I got another book deal! I’m so excited to share that my next picture book, A Bad Case of the Almosts, was finally announced last week! (My third picture book, and my fourth book!!! But who’s counting?)
In case you can’t read that, here’s what it says:
Christianne Jones at Capstone has acquired world rights to A Bad Case of the Almosts by Janet Sumner Johnson (l.), illustrated by Alexandra Colombo. In this book, Abby conducts an experiment to discover if “almost” can be a good thing. Publication is set for spring 2023; Lauren Galit at LKG Agency represented the author, and Emmajane Turner at the Bright Agency represented the illustrator.
I wrote A BAD CASE OF THE ALMOSTS when I was struggling with them myself. I’d had a few books on submission that *ALMOST* sold, and it felt like “almost” was my destiny. Not quite there. Not quite good enough.
I commiserated with a good friend of mine, and she encouraged me. Told me to keep going and that she thought I was about to break through. That I was *almost* there. She could feel it.
I couldn’t, but it made me reassess. What if “Almost” wasn’t the stumbling block I thought it was?
I’m just thrilled to share this book with you, and I hope a few of you can relate to how it feels to be so close to something, then not quite make it.
So. You may have noticed that it’s slated for a spring 2023 release. That might seem fast for a picture book, but I have a secret to share with you about the publishing industry. I actually signed this picture book contract last June. Yep, 9 (NINE!!!) months ago.
With picture books, the announcement takes a while because once the author signs the contract, the publisher has to find an illustrator and get them to sign a contract before the book can be announced. And every publisher works slightly differently. Some publishers might jump right on finding an illustrator. Others might wait a bit because they are busy working on other projects. Some contracts are more complicated, so it might take more time to negotiate that contract. And it also depends on when the book is slated to be published.
All of that means nine months of waiting for a book deal announcement is pretty typical when it comes to picture books. I even know some authors who have waited over two years for a book to be announced! And let me tell you, it can be pretty hard to keep a secret for that long. So it’s an amazing day when we can finally share about a book that we are so excited for!
And one final note, for those with curious minds: Longer books, the kinds that don’t have an illustrator, those announcements can come much faster. Though not always . . . because negotiating a contract can still take time, which means months can pass between when an author first gets an offer and when the contract is finally signed.
Publishing is an industry of secrets and a test of patience. Which is why you will so often hear an author say: “I got great news today!! But I can’t talk about it yet.” Because like I said, keeping secrets–like a book deal!–is HARD! And when you’ve got good news, all you want to do is shout about it to the world.
Sometimes, hosting an author interview is a great way to meet some fantastic authors. And sometimes, hosting an author interview is a way to spend time with a great friend! But it is always a way to share some amazing books with you, my readers. Today, I’m super excited to have children’s author, Dee Romito, here on my blog!
We met almost ten years ago through Pitch Madness (which was a contest that allowed you to get your work in front of agents). Since then, we have debuted our middle grade books together, taken picture book classes together, attended writing conferences and book festivals together, chatted for countless hours via text, phone, and zoom, and most recently, I even convinced her to do a Reel on Instagram with me! (Seriously, you should follow that link . . . just not until you’ve finished reading here. 😁)
From when I first read her work, before either of us were published, I loved it! Dee writes super-relatable, hard-to-put-down, intriguing-plot stories. So it was no surprise when she sold her chapter book series, Fort Builders, Inc. in a 4-book deal! The fourth book just came out, and I’m thrilled to have her here to talk about it. So let’s get started! (As always, I’m in green.)
Dee, will you tell us about your new chapter book series, FORT BUILDERS, INC.?
Fort Builders Inc. is about a group of friends who decide to start their own fort building business. They use teamwork, creativity, and their individual skills to navigate each challenge.
I love this premise so much! It’s brilliant! What inspired you with idea? Because honestly, what kid hasn’t wished they could build forts as a job?
And kids are so good at it! I was trying to think of an idea for a chapter book series and asked myself, “What do kids like to do these days?” Right in front of me was a box fort my kids had made. I had my answer!
Kids bring so much inspiration to our writing lives. Love it! So I happen to know that you built a fort or two as research for your books. Can you tell us about that? Did you build any specific forts from your books? What was the hardest part?
I did! For the first book, I had to make a drawbridge, and then I had to give my family the instructions I’d written to see if the steps made sense. Watching them helped me fine tune what went in the book.
