By Donna Cangelosi
I recently posted a question for published authors:
"If you had one takeaway or bit of advice for a new writer, what would it be? I immediately received over a dozen responses from some of the finest writers I know! And they kept coming!
By Chana Stiefel
Welcome Anna Forrester! Anna's beautiful picture book, BAT COUNT (illustrated by Susan Detweiler, Arbordale), debuted this month. Find out the backstory of Anna's bat story & walk away with some great Tuesday Takeaways. Plus, enter to win a free signed copy of the book below!
What inspired you to write your book?
A colony of bats lives in the barn of my family’s place in central Pennsylvania, and when we heard that scientists were asking people to track summer bat colonies as part of an effort to understand White Nose Syndrome, we decided to get involved.
Counting bats turned out to be strangely fun. As the sky changes, you lie there by the fire, watching. It can take an hour for them to come out, and it ends up being an incredibly relaxing way to end a day.
Also, my kids – like many kids today – are very aware of the ecological challenges the planet and so many of its species are facing. BAT COUNT is the story of one particular, worried child getting involved in citizen science and trying to make a difference; I hope that it will plant a seed in the minds and hearts of some of its young readers.
How does the final draft compare with the first draft?
BAT COUNT is long by many of today’s standards – almost 1,000 words – but it is a lot shorter than it used to be! It was one of my first picture book projects, and I put it aside once I started to get a sense of the norms of today’s trade market and realized there probably wasn’t a place for it in there. When I read that Arbordale, an educational publisher, was looking for math- and science-themed picture books, 1,000 words or less, I edited it down and pitched it as a book about bats and citizen science. The structure actually never changed too much – which is SO not the case for anything else I write – but the ending took lots of work.
Describe your writing journey.
I’ve always loved picture books, and wrote my first one 20+ years ago as my Master's thesis at Bank Street College. I fiddled around with a few more kids writing projects back then, but stopped when I decided to study landscape architecture.
Do you have an agent?
No agent – yet!
Do you have a critique group? How does it work?
I have been in a real-time, 8-person, monthly critique group of picture book writers for a couple years here in Philly. Recently our waiting list got so long that we started a second group, and I go to that one once a month now too: it is mostly writer-illustrators, so is different from my first group in interesting ways.
I have a few critique partners I met through the 12 x 12 Challenge, and a few other writer friends I’ve met along the way who I share work with, digitally – a couple, even, from our awesome 2017 Picture The Books’ cohort! (Check out Picture the Books, featuring this year's debut picture books, where Anna & I are members!)
Did you have any part in choosing your illustrator? Did you include illustration notes in your manuscript?
I had no part in choosing BAT COUNT’s illustrator, and the manuscript had no illustration notes (the narrative is pretty traditional). But Arbordale did ask for my thoughts at the beginning of the process: I said that I really wanted the pages to have a lot of sky, and that I didn’t see any reason Jojo’s family needed to be white.
What were your favorite picture books growing up?
Evaline Ness’s SAM BANGS AND MOONSHINE was a favorite, as was Marie Hall Ets’ PLAY WITH ME. There was a lot of Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey and Maurice Sendak floating around our house too. I was the youngest of four, and my (busy) mom read out loud to us a TON. She’d been an English major in college, and she took this course at The Great Books Foundation so she could go in to schools and do read-aloud programs. She is a great reader, and practiced a LOT on us, so I did a ton of listening to all sorts of stories too.
What is one takeaway you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
Try to understand why you write – your “writer’s purpose.” Whether you come from a marketing place or an artistic place or some other place entirely, try to know why you’re doing what you do.
I’ve read a couple pieces about this – (here and here) and, honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be done figuring it out for myself. Plus aspects of my purpose will probably keep shifting over time. But the process of trying to sort it out (by writing, of course) is invaluable to me – I absolutely recommend it.
Thank you Anna! Anna is generously offering a free signed copy of BAT COUNT to one lucky person (U.S. only). To enter, please check out the Rafflecopter below Anna's bio.
