February 8, 2023

Birth Stories for Books: MABEL'S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES, by Candy Wellins

Dear Readers. Kids whose parents live in different homes experience unique challenges. Today's Birth Stories for Books interview is with author Candy Wellins, whose latest picture book, MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES (illustrated by Jess Rose, Beaming Books, October 2022) tackles this topic in a very kid-friendly way. 

by Candy Wellins and Jess Rose

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Candy. I’m looking forward to learning more about the path to publication for your latest book, MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES 

Candy Wellins: Thank you for having me! 

DP: In other interviews you’ve shared the inspiration for your earlier books. I’d love to hear the inspiration that sparked the idea for this latest book, as well as the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

CW: My parents divorced when I was very young, and I grew up in two homes so the idea came to me very early! I don’t remember what exactly sparked Mabel’s specific story, but I do recall starting with the line, “This is Mabel’s house…and this is also Mabel’s house.” It was fun coming up with contrasting experiences at her two different houses—something I was very familiar with.  

I started writing the story in 2016. It’s gone through many revisions, and we sold it to Beaming Books in early 2021.  

Interior Image of MABEL'S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES
by Candy Wellins and Jess Rose

DP: “This is Mabel’s house…and this is also Mabel’s house” is a great opening line. It immediately drew me into the story and into Mabel's home life. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

CW: One of the biggest changes revisions brought was the addition of Izzy, Mabel’s class pet. Previous versions of the story just had Mabel comparing two different days at her two different houses. My wise critique partners noted that I needed more conflict. I played around with a few different scenarios, but nothing was working. At the time my son was in kindergarten and had a class pet (a stuffed animal thankfully) that spent weekends with different students. The variety of fun weekends inspired me to add Izzy to the story.  

DP: That's such a great example of how critique partners can help us see opportunities for improving our stories. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

CW: I don’t know if there was one particular moment, but I’d say that anytime you write honestly about authentic experiences it resonates with readers and that often leads to publication. 

DP: When you compare your path to publication for MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES to your experience with your earlier books (SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA and THE STARS BECKONED),  what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each and/or the similarities and differences between the three different editors/publishers that you’ve worked with?

CW: Book publishing is a bit like parenthood. Every book/child is a totally different experience, but so far everything has been positive for me. There was a time when I would have been worried about publishing with a smaller house. I was worried that I wouldn’t get the same exposure as I might with a bigger name, but I’ve found that hasn’t been the case at all. Write something worthwhile and it will get its due notice.  

DP: I really appreciate that perspective, Candy. That's been my experience as well. 

One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Given your experience as both a former teacher and a children’s book author, what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) book events? 

CW: I create educator guides that go along with each of my books. I realize not every school can afford author visits and even when you visit a classroom, it’s never long enough to cover everything you’d like. Educator guides allow teachers to go more depth with your book (or topic) with lessons that fit their specific students.  

DP: That's an excellent tip, Candy. I have educators' guides for each of my books as well, and I always encourage teachers, librarians, and parents to check out the book resources on author, illustrator, and publisher websites, because so many provide fantastic learning extensions for their books. 

You are a member of the Soaring 20’s Debut Group. Your group appears to still be quite active well beyond your initial debut cycle. How did you come to be a member of this group? and What advice to you have for others who want to create/be a part an effective book promotion group? 

CW: When I first sold SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA, I reached out to Cate Berry for advice and the first thing she told me to do was join a debut group. I was lucky to connect with the Soaring 20s.  

I highly recommend a support group (they aren’t just for debut authors anymore). Not only is great for promotional support (read and reviews, social media shares, blog tours), but it’s great for every day support (advice, encouragement and big virtual hugs when you need them).  

If you’re in a debut group, I’d say play to your strengths. Do you have a favorite social media platform? Can you manage a second account for the group? If technology isn’t your thing, maybe you can help set up blog or podcast visits. Less extroverted types might be able to manage member books and share them amongst members to read and review.  

DP: This is really helpful info, Candy. Thank you so much. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

CW: I always wanted to be an author, but I felt like it was a bit of an impossible dream. My only regret is that I didn’t pursue it earlier than I did.  