We also built a pet fort for a litter of kittens we were fostering. The kittens loved it, and they posed for some book promo photos too!
I’d probably end up being the organizer like Caleb. I like to figure out what everyone is good at and then delegate tasks. I also like to encourage everyone and be a sounding board if there’s a problem to solve.
Oh yeah. I can totally see that. I think I’d be like Kiara, doing the planning. 😂
Okay, I’d love for our readers to learn more about you, so what is one thing about you that might surprise us?
I live in Buffalo, NY, which is very close to Niagara Falls and Canada. Around here it’s not a big deal to say you’re going to Canada, but when I talk to kids in other parts of the country and say I can go there for the day, they often look surprised, like I have a secret passage to far away land.
What did you do before you were an author, and why did you decided to become one?
Before I was an author, I was a teacher. And I love that I still get to go into schools and classrooms and talk to students; it’s just in a different role now.
I had always wanted to write a book someday and see it on the shelf at a bookstore with my name on the cover. But it wasn’t until I was home with my kids and my son asked me a question that sparked an idea for a story. From there, I decided to learn how to write a book and get it published. After a lot of hard work, I did get to see my book on the shelf at a bookstore. 😊
Way more than one, now! Because with the release of FORT BUILDERS, INC. you have published in 3 genres: Middle Grade, Picture Books, and Chapter Books. Clearly, you are amazing, as each is so different.
Did you have to make any adjustments to your writing process while working on FORT BUILDERS, INC.?
Ha ha. I would first argue that YOU are amazing, but back to the question … Yes, I had to learn a whole new way to write a story. It seems like it would be much easier to write a shorter book, but I had to learn how to fit a story into 4,000 words instead of 40,000! My editor kept telling me to make things happen sooner. You don’t have as much lead in when the story is chapter book length and the plot points are closer together.
I really like variety and have a lot of different interests, which is why I write in different categories. Each one is so different, and it’s fun to explore them.
SO different. And being in two categories myself, I have to agree.
Okay, time to pick up the pace for the speed round!
Favorite candy? Anything chocolate!
Favorite color? Yellow
Cake vs. Cookies? Cookies for sure
Winnie-the-pooh character? Winnie the Pooh
Patriot’s game w/front row seats vs. Trip to London? Ha! Easily London.
Considering I’m a huge Buffalo Bills fan and London in my favorite city in the world, I feel like that last one is a trick question.
Haha! You know me too well. Just curious if I could pull one over on you in the quickness of it all. 😉 How about Buffalo Bills front row seats vs. Trip to London?
Still London. But you know I love my Bills!!!
Without question! Buffalo Bills, all the way!
Okay, final question. License Plates. I always have to ask. What would the Fort Builders, Inc. crew choose for personalized license plate if they were old enough to drive? You have 8 letters, and GO!
What a great question! I’d have to go with:
It’s perfect! Love it! Dee, thanks so much for hanging out with us today. So fun!
Dee Romito is an author of books for young readers and a former elementary school teacher. Her middle grade books include The BFF Bucket List, No Place Like Home, Postcards from Venice, and co-authored Best.Night.Ever (Aladdin/S&S). Her debut picture book, Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Little Bee Books) received a starred review from Booklist and a Crystal Kite Award. Her latest release is a chapter book series titled Fort Builders, Inc. (Aladdin/S&S). Dee blogs about writing at WriteforApples.com and is Co-Founder of Buffalo-Niagara Children’s Writers and Illustrators. While she does her best to be a grown-up most of the time, giggling with her BFFs is still one of her all-time favorite things. You can visit her website at deeromito.com.
You can order all of Dee’s books through Monkey See, Monkey Do Bookshop, and everywhere books are sold!
As always, I’ll be in green.
Hello Nadia! Welcome to my blog! I’d love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and what led you to begin writing picture books?
Thank you for having me on your blog Janet! I’m a former television journalist turned kidlit author. And I always dreamt of writing picture pictures, but wasn’t sure at what point in my life it would happen, until I became a mom.
Oh wow! It’s always so fun to know what other jobs authors have had. I bet you have a lot of stories you could tell. But today I’d love to hear about your upcoming book. Could you tell us about it?
GOODNIGHT GANESHA is a gentle bedtime story featuring two children sleeping over at their grandparents’ home in India and the various ways their culture plays a role in their nighttime routine.
