Have you heard of New In 19? They're a group made up of debut trade picture book authors and illustrators of 2019. I was invited to moderate a #NewIn19 Twitter chat with the members back in October. I'll be sharing a post each day this week using the five questions from the chat. (View other questions through the NewIn19 keyword.)Today we'll here from five 2019 debut picture book authors and illustrators about who or what inspired them to be make books for children.
I've included a link to the #NewIn19 archive here for my first question, Who/What inspired you to be a children's book author and why picture books?
I've also included some screenshots like these between the guest posts below that I hope you'll enjoy.
All of us embark on a journey to find out who we are. Some of us take a little time, while others need to know right away.
The manuscript that became HONEYSMOKE started as a question from my three-year-old daughter: Who am I? She didn’t ask her question in such succinct terms, but that’s exactly what she wanted to know. She wanted to know all about her world and her place in it. I was surprised and a little disappointed when I couldn’t provide a satisfying answer.
Honeysmoke is my childhood nickname, and it is the color of my skin. When I was growing up, I decided that my mother, a light-skinned black woman, was the honey and that my father, a dark-skinned black man, was the smoke. I was the same as my parents but also different.
As I considered how I could help my biracial daughter understand the complexities of race, I turned to my childhood nickname. She was the same as her father and me but also different. She had inherited qualities from us, and she would soon discover that she had some of her very own, that she was more than what she looked like on the outside.
The little girl who inspired HONEYSMOKE is now a teenager, and she continues to discover her world and her place in it. It is my hope that those who read HONEYSMOKE– children and parents – discover their very own color.
When my three sons were picture book age, I woke up one night around 2am with the idea of a cow, Bessie, who accidentally leaves her farm and unknowingly creates chaos wherever she goes. I loved it so much that I jumped out of bed and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget. The next day, I became a writer.
At the time, my young family was living in Lewisburg, a small, central Pennsylvania town. Our friendly borough was surrounded by rolling hills of farmland, and it was almost like living in the pages of a picture book. We would take the wagon to the farmer’s market every Wednesday. There were mornings of big wheel races down the sidewalk to preschool and afternoons of snowball fights at the bus stop. And there were picture books. We had stacks of them all around the house, ready not only for bedtime reading, but also for any spur-of-the-moment storytimes, which happened quite often. I’m sure all these things contributed to that middle-of-the-night moment of inspiration.
I have a photo of my oldest son playing hide-and-seek when he was around 3-years-old. He had tucked himself into a coat rack, and between the coats, you could see his grinning face, so very pleased with his clever choice of hiding spot. However, the coats only came down so far, and you could see him completely from the knees down. I loved his earnest effort to find the perfect hiding spot and his joy in watching as his mom looked and looked but could never find him. (It must have been so hard for him to stay quiet!)
In COWHIDE-AND-SEEK, (now several revisions later), the cow in my story doesn’t just accidentally leave the farm. She leaves in an earnest effort to find the perfect hiding spot. And the book’s illustrator, Jess Pauwels, does an amazing job of showing Bessie’s joy in simply playing the game.
And that, I think, is the answer to the question: “Why picture books?” Because there is joy in simply playing the game.
My writing career began at age 10, when my sister and I started our family newspaper, The Daily Blab. I didn’t begin writing for children until I left journalism (at a real daily newspaper) to become a school librarian. My students inspire me, but not by giving me story ideas. They inspire me through their acuity about children’s literature.
I studied children’s literature as part of my library degree. I read countless children’s books with my daughter. Even so, it was witnessing each day the power of a group of children responding to picture books—fiction and nonfiction—that caused me to grow as a reader and writer.
My students always notice something that adds to our understanding of the story. They make connections to something they’ve read, or watched, that I haven’t. They interpret character motivations, situations, and illustrations in different ways than I might. They take our discussions to new and sometimes unexpected places. They’re open and introspective readers and trust their classmates with their deepest thoughts (and sometimes their silliest!). I’m privileged to be part of that.
It’s a gift to spend my days among the very audience for my work. It’s also a joy-filled challenge. To be sure I give them the best literature, I immerse myself in it. When you read aloud for a living, you become hypersensitive to a book’s rhythm, pacing, and page turns, language, dialogue, length, and structure. You tune your ear. You learn what you love, and it becomes part of you. That's why I write picture books.
