March 2, 2022

Birth Stories for Books: HUGGA LOULA, by Nancy Dearborn

Hello readers! Here comes another informative Birth Stories for Books interview. My guest is Nancy Dearborn, author of HUGGA LOULA (illustrated by Huang Junyan, Familius, March, 2021). 

Photo Credit: Neil Patten 

Dawn Prochovnic: Welcome to the blog, Nancy. Today we get to celebrate the Book Birthday for your children’s book, HUGGA LOULA

I’d love to hear how the idea for this story came to be. Reading the FAQ on your website, I understand that most of your story ideas come from lived experiences, so my curiosity is definitely piqued as to whether or not that’s the case with HUGGA LOULA. 

Nancy Dearborn: It is the case with Hugga Loula. My friend Steve and I were helping his sister move. Some of the other volunteers were taking a break and standing right where Steve needed to set down a load. He was getting frustrated with them and started to say, “I need. I need…” but before he could finish his sentence, his niece Alessia said, “a hug,” and wrapped her arms around his legs. When he told me about the incident later, I thought the idea would make a cute picture book. Later, that very same day, I sat down and sketched out some of the characters and events in the story.

DP: What a fun and fitting backstory! 

I’d also like to hear more about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for the book and the manuscript that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor. Your online bio indicates that you are a member of several different writers’ groups, so I suspect one or more of those groups played a role in the process.

ND: I tend to write almost everything out long-hand before I type it into my laptop. With picture books, I write them in double-page spreads starting with pages 2-3 to make sure I have around 32 pages. It shows editors exactly where I envision the page turns. Even as I was writing the original rough draft of Hugga Loula, I crossed out words and improved my writing by making notes in the margins. Some experts on writing picture books suggest you have three main scenes although not every author builds their picture book around this. Since I envisioned four main characters (Hugga Loula, her dad, her mom, and her brother), it was easy for me to build the scenes where a different character received some help and a hug from Hugga Loula. When I wrote Hugga Loula, I lived in CA, so I was a member of Write On!, a local critique group that met in person.  Once I edited the manuscript several times myself, the members of Write On! offered me invaluable suggestions on ways to improve it. What I love about critique groups is that everyone sees something different to comment on.     

DP: I couldn't agree more. Critique groups are such an important part of the writing process. 

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?

ND: A few things that differ are that Familius added a couple more sound words to the double page spreads, and they created the catchy phrase, “If you’re grumpy or sad, frustrated or mad, just give a shout, and hug it out.”

I was pleased to see that Familius left the page breaks exactly where I put them.

DP: Thanks for sharing some of these details, Nancy. The collaboration between author and publisher is such a fascinating process. 

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? 

ND: I can’t say there was one moment along the way that opened the door. What I can tell you though is after researching several possible publishers, I believed Hugga Loula was a perfect fit for Familius since their mission statement is to help families be happy. With that said, they focus their books around ten habits of healthy families. Hugga Loula exhibited loving together, working together, talking together, etc.  

DP: This is such a great example of how important it is to research and target your submissions to find the just-right publisher for each book. 

When you compare the path to publication for this book to the paths to publication for some of the many articles and stories you have published in other formats, such as magazines, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

ND: I decided early on that I was writing to be heard – not just for myself but to hopefully improve the lives of others through my written words. Some of the similarities are that one needs to really study the markets to make sure your piece would be a strong fit. Sometimes I’ve written articles, or stories or poems and not found a good fit right away, so I don’t necessarily immediately send out everything I write. But new markets pop up all the time, and sometimes existing publishers change their focus. One of the factors that’s changed is the timing with shorter pieces because of the Internet. One night I sent a piece off to an online publisher, and they published it the very next morning. I couldn’t believe it! 

DP: Wow! I think that's the fastest turn-around time I've ever heard of in this business!  

Your book launched during the middle of (a still ongoing!) pandemic. What have you found to be the most effective and meaningful way(s) to connect with young readers and book buyers during this challenging time? 

ND: It has been challenging because I was so looking forward to doing in-person readings and events at bookstores, preschools, libraries, elementary schools, etc. I live in Dane County in Wisconsin, and we have been under a mask mandate almost since the very beginning. Schools, libraries, preschools, and some bookstores have mostly been off limits as far as in-person presentations. But I still market Hugga Loula in a wide variety of other ways and am so thankful my publisher Familius does the same.

Photo Credit: Terri Wilhelm

DP: 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?

ND: I strive to encourage writers (including myself) to never give up and pursue the goals they set for themselves. There may be naysayers along the way. Even though I was getting a number of my poems published early on in my writing, my mother still told me, “Your brother in high school writes better than you do.” (That really hurt, but I just told myself it wasn’t true.) At other times, my daughters encouraged me to spend my time pursuing other interests, but writing and speaking are what I really want to do. 

 DP: What an excellent practice, to encourage writers, including yourself. I'm so glad you persisted, Nancy. (My most recent picture book, Lucy's Blooms, is about persisting in the face of obstacles and discouragement from others, so I have a very soft spot for this sort of thing!) 

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

ND: I have taken a small step back from writing any new picture books and instead am focusing on marketing my published books (Hugga Loula, I Found a Wallet, and Runaway – all in 2021) and am currently working with Pen It! Publishing on another picture book Grandma’s Stories: Twins in Trouble. Besides that, I am researching picture book markets to find homes for around ten already completed picture book manuscripts. I am also working on an adult book about some of the unusual experiences I’ve had in my life.

DP: It sounds like 2021 was quite a year for you in terms of publication, and that you're off to a busy start in 2022! I wish you every success with all of your book projects. Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for HUGGA LOULA with us.

And now, readers, I hope you will consider heading on over to Bookshop or your favorite local indie to get yourself a copy of this book. Can't add another book to your own collection? Ask your local school or public library to include HUGGA LOULA in their collection and/or share this post with a friend. 


Image Source: Nancy Dearborn
Familius Publishing released Nancy Dearborn’s first picture book Hugga Loula on March 02, 2021. Pen It! Publishing released her second picture book I Found a Wallet in July 2021. KDP Amazon released her middle grade novel Runaway in August 2021. Pen it! Publishing plans to release her third picture book Grandma’s Stories – Twins in Trouble in 2022, and Nancy has more picture books in the works. She is also working on a non-fiction adult book about some of her unusual life experiences.

She had an audio book titled When Will It Snow? released November 2018 by Highlights. Nancy has also had published over 250 articles, stories, and poems in various magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and in online publications.

Nancy enjoys speaking as well as writing. She is an active member of the SCBWI, Kids at Heart, and Write On! She has served as a judge for the SCBWI’s Magazine Merit Awards and spoken at the SCBWI’s national conference in LA. Nancy is the former leader of two writers’ groups.

Her awards include grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts to attend out-of-state conferences, a Highlights scholarship to attend Chautauqua, and she won second and third place in two separate poetry contests.

She has worked as a high school English teacher, junior high reading teacher, and has been the lead teacher for babies, ones, and twos.

In her spare time, she enjoys walking, biking, hiking, and traveling. Nancy is the mother of identical twin daughters and has three granddaughters.

She lives in her hometown of Verona, Wisconsin.

Visit her online at, or you may email her at nancy24dear at gmail dot com. 


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   

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