I really loved seeing the relationship between the grandparents and children and the bond they have. So beautiful. What inspirations led you to write Goodnight Ganesha?
What better inspiration could you have? Okay, I’m trying not to give too much of a spoiler here, but I laughed when Tata fell asleep. What is your favorite bedtime memory?
Bedtime tenting in our back yard. It was loads of fun.
Me, too! We used to sleep outside on the trampoline. There’s something special about being outside at night.
Of course I have to talk about the art. It’s breathtaking and pairs so perfectly with the text. What was your reaction after seeing it for the first time? Also, did you have the opportunity to give input?
The art is incredible. Breathtaking for sure. And Poonam elevated my text to something – amazing. I don’t think there are enough words in my vocabulary to express how I felt seeing the art for the first time. Poonam knocked it out of the universe to infinity. Still in awe. And yes, our editor and art director gave me the opportunity to provide input after sharing the initial sketches. It was a very collaborative and respectful process.
Knocked it out of the universe, for sure! Goodnight Ganesha is your first book, so congratulations! What has been your favorite part about the publishing process and being an author?
Thank you! Yes. GOODNIGHT GANESHA is my debut. I’d say the best part of the publishing process is getting to collaborate with a ‘team’ of people who genuinely support you, your book, your vision, and do everything possible to produce the best end product and experience for your audience: kids and their adults! They help you create magic!
Magic is a great word for it. And your book certainly does that!
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think your main character would put on her license plate (even though she’s definitely too young to drive!)?
Haha! Love it! Such a fun one.
Nadia, thank you so much for coming on my blog and sharing about your beautiful story. To my readers, please see below for information on how to purchase you own copy of Goodnight Ganesha!
Nadia Salomon lives in northern California with her family. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism and Public Policy from Emerson College and has worked in television and print news. She writes picture book, middle-grade, and graphic novel manuscripts with themes of South Asian and Caribbean culture, STEM, non-fiction, and humor. Nadia is the winner of the 2020 SCBWI Service Award and the 2019 SCBWI WOOP Honor Award for work of outstanding progress on her non-fiction, picture book manuscript, MYRLIE: A VOICE OF HOPE.
You can use Nadia’s linktree to purchase signed copies of Goodnight Ganesha from her favorite indie bookstore, Flashlight Books. Her book is also available as an audiobook and E-book.
Recently, I got the chance to read and review a newly released picture book titled Kindness is a Kite String: The Uplifting Power of Empathy by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Claire LaForte.
This is a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Kindness is so important, yet it feels as though it’s more and more rare. What a difference kindness could make in the world! So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to read this book. Kids need to be taught about kindness now, and what better way than through picture books?
This book did not disappoint!
Kindness is a Kite String is a poem that suggests different ways to spread kindness. From hugs, to sharing a book, to visiting sick neighbors, this story gives a lot of great ideas for ways to spread kindness. But more than that, it teaches kids that Kindness is something that grows and spreads whenever you share it.
Kindness is a topic that we need to talk more about, and this book is a wonderful start for both kids and adults alike. If we all took this message to heart, we just might find ourselves in a better world.
Today we have another author interview! I’m so excited to have Sharon Giltrow on my blog just in time for Father’s Day! She is the author of Bedtime, Daddy! which released on May 12th. Let’s jump right in, and as always, I’m in bold green.
Hi Sharon, welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
Sure, I would love to 😊. I am the youngest of eight children and grew up on a farm in South Australia. My childhood was spent reading, making mud pies, exploring the salt lake and swimming at the beach. Now I am a part-time teacher of children who have a developmental language disorder and best of all a full-time writer. I started writing children’s books when my first child was born in 2006 but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started taking the idea that I could become an author seriously. I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 picture book challenge, enrolled in children’s book courses and started my journey towards becoming a published author.
Wow! SEVEN older brothers and sisters. As it happens, I grew up near a salt lake as well! Floating on the water is a pretty interesting experience. And I’m so glad you decided to write. Please tell us about your book!
Bedtime, Daddy! Is a humorous role reversal story, where the little bear in the story puts their daddy bear to bed. To do this the little bear must wrestle daddy bear into his pajamas, read just one more story, battle endless excuses, and use go-away monster spray to finally get daddy to bed. The story has a great balance between heart and humor. It would make a perfect bedtime and Father’s Day book, and there’s even a Teacher’s Guide.
