November 3, 2021

Birth Stories for Books: MOONSONG, by Denise Gallagher

Hello, readers! I'm delighted to bring you another Birth Stories for Books interview--this time from an author/illustrator's perspective! Today's guest, Denise Gallagher, stops by to share her path to publication experience for her latest book, MOONSONG (Little Press Publishing.)

Book Cover by Denise Gallagher

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Denise. Turning the pages in your book, I feel transported to a magical place and time. Even children who are not yet independent readers will enjoy the vivid images and the imaginative journey. I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be.

Denise Gallagher: Before I was an author and illustrator, I was a graphic designer with an itch to do more. Illustrating picture books was vastly different from anything I’d done before. I had a lot to learn! I felt that one way to do this was to write a picture book myself in order to practice illustrating one. I was drawn to folk tales and fairy tales and read them voraciously. I studied works from the Brothers Grimm to Aesop’s Fables. I loved the magic elements and vivid worlds contained in the stories. I then sat down with a sketchbook and a pencil and sketched and scribbled. 

Sketch by Denise Gallagher

My own magic spilled out onto the pages. What emerged was a very wordy book called “Claire de Loup” about a girl and a wolf in a forest. That was eleven years ago. That initial manuscript and the illustrations that accompanied it went through many iterations to eventually become what is now “Moonsong.” 

DP: Wow, that is quite a journey! What an inspiration you are for sticking with this story idea and seeing it through to fruition! 

I’d like to hear more about the process between your initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

DG: Over those eleven years, the manuscript that eventually became “Moonsong” changed many times. During that time, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (a big first step to becoming an author) and attended conferences and critique groups. I took every critique and piece of constructive advice seriously. I listened and I revised. (First revision? It was WAY too long!) But I was always true to myself and to my story. 

My illustration style also changed during that time and I did a scary thing — I scrapped the entire book and illustrations and started over. 

Art Credit: Denise Gallagher

Art Credit: Denise Gallagher

I worked with an agent and got feedback on the new art and manuscript, but never an offer to publish. There were times when I was dejected and set the story aside. Then, in 2019 I attended a workshop where I got this bit of advice: “If something is not working with your story, try changing an aspect of it. Maybe the character, the voice, the setting?”  I took that advice to heart. I decided that my story might work better as a girl with a TIGER in the JUNGLE. I revised the manuscript and worked on a third round of illustrations. 

Early Sketch of Fulki a character in Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

Illustration from Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

Illustration from Moonsong, by Denise Gallagher

I changed the name to “Moonsong” and was excited about my story once more. It was then that I met my editor who loved the story and the art. It took nine months to complete the illustration and layout of the book and now it is in the hands of readers and I am ready to celebrate!

DP: Congratulations! It's time to celebrate, indeed.

It sounds like you definitely made some major revisions to your story along the way to the path of publication. 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?

DG: The original story did not include the missing moon! Looking back now, I realize that including the problem of the missing moon in the plot helped Fulki and the Tiger grow together as friends and added another layer to the tale.

I love playing with language. I’m happy to say that a lot of the initial phrases that I loved survived to the end, even as the manuscript was whittled down. The song lyrics changed, the setting changed, but in the end, Fulki and the Tiger still “tumbled and danced and shared stories and cakes.” 

DP: Thanks for sharing those details, Denise. 

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? 

DG: I have to say, sometimes it helps to set something aside for a bit and return to it later with fresh eyes. With “Moonsong” it took hearing that bit of advice about shaking the story up for me to really dig in and come up with a fresh, modern story that maintained the vivid, magic folk tale feel that I loved.

DP: Well said, and an important reminder. 

In addition to authoring and illustrating books, you also have a passion for design. How do you balance the demands of these different elements of your creative life? 

DG: I received my degree in graphic design and I still really enjoy it. It’s a different skill set — designing projects from logos to packaging. Happily, these graphic design skills also come in handy when working on books. I’ve been fortunate to assist with designing each of them. I truly love great type and compelling page layouts, eye-catching color palettes and unique details. Using these elements along with my writing and illustrations to create a book that I am proud of is truly a joy. So, I consider myself lucky to be able to have these skills. Writing, illustration, graphic design — they are all ways that I can share my stories and express myself creatively.   

DP: Are there ways these different elements of your creative life work in concert with one another? For example, the lettering on the cover of MOONSONG draws the reader in and sets the tone for the book. I’m guessing that’s no accident.

DG: Book design is an art all on its own. I approach each of my book projects as a whole – from the art and words to the design, color and type. So yes! I designed the cover of “Moonsong” as an invitation to the reader. I wanted to create a sense of wonder and draw them in before they even began to read.

DP: I definitely feel the sense of invitation when I look at the cover!

DG: I also believe that books are a child’s first introduction to art and literature. So I try my best to create art and stories that will delight and engage them — helping them to see the beauty that exists in the world all around them. 

DP: It really shows that you approach your books in this way. 

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?

DG: I’d definitely tell my younger self that it is true, “Patience is a virtue!” There is a lot of waiting in publishing. Often that’s a good thing. I know now that I was not quite ready to be published when I had just graduated from college, or even when I started to focus on publishing again many years later. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of learning, a lot of starting over and a lot of patience. But now? Now comes the fun part. After all of my time preparing, I can now share my work with children and families, teachers and librarians. Now I can talk about my progress and my love of art and literature and I can sing the Moonsong. Even though my singing is a little off-key!

DP: Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for MOONSONG that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet? 

DG: I’ve only shared this little tidbit with one other group but I’ll share it with you, too. I’ve included a secret “Easter egg” in “Moonsong.” If you look carefully at the illustration where the children are being fussed at for singing, Fulki is holding a book. Hidden on the spine of the book are the initials W.B. and on the cover is the face of a tiger. W.B. stands for William Blake, an artist and poet from the 1800s who wrote one of my favorite poems “The Tyger.” In that scene, Fulki is reading William Blake’s poem and smiling. I like to believe that she is thinking of the Tiger who is waiting to sing the Moonsong with her in the jungle. 

DP: I love learning and discovering little secrets like this! 

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

DG: I am excited to report that I have written a middle school novel. I’m still working on revising and editing, but it’s in its final stages. And when it is complete, it will contain illustrations throughout.

DP: That sounds fantastic!

DG: When I started this literary journey, I dared to believe that I’d even be able to write and publish a picture book. When the idea for my novel started nagging at the edges of my brain, I was not sure I could do it. But here we are, 40,000 words and a dancing bear later, ready for my next chapter.

DP: That's fabulous, Denise. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights with us. 

Friends, I hope you will head on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie and get yourself a copy of this beautiful book. It's available everywhere books are sold. You can also ask your local library to include it in their collection and/or share this post with a friend. 


Denise Gallagher is an author and illustrator for children. As a child, she drew constantly. Now, she can usually be found deep in thought with a sketchbook and a cup of tea. She loves folklore, music and nature and draws inspiration from her lush, green Louisiana home. The combination of her lyrical writing and her whimsical artwork has charmed children of all ages. She has written and illustrated picture books, is currently working on a middle grade novel and has also illustrated folk tales from both Louisiana and Canada. Denise is devoted to promoting a love of arts and literature in both children and adults and nothing pleases her more than to share her stories with you. Learn more at


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  

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations, Denise! I loved reading this! And, my favorite part is in knowing there is a hidden nugget in the book. the entire book is a real gem!