March 8, 2019

Birth Stories for Books, PIECE BY PIECE, by Stephanie Shaw

by Stephanie Shaw & Sylvie Daigneault
Today's post is a return to the Birth Stories for Books series. Our guest today is Stephanie Shaw, someone I'm pleased to consider a friend and a colleague. She's the author of many delightful picture books including, PIECE BY PIECE (illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault and published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2017), which we'll talk about today. Let's jump right in:

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Stephanie. If I remember correctly, you and I first met at a “first pages” session at a SCBWI-Oregon conference many years ago. I recall hearing you read one of your stories aloud and thinking to myself, “This will be a book someday.” Boy was I ever right! Now you have a heap of delightful picture books to your credit. Today we’re going to talk about PIECE BY PIECE. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? 

Stephanie Shaw: Hi, Dawn!  It’s so good to be with you.  I remember that SCBWI conference where we met. It was my first and you were so kind! I didn’t know a soul and you sat with me at lunch and you were so encouraging!  None of us get to publication without tremendous support, and I certainly credit you with holding my hand along the way.

DP: I'd forgotten that it was your first conference when we met. I’m so glad I made you feel welcome! I just remember that I enjoyed meeting you and enjoyed our chats and really thought highly of the work that you shared during open mic/first pages, year after year when we would see each other. I'm so glad we have the opportunity to chat about your publishing journey. Speaking of which, 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?

SS: So, writing PIECE BY PIECE was one of the sweetest journeys ever.  And, it started with doing something I really did not want to do.  While attending a Highlights Writing Summer Camp in 2013, attendees were invited to go on a ‘sensory walk’ in the woods with author Jillian Sullivan.  I thought that sounded silly. But, I did like walking and the area was beautiful, so I went along. Jillian asked us to close our eyes and just listen. She asked us to feel plants and stones. She asked us to smell grasses and sap. She taught us to use our senses to evoke words in our writing. That lesson would be ‘the moment’ in terms of PIECE BY PIECE being conceived. I just didn’t know it yet.

The following summer I developed the first draft of PIECE BY PIECE inspired by daily walks near my home.  The start of the story has the line, “All day she gathered them up: the crunch of leaves, the springiness of moss, the leap and splash of a fish.”  I knew I wanted the story to draw on all I had learned from Jillian Sullivan. I knew I wanted a quilt in it. So, the main character became a weaver and seamstress ---which is funny because I can barely sew on a button!

In the fall of 2014, I attended an Oregon SCBWI Retreat. I read that first draft at a roundtable. A visiting editor had tears in her eyes at the end. I remember she said, “That is just so sad.” So, her suggestion was to soften it a bit.  A short while later, she contacted me and asked that I send it to her once I had made some changes. I was elated.

But, in the bi-polar world of publishing, it was not meant to be. She sent the most beautiful rejection ever when she compared it to work by Isabelle Allende, but her editorial team felt it was ‘too adult.’

I did some revision work (adding the main character’s children as the ones who save the day).  By that time, I was in conversation with the Senior Editor Barb McNally at Sleeping Bear Press regarding SCHNITZEL: A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR LAZY LOUTS (my third book with SBP).  I asked if Barb would mind taking a look at PIECE BY PIECE. But I honestly wasn’t thinking of it as a submission. I just wanted some free professional advice. She wanted to pitch it to the editorial committee and within a short time it was acquired.

DP: That IS a sweet journey...almost like a fully developed story arc in and of itself! Knowing the backstory makes this lovely book even more beautiful.

Here is another curious question: 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?

SS: From the first draft to the final manuscript, not terribly much changed with the exception of the children becoming more integral to the resolution. I was able to keep all the sensory language.  I was able to keep the arc of the story in terms of the seamstress beginning with a beautiful gown and then ‘piece by piece’  reducing it to scraps of cloth.

Illustrations by Sylvie Daigneault

DP: It's very inspiring that a creative exercise that you weren't even keen on doing eventually led to such a lovely story, with such beautiful illustrations! Good for you for saying "yes," to participating in the creative exercise when you could have just as easily skipped it.

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about PIECE BY PIECE and/or your path to publication that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

SS: When people ask my husband (who is not a writer) what PIECE BY PIECE is about, he always says, “It’s about a quilt.”  When people ask my writer friends what PIECE BY PIECE is about they say, “It’s about rejection and revision.”  And, of course, both are right.  As writers, we work so hard to craft something wonderful. Then we end up tearing it apart and refashioning it --- sometimes to the point where we don’t recognize it as the story we wanted to tell. It takes hard work to seamlessly put all the revisions together.

DP: Oh, so well said! 

Some of your earlier books, for example, THE LEGEND OF THE BEAVER’S TAIL (2015) and A COOKIE FOR SANTA (2014), were also published by Sleeping Bear Press. Were there notable differences in the path to publication for your earlier books as compared to PIECE BY PIECE?