I loved the role-reversal in Bedtime Daddy! What inspired you to write it?
My husband and my children. Over the last fourteen years my husband and I have taken turns reading to our children and putting them to bed. During the nightly bedtime routine, I had a lightbulb thought… ‘wouldn’t it be funny if our children put us the parents to bed.’ The idea for Bedtime, Daddy! was born.
I love those lightbulb moments! And the steps of getting Daddy to bed are hilarious. One of my favorite parts is the monster spray. Do you have a favorite part of the story?
My favourite part of the story is when Daddy Bear and Little Bear are snuggled up in bed reading a story and Daddy Bear interrupts the story with these questions…
‘Why don’t ducks have arms?’ Or ‘Do sharks sneeze?’
They were awesome questions! I love the randomness of it all. So true to life! And let’s talk art. The art is so whimsical, and fits the book perfectly. It really helps the reader feel that the advice is coming from a kid. Did you have any input on the art or illustrator? What was your reaction at seeing the art?
EK Books asked Katrin Dreiling to illustrate Bedtime, Daddy! Before I signed the contract, they sent me Katrin’s early sketches of the characters. There was a daddy bear, a human dad, a little bear and a little child. Anouska the editor made a suggestion that perhaps using bear characters would have a more universal appeal. I trusted Anouska’s advice and am very happy with the bear characters. I love Katrin’s illustrative style and colour palette and she has illustrated my words and vision perfectly. When I first saw the storyboard for Bedtime, Daddy! I was ecstatically happy.
How interesting! Very cool that you had a choice on that. Can we talk writing for a minute? How many picture books would you say you wrote before finally getting a deal on this one?
My first picture book I wrote was in 2006, I then went on to write nine more before I signed the deal for Bedtime, Daddy! Since signing the deal I have written four more picture book manuscripts and one chapter book manuscript.
That is a lot of books. This business takes a lot of perseverance! What helped you the most on the path to publication?
Not giving up and believing in myself! As well as the support of my critique partners and the Kidlit community. Surround yourself with like-minded writers.
That is great advice. Having that support makes all the difference!
One last question. I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Little Bear might choose for his personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
Hahaha! I love it! So perfect. Okay, I know I already said last question, but where can we purchase Bedtime, Daddy!?
Bedtime, Daddy! is now available to order around the world:
Thanks so much! And for my readers, see below for where to find and follow Sharon on social media platforms.
Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, WA with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. When not writing, Sharon works with children with Developmental Language Disorder. Sharon was awarded the Paper Bird Fellowship in 2019. Her debut PB Bedtime, Daddy, released May 2020 through EK books.
Big apology for missing posts. Between COVID-19 and the deaths of so many of my black brothers and sisters, my mind has been full. I’ve been wrestling with myself and working on how to be a better ally to the black community.
I’ve learned a lot by listening to my friends, and by reading books by black authors. So that’s where I want to start, because education is always the first step. We can’t empathize with others if we don’t listen and understand their plight. Today I’m sharing three books by black authors that I love and recommend.
First up is Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson. This book was fascinating to help me really understand the plight of blacks living in the south during the 50’s. Here is the Amazon description:
It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation.
Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement. Linda Jackson’s moving debut seamlessly blends a fictional portrait of an African American family and factual events from a famous trial that provoked change in race relations in the United States.
Next is Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. I loved this book about learning to love yourself exactly as you were made. It’s such a universal message, but it means even more in the context of the racial struggles in the U.S. Here is the Amazon description:
Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.
In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.
Finally, I want to share The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali, and illustrated by Hatem Aly. A year or so ago, I read Ibtihaj’s book, Proud, about her journey to becoming the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to represent the U.S. at the Olympics. If you recall, she went on to win the bronze medal in the team sabre event. I really enjoyed her story, and loved how she talked about what wearing a hijab means to her in this picture book. It was beautiful, and a reminder to me to seek to understand first. Here is the Amazon description:
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.
Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are.
I hope you check out these books and love them as much as I did. Wishing you all love and safety in these uncertain times. Please share books that you’ve loved that help us understand experiences that are not our own. I’d love to read them!
Today, I have Valerie Bolling on my blog. Her super fun debut picture book, Let’s Dance! released in March. She is another fellow 12×12 picture book author. (Super secret* author hint: if you want to meet other writers and learn more about writing, joining writing groups is a great way to do it!)
