Q & A with debut author Michelle Schaub, plus a giveaway!
By Chana Stiefel
Snowy outside? It's the perfect day to celebrate Michelle Schaub’s book birthday—her debut picture book Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market (illustrator, Amy Huntington, Charlesbridge)! You'll find some wonderful Tuesday Takeaways in here, plus a giveaway! Details below.
Welcome to Kidlittakeaways, Michelle! What inspired you to write your book?
I’m a huge fan of farmers’ markets and local, seasonal eating. In fact, I often plan family vacations around places that I know have amazing markets. I knew I wanted to write a picture book that captured the wonder of market day, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Then one day I was at my favorite market, the Green City Market in Chicago, with my children. We were searching for paw paw, a rare fruit indigenous to North America which is only in season for a few weeks in late summer/early fall. While we scanned the venders, trying to catch a glimpse of this elusive fruit that looks like a bruised and lumpy pear, I thought about how much exploring a farmers’ market is like going on a treasure hunt. The idea of treasure hunts and new discovers is at the heart of all of the poems I wrote for this collection.
How does the final draft compare with the first draft?
My first draft included 25 poems and scanned an entire year at a market, starting with spring and continuing through winter. The collection focused more on how the market changes from season to season. My editor liked the poems and the topic, but she thought I was trying to “do too much.” She challenged me to set the entire market on one summer day. This meant cutting about half the poems and creating new ones. It felt like a daunting task at the time, but ultimately the collection is more focused and relatable as a result.
Describe your writing journey.
While I enjoyed writing, reading, and words all through grade school and high school, the idea that I might actually become a writer didn’t occur until the end of college. Up until that time I planned on becoming an architect. . .or a graphic designer. . . or a psychologist. (I was a little indecisive.) In my final semester, I took a creative writing class for fun. During one critique session, a classmate pointed out that my main characters were always kids. When she asked, “Have you ever thought about writing children’s books?” a big lightbulb went on in my brain. I have been teaching writing to children and writing for children ever since.
Do you always write in rhyme? What are the challenges of writing a rhyming picture book?
I don't always work in rhyme, but most of the poems in FRESH-PICKED do rhyme. When I set out to write a poem, I don't decide ahead of time if it is going to rhyme or not. I let the topic and tone "guide my pen." Rhyme works best for the poems in FRESH-PICKED because I am trying to cultivate a fun, rollicking adventure throughout the collection. One of the potential pitfalls of writing in rhyme is letting "rhyme rule over reason." This happens when you are so focused on finding a rhyme for a particular word that you end up diverging from your intended meaning. For example, let's say I am composing a poem about spring, and I write "I love the caress of a soft April breeze/ especially when I am nibble cheese." Clearly, I have let the rhyme dictate the content, and the result is a little, well... cheesy. Luckily, my poetry group does not let me get away with convenient rhymes that are not true to the content of the poem. Which leads to a lot of rewriting, and A LOT of consultation with my two best poetry tools: thesaurus.com and rhymezone.com.
Great tips! Do you have a critique group? How does it work?
I have an amazing poetry group, which includes Eileen Meyer, Heidi Roemer, and Patricia Toht, all successfully published poets. We meet once a month at a local coffee shop to critique work, celebrate victories, and commiserate over setbacks.
How did you find your agent?
I connected with my agent, Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literacy, at an Illinois Prairie Writers’ and Illustrators’ Day. I think Karen might be one of the hardest working and most efficient agents in the business. When it comes to answering emails, I often tell her that she is faster than Jimmy John’s.
Did you have any part in choosing your illustrator? Did you include illustration notes in your manuscript?
I did not have any say in choosing the illustrator nor did I include illustrator notes, but boy did I luck out. I am thrilled with Amy Huntington’s illustrations. She even created a clever sub-plot about two friends that meet at the market, one the child of a farmer and one the child of a shopper. The friends each have a dog, and these canine companions cause some unexpected adventure. Amy’s illustrations add a surprising layer to the book.
What were your favorite picture books growing up?
I loved the FRANCIS books by Russell and Lilian Hoban. Francis is such a spunky little badger and she taught me that it’s okay to have a mind of your own as long as your ideas don’t squash those around you.
What is one takeaway you’d like to share with aspiring authors?
If you are going to be a children’s writer, you have to be in it for the marathon, not the sprint. It took me twenty years of training to finally cross that finish line. And once I did, I realized it that really wasn’t a finish line, but more of a refueling station. So, grab your Gatorade and keep on going, because there are always more stories to tell.
Thank you so much, Michelle! Michelle is generously giving away a free signed copy to one lucky reader (U.S. only). Enter the Rafflecopter below!
Michelle Schaub's poetry also appears in And the Crowd Goes Wild, A Global Gathering of Sports Poems and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations. She is a middle school language arts teacher who nurtures a love of reading and writing with students. When not teaching and writing, Michelle loves hiking, biking, and exploring local farmers markets.
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.