed it most of my life as a fourth grade teacher. There was little room for anything else. Then my last seven years before retirement, writing snuck in like a welcome surprise. The need to write came over me at the beach one day. I felt taken over and had to walk to my car to get post-its, the only thing I had to write on, and a pen. I came back to my seat on the sand to write my first picture book. It was never published and unless it undergoes major revision, will never be sold. But that was the first of many. I started writing late in life and am making up for lost time.  It was the 20th manuscript that I wrote that was the first to sell. Starting to write while teaching was a sweet beginning into this journey because I got to share it with students. I became a better teacher and a better writer and I believe my students became better writers because they saw the writing process in action. They were my first critique group! Now retirement gives me the time to live and breathe writing. It’s such a great second career in that I get to continue communicating with children, but I can do it anywhere and on my own schedule.

Your journey into writing is inspirational and a lovely reminder that writing is a craft/career that one can hone and develop at any age.  

Question 3: Most books by American authors are published first in English and then, if we are lucky, they get translated into other languages.  But YOU KNOW WHAT? was first published in Dutch!  Tell us a little bit about that process. 

This process was definitely a little scary! The Dutch version came out in December 2016. I couldn’t help in its promotion, see it bookstores, check Amazon’s Author Central to know how it was selling. I had to trust in Clavis Books. I was excited at the possibility of extending my readership. And Clavis brings their books to all the international book fairs, which is wonderful. Both Chinese and Korean publishers already bought the rights. My other books have never been translated into another language, so I’ve been ecstatic. The English version came out September 1, 2017 and now I can get involved in marketing and help spread the word…like right here with you.

And here’s the Dutch cover so our readers can see what that version looks like.  

BookCover-MamaWistJeDatQuestion 4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

Yes! I have activities, as I do for all my books, on my web page. I am a teacher first and foremost and as I’m writing a book I’m often thinking of extension activities and asking myself questions like will this work for a mentor text for strong verbs, alliteration, etc. With YOU KNOW WHAT? someone in my critique group suggested a different ending, which left things open ended. I loved that and immediately knew I’d make a sheet that children could fill out with what they thought that last “you know what?” might be. And I got the sweetest e-mail from a winner of the Shelf Awareness giveaway. She read the book with her five year old granddaughter with her granddaughter reading Oliver’s part while she read the mother’s part. Because YOU KNOW WHAT? is entirely a dialog between Oliver and his mom, the book lends itself to that kind of readers’ theatre. I hadn’t thought of that and was thrilled to learn of another way to read this book.

Here is the link where you can find language arts, math, creative arts, dramatic play, and gross motor activities that coordinate with the book.   Terrific!

 Question 5: Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I recently sent out my 80th manuscript. And I have SO many more on my desk top in varying degrees of readiness to be sent out to publishers. I am not yet agented so I do research about where to send my stories and then send them out on my own. I am hopeful there will be more published books in my future.

As far as where readers can find my books, I love supporting local bookstores. But if that isn’t an option, you can find the book at all e-tailers. Also, I love public libraries and am an avid user myself. You can ask your library to get the book for you if they don’t already have it.

Wow!  80 manuscripts.  Now that’s something to aspire to.  Thank you so much for joining me here today, Carol.   And readers, here’s how you can learn more and connect with Carol:

Goodreads  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1867583.Carol_Gordon_Ekster

Twitter  https://twitter.com/cekster

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/cekster

Group blog: https://writersrumpus.com/author/cekster/

Carol's professional photo for booksAbout the author:

Carol Gordon Ekster taught elementary school teacher for 35 years.  Her first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce, Boulden Publishing, 2008, was an About.com Readers’ Choice 2012 finalist for Best Children’s Book for Single Parents. The Library Is The Perfect Place”, was acquired by Library Sparks magazine, 2010.  A picture book, Ruth The Sleuth and The Messy Room, was on Character Publishing’s debut list, 2011 and was awarded the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval.  Her picture book, Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You, Pauline Books and Media, released January 1, 2015 and is now in its third printing. The book was the 3rd place winner in the Catholic Press Association’s 2016 Book Awards in the children’s category and was a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her first e-book came out spring 2015 as part of a digital library with Schoolwide, Inc. Her new book, You Know What? with Clavis Books came out first in Dutch, December 2016, and the English version released September 1, 2017. Korean and Chinese versions are in the works. Carol spends time in critique groups, doing exercise and yoga, and working on her books.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Danna Smith in Celebration of THE HAWK OF THE CASTLE

HAWK_HJ_USToday 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.

HAWK_HI_US 19

Illustrations copyright ©2017 by Bagram 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.