*It’s not actually secret at all.
I’m excited to learn more about Valerie and her book, and hope you are, too. So let’s get to it! As always, I’m in green.
Hi Valerie, welcome to my blog!
Thank you for inviting me, Janet! I’m happy to be here.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children’s books?
Sure, Janet. In addition to being an author, I’m an educator. I’m also an aunt. I have always loved children. Even as a child, I connected with younger children – my cousins and those in the neighborhood – reading to them, helping with homework, and planning the games that we’d play together. Writing, too, has always been something I’ve enjoyed. As a child, teen, and adult, I’ve always written poems, stories, and articles. I even kept a diary during my teen years.
I decided to write picture books because I want children to see themselves in books and to see others who may be different from them. I want them to celebrate and appreciate our diverse world and to experience connection and empathy. I know that’s a tall order, Janet, but it’s what keeps me writing.
Beautifully said! It IS a tall order, but a tall order worth working for. 😊 And speaking of your writing, I loved your book! Please tell us about it.
Let’s Dance! is a book that celebrates dances from around the world and the diverse children who enjoy them. It’s a book that’s sure to get young readers and dancers moving, and it provides the perfect distance learning movement break.
I definitely wanted to try out all the dances when I read it! What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to write a book that showcases the joy connected to dancing. I was not only motivated to celebrate the universality of dance but also its diversity and inclusiveness. Anyone – no matter who you are – can dance. It is an activity we can enjoy together … even virtually these days.
Dancing is such a fun way to connect. And I love that you use dances from all over the world. The brief descriptions of each of the dances at the end was especially fun. Was that always part of your manuscript? Or at what point was that added?
That’s a great question, Janet. The original manuscript didn’t include the two-sentence descriptions for each dance. My editor, Jes Negrón, at Boyds Mills & Kane, requested that I add the back matter. Shortly after acquiring the manuscript, she told me that she’d probably ask me to write the descriptions, so I wasn’t surprised when she did.
So fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes process. No two books are the same! But I have to ask . . . since you did the research, have you danced all of these dances? And which one is your favorite?
I haven’t danced all of the dances but would be willing to try most of them, except for breakdancing. No way can I spin on my head or do a one-armed handstand!
Haha! Yeah, I think I would struggle with that one, too!
I don’t necessarily have a favorite dance, but I have a personal connection with kuku because I learned that dance in college.
That must have been such a fun class. I confess, while so many sound fun, I’ve always wanted to learn Irish Stepdancing.
Okay, let’s talk art. The art is so fun! The illustrator, Maine Diaz, really makes the dancing come alive. Did you have input, or what was your reaction to seeing it for the first time?
Jes was kind enough to allow my input into the selection of an illustrator, and it’s obvious that Maine was the right choice! I saw early sketches for the book and was able to offer input, which I appreciated. I was not prepared, however, for the finished project. I was THRILLED! Maine’s illustrations are captivating and energetic; they certainly make my words DANCE!
They really do. Such a perfect pairing between words and pictures.
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think the dancers in your story might choose for a personalized license plate? You have 8 characters. Go!
What a fun, creative question, Janet! I wrote the first thing that came to mind.
Love it! The perfect license plate. Thanks so much again for stopping by here on the blog.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me about Let’s Dance!, Janet. I appreciate the opportunity to share my book with your readers.
You’re welcome! And for the rest of you, see below to find out where to get your own copy of Let’s Dance! and where you can connect with Valerie on social media.
LET’S DANCE! (Boyds Mills & Kane) is Valerie Bolling’s debut picture book. In addition to being an author, Valerie has been an educator for over 25 years. She is passionate about creating stories in which all children can see themselves and feel valued and heard. Besides writing picture books, Valerie has been published in The National Writing Project’s Quarterly (“The Family Writing Project Builds a Learning Community in Connecticut”) and NESCBWI News (“Microaggressions Don’t Feel ‘Micro’”). Recently, she had a poem accepted for publication by Cricket Media. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.
I’ve had this blog post scheduled for a while. Long before the chaos of COVID-19 hit. I debated if we should hold off, but after talking to Wendy, we both feel the world needs some non-COVID-19 things to talk about and enjoy. Wendy is so fun, and I hope you enjoy this fabulous interview!
Today is going to be awesome! I’m so excited to have Wendy McLeod MacKnight here on my blog!