DP: Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES, that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

CW: No one has asked about the names of all the kids in Mabel’s class. My three kiddos are hidden in there as well as a few of their friends plus some random names that just felt right.  

DP: Love it! 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

CW: I just got back the first final art spread for my next book, A GEODUCK IS NOT A DUCK. It’s a picture book graphic novel mystery about the world’s largest species of burrowing clams. It’s going to be so much fun and I can’t wait to share it with the world in early 2024. 

DP: What a great title and concept. I can't wait to read it!

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES with us, Candy. 

Readers, you've heard me say it before: The best way to thank an author whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. Candy's books, including MABEL’S TOPSY-TURVY HOMES are available everywhere books are sold—but you know I'm partial to supporting your local, independent bookstore 

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Image Credit: 
I am a lifelong writer and book lover. A former teacher, I have a BA in journalism and an M.Ed. in literacy education. I’m now a full-time mom to three wonderful children who keep me up-to-date and immersed in children’s literature. When I’m not reading, writing or mothering, I love running, traveling and naps! My debut picture book Saturdays Are for Stella (Illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan, PAGE STREET KIDS) was named a Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2020. Publishers Weekly called my debut picture book biography The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Illustrated by Courtney Dawson, PHILOMEL) “an introduction to a space pioneer that’s ideal for the youngest nonfiction readers.” My family and I make our home deep in the heart of Texas. 



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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

February 1, 2023

The WRAD Part of the Writing Life, 2023 Edition

WRAD 2023 is officially a Wrap! 

World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) is a special literacy event that takes place around the globe on the first Wednesday in February each year. It's hosted by LitWorld, and originally founded by Pam Allyn. For the past several years, author Kate Messner creates a space on her website where teachers and librarians can connect with authors and illustrators who are willing to volunteer to offer free virtual book readings to children around the world. It's one of my favorite book-related events to participate in. 


For the past couple of years, I've used a Sign-Up Genius to help me coordinate my virtual visits. I also now have a Google Form for folks who want to be among the first to find out when the scheduling tool is available for  next year. 

This year I scheduled visits with ten schools, and successfully completed visits with eight schools. Even with excellent coordination, it's not unusual that one or more of the schools needs to cancel at the last minute due to weather-related school closures or some other scheduling or technical snafu. Also, some schools that hope to meet with me are unable to match their scheduling needs with my available times, and/or my schedule is full by the time they reach out, or there are members of the learning community who were absent on World Read Aloud Day. 

For these schools (and now for you!) I compile some of my best resources as a stand-in for a real-time virtual author visit. These resources are of course not quite the same as real-time virtual visit, (or a full-length, personalized author visit), but they do allow young readers to connect with an author in some fashion, in honor of World Read Aloud Day. Please feel welcome to explore and share these resources with your learning community: 

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Here is a link to a “Hello” slide deck that I shared with the schools/classrooms that I visited.

It’s not the same as a real virtual visit, but it will allow your students to connect with me for World Read Aloud Day in some fashion. (The “speaker notes” below each slide provide my general talking points and related resource links.) 



Speaking of resources, here is the link to the plethora of Resources tab on my website.

From this landing page, you can access things like: 

1. My YouTube channel with full readings of several of my books including Lucy’s Blooms,  Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and First Day Jitters from the collection of stories in Oregon Reads Aloud. This is where you will also find animated book trailers and companion songs for my three most recent books, as well as some ASL interpreted readings for Lucy’s Blooms and the companion song

2. Curriculum-Aligned Educators’ Guides for Lucy’s BloomsWhere Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (All three of the guides include STEM tie-ins, and for my Pirate and Cowgirl books, these guides include Readers' Theatre scripts.)

3. Lesson Plans for Sign Language Story Timesthemed enrichment activities, and fun extras such as Pirate and Cowgirl Name Generators. 

I also have a couple of different “virtual-virtual,” or “self-guided” author visits via Google Slides that you/your students can peruse (the “speaker notes” below each slide provides the talking points I would typically deliver during a school visit): 

Write On! Why Writing is (Possibly) the Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Do


From "Ahoy, Matey! to “Howdy, Pardner!” How to Create Vivid Characters by Giving Each a Unique Voice

Please reach out to me directly and I would be more than happy to provide links to these virtual visits. 