Danna birds nest 2017ABOUT 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:

Website: www.dannasmithbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authordannasmith/

Blog: www.picturebookplaylist.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dannasmith8?lang=en

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Nancy Churnin in Celebration of the Release of MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN

 

Please welcome children’s author Nancy Churnin as we chat about the release of her newest book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN.  Illustrated by Danny Popovici and published by Creston Books, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is the true story of Dashrath Manjhi who, using only a hammer and chisel and twenty years’ worth of perseverance, carved a path through a mountain to connect his poor village to the more prosperous village nearby. Kirkus Reviews praises Churnin’s prose as having “an elegance appropriate for her inspiring tale” and hails the tale as “heartening”.  Churnin’s inspiring story also has the honor of being selected for the Junior Library Guild Fall 2017 list.
Congratulations, Nancy, on this exceptional new release and thanks so much for joining us today. Let’s get started – with my questions in burnt umber to match the book’s magnificent cover.
What inspired you to write MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN?
I had such a joyful journey with writing my debut book, The William Hoy Story, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game, I was inspired to find more stories of hidden heroes and heroines from diverse backgrounds. When I came across an article about Manjhi, he grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. Manjhi is the story of how having a vision and determination can transform any one of us from being ordinary to extraordinary. I felt driven, like Manjhi, to find a way of telling his story in a way that would resonate with kids and inspire them to make a positive difference in their schools and communities. 
And I think you succeeded!  His story his inspiring and such a good example for kids to know and follow. 
Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?
 I cannot remember a time that I didn’t love books and long to add to the wondrous world of words. My parents, who came of age during the Great Depression, used the first pennies they had to buy a book — Tomorrow Will Be Better. I grew up in a world of books, with a library of shelves my father built from floor to ceiling. I also remember having my own blank notebook where I was writing ideas and fragments of stories and poems. As I grew up, I was drawn to studying literature and I fell in love with journalism, which allowed me to interview, learn and write stories on a daily basis. This turned out to be a terrific preparation for researching and writing children’s picture books.
In addition to writing picture books, you are also the Theater Critic for The Dallas Morning News. How has your interest in theater shaped your writing?
 
WilliamHoyStory_CVR-1I thank my job for the inspiration for my first book, The William Hoy Story. I wrote a story about a fascinating play, The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, being presented by a high school in Garland, Texas. I received a thank you note from Steve Sandy, a man in Ohio. I emailed back my appreciation but asked why a man in Ohio was interested in a play in a high school in Garland, Texas. Steve told me he is Deaf and a friend of the Hoy family. We got to be email friends. Steve told me it made him sad that Deaf and hearing kids didnt know the story of this Deaf hero. He also told me of his dream that William Hoy would someday be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where he would be the first Deaf player honored there.
Thats when I got the idea that if I wrote a book for kids, the kids would help by writing letters to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Hoys behalf. So far, they kids have sent more than 800 letters. We are encouraging them to keep them coming in advance of the next vote in 2020. We include the address for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the free William Hoy teachers guide. Thank you, Laura, for giving me an opportunity to talk about this and encourage the kids to participate!

 

Wow!  I just love how your interest in theater led you to write Hoy’s story and I think your campaign to have children write letters on Hoy’s behalf to the Baseball Hall of Fame is brilliant!  
MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN is also based on a true story. What was your process for first researching and then writing the book?
 I read every article I could find on Manjhi. I hit gold when I discovered YouTube videos of interviews with him and interviews of people in his community. The videos also showed his village, which is such an important part of the story. I was fortunate, too, to get help from Rachel Ball-Phillips, a lecturer in South Asian studies at Southern Methodist University. She knows the story, the culture and the terrain. She made sure that my story was correct and gave notes to make sure that Danny Popovic’s exquisite watercolor illustrations accurately reflected the architecture, clothes, hairstyles and food in Manjhi’s village.
Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?
 Yes! I am so proud of our curriculum guide, which not only talks about themes and culture, but teaches kids simple words in Hindi and includes a recipe for roti, a flat bread that Manjhi enjoys in the book. Plus, in the back of the book itself, I talk about our Move Your Own Mountain project. We are asking kids to send us photos of something they have done, in the spirit of Manjhi, to make a positive difference in their schools and communities, so that we can celebrate what they’ve done and encourage good deeds to spread. The photos and descriptions of what they’ve done will be posted on the Move Your Own Mountain page on nancychurnin.com. Here’s a link to the curriculum guide.
 I just LOVE how, for each of your books, you offer kids concrete ways to follow through and grow. Are there more picture books in the pipeline? (I hope so!)
 I have three more picture books biographies coming out after Manjhi Moves a Mountain, for a total of five. Charlie Takes His Shot, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf is the true story of Charlie Sifford, who waged a long, lonely fight for his right to play golf. With the help of friends like Jackie Robinson and Stanley Mosk, Charlie became the first black player in the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, opening the door for so many others. Charlie Takes HIs Shot comes out Jan. 1, 2018. Also coming out in 2018: Irving Berlin, The Immigrant Boy Who Taught America to Sing and The Princess and the First Christmas Tree, the story of the princess who introduced the annual tradition of the Christmas tree to Windsor Castle.
Readers are in for a real treat. All these titles sound great. Thank you for sharing your writing gift with the world – and for stopping by today! To learn more about Nancy and her books, visit her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter at @nchurnin.  
IMG_4807About the Author:    Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman & Company), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids list, the 2017 Texas Library Association’s 2X2 and Topaz lists and the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association’s Monarch Award Master List. MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books), a 2017 Junior Library Guild fall selection, came out Sept. 1, 2017. Coming out in 2018: CHARLIE MAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) in January; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books) in spring and THE PRINCESS AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman) in September. A native New Yorker, she’s a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University School of Journalism, who lives in Dallas with her husband, sons and two cats.