Wendy is the author of THREE amazing Middle Grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press, 2017), The Frame-Up (Greenwillow Books, 2018), and her most recent release The Copycat (Greenwillow Books, 2020), which came out last week!
Wendy and I met as middle grade authors through the debut group the Sweet Sixteens, and bonded over kindred-spirit characters. When I was on the hunt for a new agent, a happy twist of fate landed me with Wendy’s, and I’m just thrilled to have an excuse to ask all the questions and to get to know her, and her latest book, even better!
I’m just going to jump right in, but as always, I’ll be in green bold.
Thanks Janet! I’m going to try and explain the concept without any spoilers! THE COPYCAT tells the story of Ali Sloane, whose family has moved WAY too many times during her short twelve years. To survive all these new schools, Ali has learned to adapt; whatever the popular kids are doing, so is she. When she and her parents move to Saint John to live with her great-grandmother, Ali hopes that she can finally set down roots and make real friends. But it isn’t easy to be yourself when you’re not sure who yourself really is. Throw in a family feud and a mysterious fog and things get way more complicated for Ali!
A family feud and mysterious fog are sure-fire ways to complicate anyone’s life! I love it! So what inspired you to write THE COPYCAT?
My own life! I moved five times before I was sixteen, twice between the time I was fourteen and sixteen years old. The last two moves were incredibly hard, and I struggled. I was so lonely, and to make friends, I would try hard to be like them instead of myself. It was painful, and I definitely wanted to write about how hard it can be to be your authentic self when you’re just trying to survive socially.
I knew the book had to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick because a) the fog is really something; b) it’s such a cool port city; and c) the character of Gigi is (very) loosely based on my grandmother, Huia Ryder, who was a force of nature, and from who I inherited my love of all things gaudy and sparkly!
I think you nailed how painful it is when you’re trying to be just like everyone else, and it just isn’t you. This idea of being true to yourself is a major theme in your book. Did you ever struggle with fitting in as a kid?
Um, see above! Honestly? I am a total goofball and people pleaser, so it was hard to find my people sometimes. But I’m also totally lucky: my best friends from grade one are still my friends, and the group of friends I acquired after our last move are still my friends. But I have no idea where any of the kids are that I befriended when I was fourteen, so that kind of tells you that they were never real friends, and the first batch of friends I made in Fredericton didn’t totally stick either.
I’m a people-pleaser, too. I totally get that. (And the goofball bit is probably why we get along so well!). Not all childhood friends stick, but I’m always amazed that the best ones keep coming back, even after years of separation.
So now that you have all kinds of wisdom and hind-sight, what advice would your adult self give to your past self?
Advice? I was a sensitive, drama-prone romantic who felt awkward a lot of the time. I’d love to tell younger me to hang in there and be true to herself, but I don’t think she’d believe me. I’d also tell her to keep believing in magic. That I think she’d believe.
Haha! Yeah, I didn’t believe the adults much either, but they were right. And amen about the magic!
Taking a little turn here . . . one of the things I loved about your book were all of the side notes, like “Ali’s List of Schools (So Far).” I am a BIG fan of lists. Did you include these with the original manuscript? How did these become a thing? (Which I’m so glad they did!)
I love lists, too! Those lists were always there, though I think my agent, Lauren Galit, really encouraged me to go for them!
She’s a wise one!
The lists were a shorthand way to impart information, but they were also a way to give the reader a sense of how much Ali tries to control things in a world in which she has very little control. She loves her parents, but the moves are painful for Ali, and they’ve caused a huge amount of bitterness. I didn’t want to shy away from that; when we moved, I was furious with my dad for months. I basically left the Pig Face neighborhood and had no friends for months and it was awful. Later, I got that my dad had no choice, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of your parents as sometimes being helpless.
So true! And then it’s a shock when you become an adult and realize the truth, that we’re all just doing our best. But I love that you let Ali express her bitterness, because it’s HARD being a kid, and having to deal with the consequences of choices we didn’t make.
So let’s talk characters! I know this is a cruel question, but do you have a favorite character from your book? I’m kind of partial to Alfie with his cool British accent, and mysterious life. And I love how important family is to him. I think we would have been friends.
I love Alfie. I’m kind of partial to Gigi, who is (very) loosely based on my grandmother. In the end though, I think I love Digger best, because he really is trying, despite all of his pain!