Once a school or classroom has interacted with one of my books, (via the video story times, and/or virtual workshops on Google Slides on your own), I would be more than happy to respond to written questions from students. How this typically works is that the librarian or classroom teacher assigns a “post visit” writing lesson for the students where they each ask me a question (about my books, or my writing process, or my “office assistant, Pickle, etc.), and then you would deliver the full set of questions to me via postal mail or email (in one batched email from you vs. individual emails from students). After I receive the questions, I will reply to the students with a compilation response that I will deliver to you. Here is a link to some examples of my responses from my interactions with other schools. 

I hope these options are helpful resources. Please feel welcome and encouraged to share them with your families and your colleagues, and please let me know if I can be a resource to you in any other way.

Warm wishes,

Dawn


Reach out via email, Twitter, or through my contact form (at the left of this post on the desktop version), if you'd like to schedule a time for me to meet with your students in the future! 

January 24, 2023

The "Staying Grounded" Part of the Writing Life

The past few weeks have been a doozy. 

On Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law experienced an unexpected  health issue that resulted in several days of hospitalization. A couple of days after Christmas, there was a huge windstorm in our area, and a large tree fell on a home we own. (Gratefully, no one was hurt, but the event created the need for lots of extra work communicating with an overwhelmed insurance company and coordinating with multiple contractors.) 

That same day, we lost power for a three-day stretch. Right after the power came back on, my mother-in-law came to stay with us to recuperate for about a week; her care needs necessitated multiple wake-up calls in the middle of the night. The day after she went home, my own mother experienced a health issue requiring emergency surgery. She is still in the hospital due to various complications that have delayed her recovery. I have spent the better part of the past week at the hospital, providing emotional support and engaging with healthcare providers as she heals and recovers.  



Add to this my husband hurting his back and being out of commission for several days; helping our daughter prepare for a move from our family home into her first post-college apartment; and helping our son as he returns to college after winter break and begins planning for a study abroad experience that starts next term, and suffice it to say, my plate has been FULL! 

Meanwhile, the month of January, a month that's typically very productive for me in terms of creativity, marches on.  

Although I've had very limited time (or head space) for creative writing this past few weeks, the truth of the matter is that writing (and writing-related practices) helps me stay grounded during times of stress and uncertainty. It's during times like this that I lean into the muscle memory of the writing routines I've developed over the years to keep my creative goals moving forward. 

Some of my creative writing accomplishments for the past few weeks include:

-Participating in StoryStorm to generate new story ideas.

-Tinkering around with two of the new story ideas that I've come up with during StoryStorm.

-Revising a story in response to an upcoming call for submissions to a publisher that I'd like to work with.

-Preparing a submission packet for a publisher that has an open submission window this month.

-Completing weekly manuscript critiques for my critique partner. 

-Sharing one manuscript for critique with my critique partner.

-Writing a heartfelt letter to a family member. 

-Coordinating author visits for World Read Aloud Day 2023, coming up on February 1st. 

-Exchanging weekly creative writing goals and weekly accomplishment reports with my critique partner. (I'm a week behind on this, but I'm determined to get caught up!)

-Preparing a year-end blog post, hosting a guest author on my Birth Stories for Books blog series, and writing this blog post.


Creative writing goals that I've yet to accomplish this month, that are high on my list of priorities, include:   

-Writing a heartfelt letter to another family member.

-Polishing and submitting stories for the two calls for submissions mentioned above.

-Preparing submission packets for a new round of agent queries (Note to Universe: I'd like for 2023 to be the year that I find a literary agent who loves my work as much as I do, and wants to be my career partner.)




Many years ago, I wrote this succinct mission statement related to my writing work: 

I write to teach, empower, process, and persuade. 


When I wrote this mission statement, the word empower was meant to convey that I wanted to write books that empower my readers. As I reflect on this mission statement today, I realize that adhering to my writing practices and routines has helped empower me during this period of time filled with uncertainty and powerlessness. 

My creative writing goals (those that have been accomplished, and those I've yet to accomplish), are helping me stay grounded during this challenging time. 

What helps you stay grounded during challenging times? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.


[Click here for more posts on the topic of The Writing Life. 

