Yes! I love visiting classrooms from pre-k on up, and can tailor a discussion to fit various grade levels. Check out the links on my School Visits page for information about my program and fees. To request a visit, or for answers to other school-visit-related questions, you can e-mail me at: [email protected]
My three daughters and my own childhood experiences provide plenty of inspiration, but ideas come to me in other ways, too. A funny story told to me by a friend, a scene glimpsed from a car window, a season, a sketch, a memory — really, just about anything can spark an idea. Often I begin with a title. A catchy title will pop into my head out of the blue (usually when I’m in the shower, driving the kids to school, or drifting off to sleep) which is why I always try to keep a notebook nearby to jot down ideas.
My first four books are picture books intended for young readers (4-8 yrs), but I’m also at work on a middle-grade novel. I don’t believe you have to choose one or the other. Many of the children’s book authors I most admire — Kevin Henkes, Kate DiCamillo, Meg Medina — move seamlessly from picture books to longer narratives.
Their work has a versatility (among other enthralling qualities) to which I aspire. And although young readers and middle-grade audiences interest me most right now, I try to stay open all kinds of stories when they come knocking.
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak was a big favorite, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats… and any book by Mercer Mayer or Shel Silverstein. I loved fantasy novels, especially those involving time travel — like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Edward Ormondroyd’s Time At The Top.
I also enjoyed mysteries with clever empowered kids as main characters. I read all the Nancy Drew I could get my hands on, and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg is one of my favorite books of all time.
What I wished I’d had more of as a kid, was books with diverse, biracial main characters. Growing up in a mixed-race family in the 1970s and 80s, there weren’t many books about characters who looked and lived like me. Thankfully that’s now changing. Is there more work to be done to get diverse #ownvoices stories into the world? Yes. That’s part of the reason my recent projects have been about fictional and nonfictional Latinas. I want to write the books I wished as I’d had as a kid.
We recently got a cat — a 4-year-old ginger named Charlie. He’s eyeing me suspiciously as I type this so… my answer is CAT. Did you hear that, Charlie? Yup. Cats. Unequivocally.
So many desserts to love. But if I had to choose a favorite, I’d say my grandma Rosie’s dark chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. The recipe is printed in Baking Day at Grandma’s.
No. I wanted to be an olympic gymnast or a famous actress. Neither of those panned out. I did always write, though — mostly poems, plays and short stories in my journal. And I worked as a copywriter for a time, but it wasn’t until after I started having kids of my own that I decided I wanted to try writing children’s books.
I was fortunate to have my husband, Chris, pass a manuscript of mine to his longtime editor and friend Patti Gauch. We pitched the book as a team and her confidence in Chris’s artwork helped a great deal. At the end of the day, though, the writing had to pass muster. It had to be something the publisher felt was worthwhile and marketable.
I always remind students and aspiring authors that published authors have to deal with rejection, too. There are story ideas that don’t quite come together or never find the right home. It’s all part of the learning and growing process as a writer. The important thing is to keep writing!
My advice to anyone looking to begin a career in children’s books is to read in your genre of interest voraciously. Go to the bookstore or library and make note of the books you like, and who publishes them. If you are not a member already, join the Society of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators and attend regional conferences. (Be sure to check out this helpful list of of answers to frequently asked questions on their website. )
For picture book writers specifically, I highly recommend Linda Ashman’s comprehensive and informative primer: The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Children’s Books.
Yes. I work with the wonderful Emily van Beek of Folio Jr. The advice I give to writers looking for an agent is the same I give when querying editors. Do your research. Find out what kinds of stories they are looking for. If you think your work might be a good fit for a certain agent, and he or she is open to queries — send your best, most polished masterpiece, and have other manuscripts ready to share, if requested.