Putting bits from people we love into our characters is one of the best parts of being an author! And isn’t it interesting how we love the characters who hurt the worst? I feel the same way about my own characters.
Okay, you know I have to ask. If you were a Copycat, what would be your favorite thing to turn into?
In no particular order: A goldfinch, Batgirl, Amal Clooney, and Adele.
Gah! I really want to know why on all of these . . . okay, except Adele, because she’s AMAZING . . . but that might be a long detour, so I’m letting you off the hook. But fascinating answers!
Okay, I would love to learn more about you! Being an author is a second career for you. Can you tell us about your past life, and also, why you decided to become an author (and particularly a middle grade one!)?
In my past life, I worked for the Government of New Brunswick, and ended my career in charge of the Department of Education. All of my positions in government were about supporting children or vulnerable people, and it was so rewarding.
I decided to become an author when I was eight or nine years old, and that desire never wavered. Finally, I got up the courage to try! I only ever wanted to write middle grade fiction, because the books I read when I was that age are the books that have stuck with me for my entire life. They’re the books I read over and over. It’s such a magical time of life for reading and it’s a privilege to write for middle grade readers!
Amen, my friend! It is a huge privilege. Anything else you want to share? Random facts, things that are important to know about you . . .
Other things about me: Sapphire is my favourite colour, I’d walk for hours for a piece of chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting, I feed every kind of critter (although raccoons are my favourite), I adore science fiction TV series and movies, consider Jaws the perfect movie, am petitioning to adopt Baby Yoda, and never turn down cheese.
You Canadians are so cute the way you spell ‘favorite’! I love it! (haha!) And this is a wild coincidence, but when I went to Canada last year, I came face to face with a raccoon. I think it wanted me to feed it. Maybe it was one of yours! But oy, on Jaws. I saw it when I was super young in the theaters, and that movie still gives me nightmares. I’m a total wimp.
Are you ready for this next bit? Speed round!
Cadbury vs. Hershey’s?
Cadbury! Canada is a Commonwealth Country!
PB&J vs. mac & cheese?
I’m allergic to nuts, so mac ‘n cheese all the way!
Christopher Robin. He always suspects he’s going to grow up and he sucks the marrow out of his time in the hundred-acre wood. Fortunately for me, I haven’t grown up yet!
Campfire & S’mores vs. Symphony & Crème Brûlée?
Definitely campfire and s’mores. But if I can eat Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris, I’m there!
What?! I had Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris just last week, and you totally weren’t there. I now feel cheated. And that is bad news on the nuts! But when you come visit, I will forgo my usual PB&J and whip you up some mac ‘n’ cheese. 😊
Okay, final question. License Plates. I always have to ask. What would Ali’s personalized license plate be if she were old enough to drive? You have 8 letters, and GO! (P.S. do you have personalized plated in Canada?)
We sure do have personalized license plates in Canada!
Hmmm, I think Ali would go with FAMILY. Corny, but true!
I don’t mind corny! I mean, aren’t all personalized license plates just a little bit corny? As they should be. Thank you so much for indulging all my questions and visiting us here on the blog! And wishing all the best for you and THE COPYCAT!
Thank you so much for asking me to visit your blog, Janet! I am a huge Janet Sumner Johnson fan!
Awww, get on with you. 😌💓
As for the rest of you, thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Wendy on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE COPYCAT!
Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up (a fantasy that asks “What if every original piece of art is actually alive?”) and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons.
Hello, friends! I know it is a Tuesday, and I am not normally here on the blog, but this week is special, being the lead-up to the release of my upcoming picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson).
This week I’m sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who both did and didn’t make it into my story. I hope you enjoyed Snow White’s Lost Resume from yesterday. If not, you can find it HERE. Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #2: Captain Hook!
I really liked this resume. The tricky part on this one was that I needed to be careful not to confuse the Captain Hook character from J.M. Barrie’s book, with the one from the Disney movie. As such, I was forced into the extra work of reading the original PETER PAN (sometimes an author’s job is tough,* but as a professional, one carries on).
The reason this resume was not included,** is because after I sent in the eight resumes for consideration, I was asked to replace another character in the book. They felt the original character was too controversial for schools.