If you find my blog helpful, please consider ordering one of my books. It supports me and my work.]

January 11, 2023

Birth Stories for Books: SUPER PIZZA & KID KALE, by Phaea Crede

Welcome to a new year, dear readers, and welcome to a new series of Birth Stories for Books interviews and guest posts. Today's guest, author Phaea Crede, last visited the blog to share her path to publication experience for her debut, Jet the CAT (Is Not a Cat)

In today's post, Phaea serves up another inspiring behind-the-scenes look, this time for her latest book, SUPER PIZZA & KID KALE (illustrated by Zach Smith, Viking Books, September 2022),  a silly and heartwarming story that piles on the puns. 

Take it away, Phaea!  

by Phaea Crede and Zach Smith


SUPER PIZZA & KID KALE

The origin of wood-fired warrior Super Pizza and their side kick, the lean, green roughage machine Kid Kale is as twisty and turn-y as a waterslide coated in olive oil. Here is a thyme line of how all the revisions, heartbreaks, and ultimate publication of Super Pizza & Kid Kale (Viking Books, 2022) went down.

June 2018

While playing a brainstorming game we learned at a recent library visit with author Josh Funk, my then 3.5-year-old daughter invents a character: a piece of pizza that wants to be a super hero. WOW! I immediately wonder what it would be like to be a hero that everyone wants to eat. 

With my kid’s permission, I start to work on a story about Super Pizza. 

July 2018 

So far, the story is just food pun nicknames for Super Pizza. Some examples are:

The Savory of Bravery
The Anchovy Ace 
The Loaded Legend
The Star Scrapper of the Sauce
The Muscled Mozzarella 
The Crusty Contender 
The Crust You Trust
The Lion Pie of Liberty
The Slice of Justice
The Garlic Guardian

(None of these made it into the final draft FYI.)

September 2018

Finally, I have a draft. Well, a 12th draft. After vetting the story with my critique group, I feel ready to try and DO something with the story.

October 2018

NESCWBI Agent/Editor Day, a lovely event that allows aspiring authors to get feedback from colleagues, agents, and editors. I bring two stories to read. At my second table with an editor, I share Super Pizza & Kid Kale. It goes okay! I send a follow up email to said editor.

November 2018

Said editor writes back! He says he likes the story and thinks it has potential, but feels it’s missing something. He recommends I add a side kick or a villain. If I do that, he says he’d like to read it again.

I revise immediately. Just kidding! I felt like the story conflict was PERFECT. A piece of pizza who wants to be a hero but can’t because kids keep eating it! Where would a side kick fit in? Nowhere. I move on to other projects, content to have written a brilliant story that no one understands.

May 2019 

The New England SCBWI Spring Conference. I love this conference. I always learn new skills and make new friends. I’m checking in when I see a familiar face – the said editor! I greet him and HE ASKS ME IF I’VE REVISED SUPER PIZZA YET!  I'm taken aback that he not only remembered my book, he was still hoping to read a revision. I try to not throw up all over myself and I tell him I will get the revision to him soon.

June 2019

I revise. I decide to combine the idea of a side kick and a villain into one character. A food that is the complete opposite of pizza: kale! In the new story the conflict comes from Kid Kale’s jealousy of Super Pizza’s popularity. KK turns against the townsfolk and causes weed-like kale plants to destroy everything!

Late June, 2019

I resubmit the revision to said editor. I feel great. This is really going to happen!

July 2019

The revision is rejected. Beep boop. I cry some marinara tears, then stuff the manuscript into a virtual pizza box and shelf it.

May 2020

I’ve just sold my first book, Jet the Cat (Is Not a Cat) have an amazing agent, Moe Ferrara and I’m out on sub with a new book, Asparaghosts, a story about a kid who is haunted by the ghosts of the veggies she rejects only to team up with them and rebel against the narrator. I feel great!

June 15 2020

Asapraghosts collects mass rejections. But, one rejection catches my eye. An editor says that while she doesn’t connect with this story, she likes my writing, and that food-related books are a personal favorite of hers. 

Hey! I have a food-related book! I send Moe a copy of Super Pizza & Kid Kale. She likes it, but has notes.

