Why do you write? Why specifically for young readers?
I find so much joy and humor and wisdom and truth through the perspectives of children. Luckily for me, I’m brimming with tales that seem to need telling and which can be told in poetry, story and art. Plus, I’m an avid reader of children’s literature. But more importantly, by writing books for the very young, I have a chance to reach children at the beginning of their reading journeys. To play even a small part in those journeys is an awesome opportunity, because beloved books not only launch young kids into the wonderful world of reading but also plant the seeds for their imaginations to blossom. Picture books can help kids make sense of themselves and their world—whether it’s their town, their time-out corner, their closet of clothes or even their cozy bed. So I love every step in the process —finding those perfect, few, fun and sometimes whimsical words; presenting a concept with pacing and page turns to keep a kid captivated; and leaving room for amazing art to complete the story. In other words, creating a book that a kid will love. It’s a far-reaching, challenging, and delightful responsibility.
Where did the idea for “Busy Builders, Busy Week” come from?
The concept for BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! was a bit of a mash-up. My editors at Bloomsbury asked me to write a days-of-the-week book for their list. I loved the idea, so I brainstormed a variety of approaches that ranged from the mundane to the wildly weird. But that’s the way I like to work, creatively uncensored, putting all the possibilities out there. I’ve always wanted to write a construction trucks book, so when I hit on the notion of a “construction week” the only decision left was, “What can we build in a week that will resonate with a child?” Well, a playground, of course. Even better, a playground designed by illustrator Leo Timmers.
How long did you work on it?
That’s always a tricky question. Because, for a picture book, the timeline from that initial spark to bookstore shelves can vary greatly with every project. I often get a first draft down rather quickly while the concept is fresh. Rhyming texts add a layer of time and complexity as I’m left to perfect troublesome verses that require rewording and reworking. There’s always a period, at least a few days, during which I let my manuscript rest—physically put it in a folder for a while—so that I can read it with fresh eyes for the next revision. Then there are other projects and deadlines that demand my attention. I can see from the dates on my multiple drafts that it was about a year from my first draft to the one that was submitted to my publisher. Then with art and book design it was another two years before it hit bookstore and library shelves. I’m happy to say, it was worth the wait!
Your book “All Through My Town” was also illustrated by Leo Timmers. Did you write “Busy Builders, Busy Week” with him in mind?
Not initially. As I mentioned above, I experimented with several days-of-the-week ideas before I landed on a construction theme. But once I did, my editor and I knew Leo would be the perfect illustrator to “nail” those construction scenes—pun fully intended. After all, I had experienced his “busy” brilliance when we worked on ALL THROUGH MY TOWN. Plus, Leo’s art adds so many layers to the story that young readers love to explore and discover. I was thrilled when he agreed to take on the project.
What is the hardest part about writing a picture book?
Getting all the pieces to fit together just right for a kid—voice, language, art, relatability, love-ability—all in under 500 words.
Conversely, what is the highlight?
Watching a kid fall in love with one of my books. Here’s an e-mail I received recently from a school librarian that simply made me swoon. “I just wanted to share something I noticed today. One of my 1st graders kissed your book, TOO PRINCESSY!, goodbye as she dropped it in the return book drop. I’ve never seen that before! I just had to tell you.” It doesn’t get better than that!
Why do you think young readers are attracted to your books?
First, I have to say I’m thrilled that they are. Because I try to explore relatable topics and present them with engagement, entertainment and honesty in mind. Take TOO PURPLEY! I still get the most fan mail about that little book. I think kids, young and old, can relate. Yet, the simplicity of the text along with the rhythm and rhyme pattern allows very young kids to read the book themselves. So their exuberant pride comes into play. And perhaps, most importantly, I have the privilege of working with the most fabulous illustrators who deeply understand our audience and give young readers so much to explore.
What are you working on now?
Oh wow! So many things. I love having multiple projects going because if I get stuck on one, I can jump to another. I have five books coming out in the next few years and I’m sure the edits and illustration reviews on those will be expected soon. But I also have several works-in-progress that are in various stages of revision.
Is there a picture book from your own childhood that still resonates with you today?
It’s actually the first book I remember reading—THE CAT IN THE HAT BEGINNER BOOK DICTIONARY. Strange! Right? But nobody writes a dictionary like Dr. Seuss! I remember reading it on the couch with my Italian grandmother, Nonna Fortuna, who lived with us. We’d read with funny voices and laugh at the pictures. Nonna spoke very little English. So we were on our reading journey together. I still have my original copy. And when I flip through that book, it evokes those warm and wonderful memories and all that hilarious humor. I can’t wait to share it with my own grandchildren.