My students have done more than inspire me. They’ve taught me how to read books—and how to write them.
Not surprisingly as a kid growing up in the 1980's, it seems I was introduced to Shel Silverstein as soon as I sat down in my first-grade seat. Did Where the Sidewalk Ends magically appear under that long row of crayons in my desk? In any case, I loved it, devoured the poems, committed many to memory and traced (yes, the cheater way of drawing!) his illustrations constantly. Mr. Silverstein's poems and illustrations charmed me with their irreverence and humor; I always felt like I was reading something I shouldn't and getting away with it. As a child, it seemed as though Silverstein played out little ditties of my imagination and his slightly crude drawings were permission for me to just draw, and have fun with it. Even his infamously creepy author photos made me reconsider people I saw, "that guy, he looks kind of weird...but maybe he's a writer too!" Now as an adult, I want to give young readers that feeling that I had from the Silverstein books, but in picture book form. To take those little ditties of an idea and create a world that kid can lay in their lap, where kids get to do what they do best - be sticky, loud and short. And fun.
My eighth grade teacher, Ms. Rebar, inspired my upcoming picture book. The story evolved from an assignment in English class many years ago. I still remember sitting in that wooden desk, next to my classmate Pat, and being instructed to write a creative paragraph. I looked down at the pencil on my desk and decided to write a story about a girl whose drawings became real.
At the time, I was 13 years old and had recently become a big sister, again. The new addition to our family was a little brother who was then almost two years old. I'm sure I was channeling my annoyance at having a toddler messing up all of my important teenage stuff when I decided to write about a girl who could draw anything she wanted and erase things she didn't. Now I realize that I was following a well-known writing rule: Write what you know. Not that magic drawing tools were common in my childhood, but dealing with siblings certainly was.
What's amazing to me is that a story I scribbled out so many years ago was still fresh in my mind, at least enough so that I could create a picture book text from it. Incredibly, my second picture book (also coming out in 2019) is based on a character I doodled in high school. I'm not sure if it was the freedom of having an uncluttered young mind or the time to be creative that lead to these memorable concepts. But I do know that they both seem to stem from crafty educators who created a spark of inspiration for me and other students each and every school day.
My story fit so perfectly into a picture book format. The ability to play with words, create a world where imagination ruled and throw in a dash of magic -- it's the stuff picture books are made of. Plus, since I can't draw, I love the idea that a fabulous illustrator is creating brilliant images that will develop my characters in a way I never could.
I'm most looking forward to delivering the very first copy of my debut picture book to Ms. Rebar. I wonder how she'll feel about being the reason this story ever came into the world. Or maybe that's just part of the job. I'm sure she's been an inspiration to countless students. Just imagine what they've gone on to create.
Contributors to this post:
Monique Fields is an award-winning writer. Her essays about race and identity have appeared on air, in print, and online, including NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Ebony magazine, and TheRoot. She lives in Alabama with her husband and their two biracial daughters.
Sheri Dillard is a children's author and preschool teacher/librarian. Her work has appeared in Highlights, and she has also written nonfiction for the school and library market. Sheri lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. COWHIDE-AND-SEEK is her first book.
Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian. A native of the Jersey shore, Lisa lives with her family and stubborn coonhound near the halfway point of the Boston Marathon, which she’s run three times. Her picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW won the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and will be released by Schwartz & Wade Books in September, 2019. Find her online at www.lisarogerswrites.com or on twitter: @LisaLJRogers.
Mikela Prevost is the author and illustrator of LET'S HAVE A DOG PARTY! published by Viking/Penguin as well as the illustrator of several other picture books. She is a former art instructor and currently lives in Phoenix with her family.
Stephanie Ward is the author of two upcoming picture books scheduled for release in 2019. (It’s all under wraps at the moment, but stay tuned for details!) To date, she has written five award-winning picture book manuscripts and her stories have been published in the Creative Kids Tales Anthology and CJ Dennis Poetry Anthology. Due to ever-present wanderlust, Stephanie has traveled to all seven continents, lived in four countries and holds three passports. Currently, she lives and writes in London, England with her husband and young son. No matter where she is, you can always find her on www.stephaniemward.com or follow along on Twitter (@StephMWard) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/stephaniemwardauthor).