July 2020

I revise Super Pizza & Kid Kale again. Moe likes it! She sends it on to the editor and a few other houses for good measure.

August 2020

The editor passes. But the publishing house doesn’t! She says while she personally has a full list, she showed Super Pizza & Kid Kale to another editor who loved it. They wanted to make an offer, as long as I was open to some revisions.

I am now always open to revisions.

Still August, 2020

I have a call with my future editor Aneeka Kalia. She’s amazing. She has a few ideas for the book for me to consider including making the conflict between Kid Kale and Super Pizza less dramatic and centering the action at a school and not all over town.

She also has the idea of a huge double spread food fight. She is an awesome editor. I think all these revisions are great and will take the story to the next level. I say, heck yes.

Late August, 2020 

Viking Books officially acquires Super Pizza & Kid Kale

December 2020

I deliver the final draft of Super Pizza & Kid Kale to Aneeka.

March 2021

Aneeka sends me the first sketches from our illustrator, Zach Smith. They are amazing. This book is going to be amazing.


Sketches by Zach Smith

Summer 2021

Aneeka, Zach, and I work on some small edits to better support the layout and art. The book is coming together!

September 2022

Super Pizza & Kid Kale is a real book! I’m so proud of this graphic-novel style story that celebrates friendship frustrations and food puns. As Super Pizza & Kid Kale like to say, “with great flavor comes great responsibility.” I could add “with great patience and the willingness to revise without ego comes publication.” 

Grab a copy of Super Pizza & Kid Kale anywhere books are sold and check out my website to learn how to get a personalized, signed copy from my local indie book store Word on the Street.

Thank you for sharing a slice of your Birth Story for SUPER PIZZA & KID KALE, Phaea. You've shown us that persistence, flexibility, and a generous appetite for revision are key ingredients in the path to publication. 

Friends, the best way to thank authors whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books for yourself and as gifts. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. SUPER PIZZA & KID KALE is available everywhere books are sold, including from your local, independent bookstore (which you can access online via Bookshop.org).

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Photo Credit: 
Phaea Crede loves writing silly picture books for silly kids. Serious kids, too! She is the author of the picture books Jet the Cat (is Not a Cat) and Super Pizza & Kid Kale. Phaea lives outside of Boston with her husband, two kiddos, two kittens, one puppy, and a slightly stinky dog named Gus. 





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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

December 31, 2022

2022 Year-End Post and Holiday Greeting

We've once again safely arrived to that time of year when we reflect on the past, intentionally connect with others, and make plans for the future. As I've mentioned before, although it seems like fewer and fewer people send year-end greetings, I look forward to this annual tradition—both the receiving of cards, letters, and photos from friends and family and the preparation of my own annual update.

Each year, I begin the process by paging through my (old-style) calendar and making note of the highlights and ordinary happenings in our household. Then I look for themes. I approach the task as an opportunity for creative expression, aiming to convey our family news in a way that is also reflective of the trends or events in our world and/or a major aspect of our personal lives. 

Over the past year our family has had the opportunity to travel to a wide variety of amazing destinations, so a holiday greeting modeled after a reservation listing for a travel booking site we regularly use seemed to fit the bill: 

Travel (and hosting travelers) has been a longstanding and important companion to my creative journey. Most of my best story ideas and story solutions come to me when I am "in motion," and the sensory experiences of being in new spaces and places opens me up to new ideas. 

Although I love to dream about and plan new trips, I often get stressed out and even resistant to the idea of leaving home when I'm in the preparation/coordination and packing stages of travel. But once I arrive to my destination and begin seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching new and different things, I'm "all in." 

Upon reflection, I realize that's very similar to my writing journey. I love to dream up new story ideas and noodle on story problems, but once I sit down to my desk to do the work of writing, it's not unusual for me to freeze up and resist actually putting words on the page. But once I start physically writing or typing, something magical happens, and I'm transported to a headspace that allows me to create something new.  

This year's annual greeting captures some of the journeys my family has experienced together and individually over the past year. I look forward to new adventures in the year to come -- on the map and on the page. I wish you and yours a safe journey into a new year filled with experiences that bring Peace, Love, Joy, and Creativity into your life and into our world. 

