October 22, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: CROW SPIRIT, by Debra Bartsch

I’m delighted to swoop in with another Birth Stories for Books interview. Today's guest is Debra Bartsch, author of CROW SPIRIT (illustrated by Gael Abary, Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, 2019).

Deb is a fellow SCBWI-Oregon member and we both recently participated as guest authors at the Benton County Fair. This experience gave us the opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better and the opportunity discover that we have some surprising points of intersection in our lives!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Deb. After chatting with you at the recent book event and learning that we went to the same elementary school, just at different times, I'm really excited to get to know you and your work a little bit better.

Debra Bartsch: Thank you Dawn for inviting me on your terrific blog! You have interviewed so many authors and illustrators, I feel blessed to be included in the group. The fact that we grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same grade school with some of the same teachers is …...an amazing coincidence that we will continue to explore! Writing children’s books was a given, we grew up in Beverly Cleary’s neighborhood after all!

DP: Thank you for the kind words, Deb. I enjoy this blog series quite a bit... and our shared Beverly Cleary neighborhood and elementary school history is an amazing coincidence for sure! 

CROW SPIRIT is your first book, and I’ve heard you mention that it is inspired by a true story. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this story? For example, I’d love to hear a little bit about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

DB: Crow Spirit is indeed inspired by true events! I wrote the first draft in 2016, it was acquired in 2017, and published 2019! Here is the backdrop:

At first look it is a sweet simple story, ahhh, little girl and a crow, ahhh, but there are many deep layers intertwined together making this book a fit for several categories. Intergenerational with family ties and traditions, learning about our spirit and the interconnectedness of all, the intelligence of crows, plus love, loss, and ultimately healing, all from the view of six -year old Cecily Jane!

I write a lot of stories intuitively, they actually come to me like a knowing idea, slowly brewing, or rapidly appearing in my mind, and I have to get them out on paper. Same with drawing. I also illustrate, seeing the pictures on paper.

I had come back to my childhood home to help care for both of my loving parents as they aged.  After my parents had passed away, I had a friendly encounter with a friendly crow while I was on a walk.  Memories came back to me in an instant with Mom talking about, “crows being family birds, watching out for each other”…... this story was written in a matter of hours in the backyard of my childhood home.

During that time at night I was writing a lot of manuscripts while taking children’s writing and illustrating courses online through The Children’s Book Academy, with Mira Reisberg. Mira loved the story, immediately connected with it. She presented it to Callie Metler-Smith at Clear Fork Publishing/Spork, who acquired the manuscript in December 2017 and found fabulous illustrator, Gael Abary. I am so thrilled to say, CROW SPIRIT is now published!

DP: Thanks for sharing this backstory, Deb. As you reflect 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? 

Yes, Mira Reisberg at the CBA for her connecting to CROW SPIRIT and her knowledge of guiding writers and illustrators along their journey to publication, believing in CROW SPIRIT, and Callie at Clear Fork Publishing/ Spork for seeing the uniqueness of this story. The manuscript also benefitted from my participation in Mark Mitchell's online course and taking it to many SCBWI workshops and critique group meetings.

Plus my family and friends for encouraging me to keep at this unusual, heartfelt story that connected all of us in healing, humor, learning about the intelligence of crows, and listening over and over to, “CAWW, CAWW CAWW!” and, “Don’t forget Gram’s SNICKERDOODLES!”

I had several other manuscripts written and this one kept saying, “Show this one, show this one!”

DP: I find the creative process so fascinating, and in particular, that there are some stories that simply insist on being attended to.  

Let's shift gears a little bit. One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. I’ve listened to you share your story with children and adults, and you have a distinct warmth about you that is comforting and inviting. You also have some fabulous activities that you incorporate into your events. What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful book readings/ book events? 

DB: Thanks, Dawn.That makes me so happy to hear!  I love sharing the joy of reading picture books with kids. Writing from a kids-eye view of the world, looking at life through the eyes of a child, connecting with children comes naturally for me.