SS: This would become my fourth book with Sleeping Bear Press. And each one had a bit of a different path to publication.  The first two were represented by the fabulous agent Kirsten Hall (now owner of Catbird Agency).  Kirsten was originally with an agency in London and represented illustrator Laura Watkins from my very first book BEDTIME IN THE MEADOW, Tiger Tales, 2013.  It was Kirsten who approached me about developing a Christmas story for Sleeping Bear and then later a legend, because SBP had done a call out to agents when they were looking for these types of stories. I was so fortunate that Kirsten liked what I had done with Laura and suggested that I develop these manuscripts.  But, I submitted SCHNITZEL, PIECE BY PIECE and my next book, TAILS FROM THE SHELER (2020), on my own.

That must sound like once I was ‘in’ I just got a green light on everything, but far from it.  I have pestered Sleeping Bear with many projects that have been rejected. They are a relatively small publisher and either they don’t have room for the stories, or the stories are not right for them.

So a huge difference is transitioning to submitting on my own. When Kirsten started her own agency, she was unable to take clients she had formerly represented. I now spend a great deal of time researching publishers that will take unagented authors.

DP: Glad to hear I'm not the only one in that boat! My upcoming books are also with a (wonderful!) relatively small publisher (West Margin Press). I love working with them, but I have more stories in my backlog of inventory than they could reasonably publish, and not all of my stories are a good fit for their regionally focused list. Since I, too, am unagented, I'm grateful there are publishers that will consider unagented submissions (but, the research entailed...oy!)   

One of my favorite parts of being an author is visiting schools and libraries and reading my books to children, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. I know you were a professional educator for many years. Wearing the hats of both educator and author, I suspect you’ve read to many children over the years, too. What advice or suggestions do you have for picture book authors and/or fellow story time presenters? 

SS: Regarding presentations, one thing I learned from Sleeping Bear Press is the importance of tying activities to books.  This makes the book very appealing to families, teachers and librarians. And, once that is done, I also have a ready made classroom presentations or talking points for families.

DP: That's a great tip. Thanks! 

How about 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?

SS: There are a lot of things I would tell my pre-published self.  But, more than anything, I wish I would have joined SCBWI when I first became interested in writing. That one step would have saved me from making so many mistakes!   And, given the sloth-paced progression of the publishing world, I wish I started writing earlier.

DP: Ditto to both points! 

Before we wrap up, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on? 

SS: I’m excited to find out who the illustrator will be for the next picture book TAILS FROM THE ANIMAL SHELTER.  It has several introductions from various fictional animals seeking adoption as well as nonfiction information about the formation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

As for unpublished works in progress? Well, today I am channeling my eight year old self and making up humorous conversation between bats. What’s a bat’s favorite dessert you ask?  Upside down cake.

DP: That work-in-progress sounds like a VERY fun book, Stephanie. I can't wait! 

Speaking of fun books, Stephanie has offered to gift a signed copy of PIECE BY PIECE to one lucky reader. To be eligible to win, simply write one comment below. The winner will be selected at random sometime after 12:00PM PST, March 15, 2019. 

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, Stephanie. It was sincerely a pleasure to learn more about you and your work! 

Stephanie Shaw is a native Oregonian verified by her refusal to use an umbrella.  She is a graduate of Oregon State University (Go, Beavers!) and Lewis and Clark College and had the honor of working in Oregon’s public education system as a teacher, counselor and administrator. Things she loves includes: mustard, chocolate (but not together), her very tolerant husband and very soft dog Milo.  She uses the word ‘hate’ sparingly but she really, really does not like stickers on fruit and vegetables.

Her work includes numerous stories in Highlights for Kids, High Five and Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids as well as books: Little Tiger UK: Bedtime In The Meadow, 2013, Under The Sleepy Stars, 2014, By The Light Of The Moon, 2015, Lullaby Farm, 2016.  Sleeping Bear Press: A Cookie For Santa, 2014, The Legend Of The Beaver’s Tail, 2015, Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale For Lazy Louts, 2016, Piece By Piece, 2017, Tails From The Animal Shelter, 2020. Simon And Schuster, UK: Moo La La! Cow Goes Shopping, 2016, Read Your Story: What Would You Like For Tea?, 2018, My Shapes, 2019,  Sweet Sounds, 2020

Stephanie loves to hear from kids and fellow authors! You can contact her via her website at

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to 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


  1. Very nice interview you too. I learned new things.

    1. Thanks, Sue. It was a really fun interview to do ... I learned something, too! ; )

  2. Dear readers, I didn't even realize until today that this beautiful book is one of A Mighty Girl's Top Picks for 2017:

  3. Thanks, Dawn and Stephanie. What a wonderful interview. I need to go out and get copies of your stories for my little guy who is doing more and more reading on his own. He LOVES the books I've bought for him (written by local authors) and, as his reading skills are rapidly improving, he's devouring them at an amazing pace. It's so good and inspiring to hear about other writers' creative journeys and realization of the dream to get these stories out into the world.

    1. How exciting that your little one is doing more and more reading on his own, Estela. P.S. I can't wait until it's time to feature your birth story on the blog!

  4. Thanks friends, for participating in the giveaway opportunity. Estela Bernal, your name was chosen by random drawing (my son did the honors!). I will be in touch with you by email to get your mailing address and Stephanie will send you a signed book. Cheers!