November 16, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: THE PROUDEST COLOR, by Sheila Modir, PhD and Jeff Kashou, LMFT

I have met many wonderful people as a result of my affiliation with Familius, the publisher of my next scheduled book. Most recently, I had the honor of interviewing two especially caring and compassionate individuals: Sheila Modir, PhD and Jeff Kashou, LMFT, co-authors of the meaningful and timely picture book, THE PROUDEST COLOR (illustrated by Monica Mikai, published by Familius, 2021). 

Dear Readers, I hope you will give this book, and the story-behind-the-story, the time and attention it deserves.  

by Sheila Modir PHD and Jeff Kashou LMFT
and Monica Mikai
 

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Dr. Sheila and Jeff. It’s my understanding that you were inspired to write THE PROUDEST COLOR after the murder of George Floyd, and you’ve said, “Writing is our form of activism.” That’s a very powerful statement. Can you share more details about how you came to decide that writing a book for children was one of the ways in which you wanted to actively engage in social justice work? 

Dr. Sheila Modir and Jeff Kashou, LMFT: As mental health professionals working primarily with children and adolescents, and their families, we wanted to write a book that was based in evidence-based research, while simultaneously promoting racial justice. Following a charged political climate, discussions around building walls and immigration, and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, we had patients that were questioning their skin color and their cultural pride. When we searched our local bookstores and libraries for a book or resource to help initiate a conversation about race/racism, skin color, and racial/cultural pride, we couldn’t find one. I (Sheila) had conducted research on racial socialization (how parents/ caregivers communicate messages of race/racism to their child and the impact of it on their mental health) in graduate school, and referred back to the research studies to help inform this book. Our author proceeds are donated to nonprofit organizations like ACLU who will continue to promote racial justice. We feel like there is a lot more work to do in this field, but helping take one step forward by educating our youth and providing a resource for parents is our form of activism. 

DP: I sincerely appreciate how you have harnessed your expertise to create something tangible and actionable in service of a better world. 

George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, and THE PROUDEST COLOR was published in September, 2021, which in my experience, is an incredibly short turn-around time in the children’s book world! Can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor/publisher? 

SM and JK: Yes, it was a fast turn-around time, and it’s truly because Familius recognized that a book like this needed to be out on shelves as soon as possible. The idea of the book was based on an essay I had written in graduate school about growing up as a brown girl in the Midwest and standing out in my school photos, in my group of friends, and essentially everywhere I went. This awareness of differences at a young age is powerful and shapes your self-esteem and your identity. We used this essay and the racial socialization research to help write The Proudest Color. To help us with the writing process, we asked questions like: How does a child react when they experience overt discrimination? How can parents help maneuver their child’s discrimination experience? What are ways they can build cultural pride? Up until now, no children’s book has openly discussed an experience of racism. We wanted to go there, because growing up we had experienced racism, and hearing our patient’s stories we knew they were experiencing it. We knew people are experiencing it, but now we needed to provide a way for parents/caregivers/ teachers to help them process it. We wrote the book in 5 days. At the time we were writing, there was a huge online movement where communities of color were sharing their experiences of discrimination, injustices, and inequities, and supporting one another, and we wanted to contribute to that. We searched for small publishing companies that focused on books for families and also had a history of publishing mental health books. Within a week of sending our manuscript to various publishers, we heard back from Familius. They understood the importance of the book and wanted it out as soon as possible. Within a year of submitting the book to them, it was published on shelves!

DP: That is a such a powerful and inspiring backstory. I'm so glad you found a home for this book with Familius, and that they were nimble enough to bring it to the marketplace quickly. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

SM and JK: The Proudest Color not only talks about discrimination, but it also introduces readers to emotion identification. Surprisingly, finding colors and naming the colors was something that went through a few revisions. Jeff was great at finding fun and creative names for the colors like razzle dazzle pink! We wanted this book to truly embody mental health and resilience so each of the revisions moved us toward that. We also asked friends and colleagues in the mental health field to review it and provide us with feedback.  

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

DP: I love the layers of learning in this book, such as the incorporation of colors and emotion identification. (The topic of resilience is dear to me; it's what rooted me to my most recent book, LUCY'S BLOOMS, a story that took many years and many revisions to write, and many rejections before finding its way to publication.) 