Since picture books are meant to be told….with pictures, pointing out the fabulous illustrations is what makes it so fun! The colors, style and characters are what makes a picture book….. A great picture book! Gael Abary’s illustrations created the unique softness of this story by using her special color pallet with limited colors. Plenty of white space gives air and breathing room to the flow of the text. Her illustrations are comforting, drawing the kids in, creating a connection to friendly Mr. Crow, Cecily Jane, Grandma, Grandpop and Mama to their loved ones instantly! Beautiful is all I can say, and thanks Gael!

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

Interior images, illustrated by Gael Abary

DP: I couldn't agree, more. Gael's illustrations are very soothing and engaging. I felt immediately drawn into the book the first time I attended one of your readings.

DB: Movement and motion are second nature to kids, I like to add music with song and hand motions. These elements, plus crafts that can be easily made from found materials are a bonus for teachers and librarians for use in the classroom and can be found on my website, giving the reading a tangible element, natural feel and connection for each child.

Advice: visit and support your local author and illustrator events. You can pick up tips and advice for creating your own special book read.

DP: Yes! Yes! Yes! I learn so much for other authors at their events ... plus it just feels good to be an active participant in the local KidLit community.

Let me ask another question: 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?

DB: Hmmm…follow your heart and your dreams, they really can come true. I had always known that someday I would write and draw for children, just didn’t know it would take me this long.

DP: Yes, this creative business is definitely not for folks who are in a hurry! 

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

DB: How important libraries have always been and will be for me. As a kid, on Saturday’s my sister and brothers would pile into the car with my Dad and go to the library. Hollywood Library in Portland, Oregon. I loved it immediately! A lil’ library card holder from age 5 and lifelong lover of children’s books. Raising my own family, my sons had their library card at ages 3 and 4 carrying on the tradition of story and early reading. I also have a lovely aunt who was a librarian.

Well, guess which library was the first to carry Crow Spirit?  Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon. Yes, Hollywood Branch is one of the first.

Full circle with CROW SPIRIT, and so many more to go.

DP: That's so great, Deb! It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of libraries, and as you know, the Hollywood Branch of the Multnomah County Library is also the library I grew up in. 

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

DB: Yes! Writing ideas are everywhere! I have numerous picture book dummies and manuscripts out on submission, fiction and creative nonfiction both. I love learning every aspect of this journey, learning from seasoned writers and illustrators like you Dawn, and bringing the love and joy of reading to every child, everywhere. It is a privilege to write and draw for children.

DP: Thanks for kind words, Deb. In my experience, we are all teachers and learners. 

I do have one more quick question for you: You include a family cookie recipe at the end of CROW SPIRIT. What’s the story behind that recipe?

DB: SNICKERDOODLES! My Grandma always had a cookie jar filled with every kind of cookie and this was one of our family favorites. Cinnamon and sugar, ummm…...simply spending time together sharing thoughts with a plate of fresh fruit and cookies, is indeed priceless.

Make a batch and spread the love today. Enjoy!

DP: Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books, Debra!

DB: Thank you, Dawn

Readers, if YOU would like Deb's marvelous snickerdoodle recipe, you'll have to get your hands on a copy of CROW SPIRIT. It's available directly from the publisher and everywhere books are sold, plus in a growing number of libraries.  

Debra Bartsch Debra is the author of CROW SPIRIT. She writes and draws from a kid's-eye view of the world. With daily inspiration from laughing grandkids, life is full of sunshine and rain, plus a few mud puddles!

Debra is the SCBWI-Oregon Book Sales/Write Direction Coordinator and SMART Reading Site Coordinator Volunteer Reader for Pre-k’s. Learn more at ww.debbartschillustration.com and

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 www.dawnprochovnic.com.


  1. Lovely interview! Congratulations, Debra and illustrator Gael Abary on creating this beautiful book!

  2. It was a delight to be interviewed by you Dawn, thank you so much!