Can you guess who that character might be? I’ll give you a hint. It involved hygiene, and it was a male character. (I’m going to be honest here, I don’t think you’ll guess who it was! 😂) Anyway, Captain Hook became the replacement. Since we wanted resumes from characters who were not already in the book, the resume fell out of the running.
Yesterday, I said I might tell you who Snow White (and the 7 Dwarves) replaced, but since no one parried a guess, I will hold off until the end of the week. I gave no hint yesterday, but I’ll give one today. She replaced someone who also brought along a group, and who was in a nursery rhyme instead of a fairy tale. (My hints don’t make it easy, do they? 😂)
Have a wonderful week! And be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #3! In the meantime, don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members!
If you don’t want to wait, and just want to pre-order a copy of my book (I can hardly blame you for that!), you can find it on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don’t have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.
*I’m kidding, this part of the job is not tough at all. I LOVE when I’m forced to read a good book. 😉
**Well, one major reason, anyway . . . I don’t actually know all the reasons my publisher chose the four they did. I can only guess.
I’ve always said that one of the best part about being an author is meeting other authors and getting to read their books and stories (sometimes a little early!).
With my own picture book coming out in 2020, I was fortunate to meet several other debut picture book authors. One of them is Aya Khalil. Her book THE ARABIC QUILT: An Immigration Story, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, releases February 18th.
I got to read her book in advance, and am so excited to have her on my blog today. So please welcome Aya Khalil! (As always, I’ll be in bolded green text.)
Hi! Thanks for having me.
I’d love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, I am a freelance journalist and educator with my debut picture book coming out in February. I live in Northwest Ohio with my three children and husband.
Wow, three jobs (counting author)! That is not easy, especially with kids. And huge congratulations on your book. I’m so excited for it’s release. Please tell us about it.
My book is about a beautiful girl named Kanzi who recently immigrated to the US from Egypt. She tries so hard to fit in but the teasing really gets to her. With the help of her teacher and mom, she learns to appreciate her language and culture.
It’s so hard to remember what’s important when you’re young . . . especially in the face of teasing. I loved that Kanzi had so many supportive adults in her life. Kids need that! I’d love to know what inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story.
My picture book is based on true stories growing up as an immigrant. I moved to the US when I was one with my parents and brother. We attended a mostly all-white school in a rural town in North Dakota. We had incredible teachers there and especially this one teacher who thought of this lesson one day. She asked me, with the help of my mom, to write down our classmates’ names in Arabic. My classmates thought their names in Arabic were so cool! So they each copied their names on their own and the teacher hung them up as a quilt. This happened over 20 years ago and just comes to show how powerful teachers can be, especially to their minority students.
What a lovely and inclusive lesson plan! Teachers have such an influence and can do so much good. And I love that you used your own life stories to inspire you. What advice would you give to beginning writers about finding ideas?
Write down ideas all the time! Whether it’s a blog or even on your Notes app, write down encounters or situations. Maybe you will end up making it into a book some day.
Great advice! You never know what might inspire a story.
Above you mentioned you do freelance journalism. Have you always wanted to write? And how did you get into writing picture books?
I read to my kids often and used to review picture books and I always thought it would be so neat to get my words out there to young children. With my background in journalism my published work was usually geared towards adults.
Well, I’m so glad you took the plunge! The Arabic Quilt is a beautiful story that will no doubt resonate with a lot of kids!
As a new author what is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about being an author?
That it takes A LONG TIME! I was always so used to the fast-paced world of journalism and quick responses and quick edits and quick publishing times! Ha! That’s not always the case in the picture book industry.
Haha! No, it is not. Such a stark contrast between the two industries. Patience is definitely needed for the book publishing world.
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Kanzi would put on her license plate (even though she’s definitely too young to drive!)?
QuiltTheHate (Like quit the hate but with the word quilt instead)
How perfect! And I’m guessing that after your book releases, there will be a lot of classes making their own quilts, just like Kanzi’s class.
Thank you again for stopping in and answering some questions!
Thank you so much for asking these great questions!
Best wishes for your book! And to all my readers, please find Aya’s social media links below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE ARABIC QUILT!
Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and educator. She holds a master’s degree in Education with a focus in Teaching English as a Second Language. THE ARABIC QUILT is based on true events growing up, when she moved to the US from EGYPT at the age of one. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Post & Courier, Toledo Area Parent, and more. She’s been featured in Yahoo!, Teen Vogue, Verona and more. www.ayakhalil.com