I'd like to hear a little more about your writing process. I would anticipate that co-authoring a book might create some unique opportunities—and also some unique challenges. Could you share some insights into your collaborative process? What elements of the collaborative process might you strive to repeat (and/or avoid) when working together on future book projects? 

SM and JK: We are married so it wasn’t too hard to write together since this was during the pandemic and we were both working from home. I wrote in the early mornings, and Jeff wrote in the evenings, and we would email each other the draft we had worked on. We both have our own writing styles and ideas so bringing them together was a fun process and we are looking forward to continuing this collaboration!

DP: Based on the information on your website and what you’ve shared here and in other interviews, I realize THE PROUDEST COLOR comes from a place of personal experience and extensive professional research. Can you share some of what it means to you (as mental health professionals, as Middle Eastern Americans, as human beings), to be able to bring an authentic, #OwnVoices story into the marketplace? 

SM and JK: We believe it is important to have more people share their stories because there is so much out there that needs to be told, especially in the Middle Eastern community where there is little representation. We know representation matters so it meant a lot to have our voice out there and to be able to include famous people from the Middle Eastern community to include in our book. 

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

Interior Image: THE PROUDEST COLOR

DP: I'm so glad that your voices are out there, and that THE PROUDEST COLOR draws attention to some of the familiar and famous voices from the Middle Eastern community. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

SM and JK: The Proudest Color was incredibly rare in how quickly it was written, accepted, and published. Our other books have not been that fast so we know things take time and it can often feel like a very slow process. It is also a very vulnerable experience to have your work out there and have others read it, so be gentle on yourself. Finally, we recommend celebrating all the wins, even the small ones, like getting your idea written out in a draft format, writing your query letter, imagining your illustrations – whatever it is – honor it because it’s a lot of work!

DP: Those are such empowering tips and reminders. Thank you for that.

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

SM and JK: We are writing more books on diversity and mental health topics and are excited to get them out there! People can find more information on us at www.theproudestcolor.com.

DP: I really appreciate you sharing your path to publication for THE PROUDEST COLOR, Dr. Sheila and Jeff. I look forward to following your work and supporting this and future books.  

Friends, you've heard me say it before: The best way to thank authors whose insights have been helpful and/or inspiring to you is to support their work. Buy their books for yourself and as gifts. Request them from your library. Read and share them with others. These actions are especially important and impactful with THE PROUDEST COLOR, because by supporting this book, you are also promoting racial justice and supporting nonprofit organizations such as ACLU, who continue to promote racial justice. THE PROUDEST COLOR is available everywhere books are sold, including from your local, independent bookstore (which you can access online via Bookshop.org) and directly from Familius, the publisher.  

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Image Credit: Lovers of Love
As Middle Eastern Americans (Iranian and Palestinian) and as clinicians,  Dr. Sheila Modir and Jeff advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion and work toward building resilience in children.  Dr. Modir is a board certified psychologist at a children's hospital. She obtained a combined doctoral degree in Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and her master’s degree in social welfare at UCLA. Dr. Modir has presented at conferences, spoken on podcasts, and published articles on the impact of racial trauma on mental health and risk and resilience factors. Jeff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a manager of clinical product and service design for a mental health tech company. He has his master’s in clinical psychology from Pepperdine and was previously on the Board of Directors for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Together they have advocated at the state and federal level for better mental health care policies, in addition to doing international work at a Red Cross refugee asylum in Belgium. They also consult on film and television productions, including for Disney and Freeform, to ensure that mental health is portrayed responsibly, and have been judges for the annual Sentinel Awards. 

Find them on social media: 

Twitter: @drsheilamodir

Instagram: @drsheilasbookshelf

Website: https://theproudestcolor.com/

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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.  

November 2, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR, by Rebecca Kraft Rector

Hello readers! In today's edition of Birth Stories for Books, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the path to publication for Rebecca Kraft Rector's new book, LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR, (illustrated by Shanda McCloskey, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, September 2022). 

The book is based on such a fun concept. I can't wait to hear more about how it came to be. 

by Rebecca Kraft Rector and Shanda McCloskey

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome back to the blog, Rebecca. In our last interview, you shared your path to publication experience for an earlier book, SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED. I’m looking forward to learning more about your latest book, LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR.