Anna Forrester has taught kindergarten and second grade, and designs landscapes for play. She writes picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. Anna’s debut picture book, Bat Count (Arbordale, February 2017), is a ‘ficinformational’ story of bats, citizen science and hope. Anna loves books and she loves exploring – in Philadelphia where she lives, in rural Pennsylvania on her family’s farm, and in all the places her adventures take her. Visit Anna at her website or on Twitter .
By Chana Stiefel
It’s Takeaway Tuesday—with a great Giveaway! BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, an adorable picture book by Annie Silvestro (illus. by Tatjana Mai-Wyss), debuts TODAY! It features a book-loving bunny who sneaks into the town library to borrow books for his forest friends. Annie shared some Kidlittakeaways with us, plus she’s offering a giveaway: A free signed copy of BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB to one lucky winner (U.S. only)! See details below.
How did you come up with idea for Bunny’s Book Club?
It’s a really fun memory. I participated in the parent show for my son’s preschool and my character was a bunny. I had some time “backstage” in my bunny costume and that’s where the idea began brewing for BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB.
What was the writing process like? How many drafts did you go through? How does the final version compare with the first?
I went through quite a few drafts of this story. Believe it or not, the original version had a real western flair. Ultimately my wonderful editor, Frances Gilbert, asked me to take it in a different direction. More animals were also added and involved over the course of the revision process.
Is the Bunny character based on a particular book lover? How much of your book is autobiographical?
That is such a great question! Libraries are so vitally important and special to me and have been for as long as I can remember. I really wanted to share that passion. That said, I definitely think my oldest son would resort to something drastic if he couldn’t get his hands on books for some reason. He cannot live without them.
The book is filled with lots of clever bunny references (Bunny wriggles his cottontail through the book slot; the library was “better than a field full of fresh, crunchy carrots!” Bunny’s whiskers twitch with excitement.). Did you spend a lot of time observing bunnies (and other animals)?
Not so much time observing bunnies, but lots of time trying to think like one!
My favorite picture books have new details that I notice each time I read and re-read. Tatjana Mai-Wyss’s illustrations accomplish that in a big way. Did your submission include illustrator notes? What was your reaction when you saw the illustrations?
I had a few illustration notes, yes, and our editor added a few more during the revision process. Otherwise I was not involved with that aspect of the book. Tatjana posted some sneak-peeks on Instagram that were like special little presents each time they appeared. I was overjoyed when I saw the illustrations in full. I absolutely love them! Each animal has such a personality! I love the details of the endpapers and the library card in the front. I feel very lucky and grateful.
What were some of your favorite picture books as a child?
I was a big reader as a child and loved so many – ones that stand out are SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE, the BABAR books, STREGA NONA, the GEORGE AND MARTHA books, MADELINE, any and all Golden Books, and anything by Richard Scarry. I could go on and on…
Do you have a critique group? What’s your process for sharing stories?
Yes! I’m in two, actually—one online and one face-to-face. The support and feedback from fellow writers has been invaluable to me. It’s impossible to see something with fresh eyes after a while. Critique partners can offer vital perspective on what works and doesn’t work in a manuscript. I try to wait until a story is as polished as I can make it before sharing it with others.
What’s your takeaway for aspiring picture book authors? (Let me guess…spend a lot of time in the library?)
Ha! Definitely lots of time in the library! Read as much as you can and as many different types of picture books as you can. Read them aloud. What makes you like one more than another? What books don’t you like and why? What books do you love so much you feel compelled to buy them? It’s helpful to think about the answers to those questions as you approach your own manuscript.
About the author: Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. Her debut picture book, BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday), will be released on February 7, 2017, followed by MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling). Annie lives by the beach in NJ with her husband and two boys who also love to read, and a cat who does not. Visit Annie online at: www.anniesilvestro.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @anniesilvestro.
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.