Rebecca Kraft Rector: Thanks, Dawn!

DP: Speaking of editors, can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this book and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to a REAL LIVE EDITOR?  

RKR: It took about 30 revisions and two years from idea to submission. My agent suggested submitting the story to editors as a package with sketches from one of her illustrators. I’d never heard of submitting a package, but as soon as I saw Shanda McCloskey’s sketches, I said Yes, yes, yes! They were absolutely perfect, full of energy, personality, and sass. Fabulous! I am so very lucky that Shanda agreed to do the illustrations.

DP: What a great match up. The illustrations are so much fun! And it sounds like your agent's submission approach was a good one. 

Image Credit: Shanda McCloskey, from LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

Image Credit: Shanda McCloskey, from LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

RKR: In the first drafts, Little Red met two other animals before Mr. Wolf. Then I had Mr. Wolf disguised as other animals. Finally, I had him appear as himself immediately. The other versions distracted from the point of the story. Right from the start I knew Red would write Granny a thank you letter for the cape and Mr. Wolf would correct it and thus miss eating Red.

DP: It sounds like you really took the idea of revising until the story was just right to heart. That's an important tip we all could learn from. 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication? 

RKR: I think it was when I started having fun with the language—adding alliteration, assonance, similes, idioms, etc.

DP: I think most of our stories get better when we lean into the fun! 

When you compare your path to publication for LITTLE RED to your experience with SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

RKR: SQUISHED was an old story that I took to a Highlights workshop where it was ‘discovered.’ LITTLE RED was a completely new story. SQUISHED was called a modern take on an old tale. I hadn’t set out to do that. But with LITTLE RED, I purposefully looked for an old tale that I could twist. I played with titles and came up with LITTLE RED WRITING HOOD. And the idea of the thank you letter was inspired by that.

DP: I just love the word play and the concept. It's so much fun. 

You have a fantastic Parent and Educator's Guide for LITTLE RED on your website. It looks like both you and the illustrator, Shanda McCloskey, had a hand in this. Can you provide some insights about how this guide came together? Have you received any feedback from parents and educators about how they are putting this resource to good use? 

RKR: I wrote a basic Educator’s Guide for SQUISHED and I thought I’d do something similar with LITTLE RED. But Shanda suggested we do one together. We talked about things we could include and she outlined it and put together her part of it quickly. It was amazing. I wanted to be sure my part of the Guide reflected curriculum standards. I’d been writing educational test passages and questions, as well as other things for educational publishers. So my mind was stuffed with standards. That actually slowed me down for a long time. I couldn’t include everything! We have had some teacher feedback that it’s just what they need, but we haven’t heard how it’s actually being used in the classroom. Yet.

DP: One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at school, library, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. Now that you have launched several books, (two while the world has been navigating a pandemic), what professional advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful (in-person and/or remote) events? 

RKR: Websites and social media are great ways to make people aware of you and your availability. If you’re doing a virtual visit, try to test your equipment on their platform ahead of time. My microphone worked fine on Skype and Zoom, but wouldn’t work at all for Crowdcast. I had to type answers into the chat box! Shanda has a wonderful podcast with lots of great tips. 

DP: Great tip on testing individual platforms ahead of time, and wow! What a fantastic resource. I was not familiar with this podcast. Thanks so much for sharing it. 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

RKR: “Just keep swimming.” Write. Persist. Do what makes you happy. You may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince. But it only takes one “yes.”

DP: That's fantastic advice, Rebecca. 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR with us.

Readers, Rebecca's books are available everywhere books are sold, including your local indie bookstore, which you can access online via Bookshop. And if you can't add another book to your personal library, you can still support Rebecca's work by requesting one or more of her books from your local library


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Rebecca Kraft Rector is a retired librarian and the author of more than thirty fiction and nonfiction books for children. Her cats Ollie and Opal keep her company while she writes. When she isn’t writing and eating chocolate, she’s trying to keep deer out of her garden.

LITTLE RED AND THE BIG BAD EDITOR is Rebecca’s second picture book, published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2022.

Visit Rebecca online at https://rebeccakraftrector.wordpress.com


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Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.