There are some very talented authors living right here in the Fox Cities, and one of them is picture book author Linda Vander Heyden. Linda is the author of three picture books published by Sleeping Bear Press, Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs, Hannah’s Tall Order and A Horse Named Jack.
There are three opportunities during the Fox Cities Book Festival to see Linda present and listen to her read her books. You can learn about what inspired her to write her first picture book, Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs, on October 9 at 1:00pm at Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha. She will give the same presentation again on October 12 at 10:00am at the Neenah Public Library. Youngsters, ages three to five, will enjoy a special story time with Linda at the Kaukauna Public Library on October 11th at 9:30am.
We asked Linda a few questions about writing for kids, and here is what she had to say.
What would people be surprised to know about the process of having a picture book published?
I think people would be surprised by how long it can take to have a picture book published. There is a tendency to think writing a picture book must be easy because picture books, as a rule, have very few words. In truth, every word must be chosen carefully and must move a story forward. The word count is spare, allowing room for an illustrator to work his or her magic and make the story even stronger. It can often take years of revisions and submitting before finding a publisher for your manuscript.
Tell us a little bit behind your inspiration for your first picture book, Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs?
Several years ago, I realized I’d only seen two monarchs all summer. The milkweed along our road had been mowed several times. One day, I was saddened to find monarch caterpillars clinging to the drying leaves. I decided to write a story about monarchs that would be fun for children to read, but also educational. I hoped my story would inspire them to love and protect nature.
Did you always want to be an author?
I’ve always loved writing and the beauty of language. I enjoy writing poetry. And in years past, I even enjoyed writing essays and research papers. The desire to be a children’s author evolved slowly. For many years, I read picture books to my children and grandchildren. I loved hearing them laugh at humorous stories. One day when I was reading a Mo Willems book to my grandson and hearing his belly laughs, I knew I wanted to write stories that would make kids laugh like that!
The horse in your picture book, A Horse Named Jack, is quite the character. How is he similar to your own horse?
The horse in my picture book, A Horse Named Jack, was inspired by my own horse—also named Jack. My Jack is silly and smart and easily bored. He escapes from his stall every chance he gets. Sometimes he opens his friend’s stall too! We have not been able to find a lock that he can’t open. I used to get frustrated with him. Now I just laugh and admire his tenacity. Like the horse in the book, my Jack is child-like and innocent. He wants to explore and satisfy his curiosity, even if it gets him into trouble!
What is the best part of being a children’s author?
To me the very best part of being a children’s author is meeting kids and seeing them smile when they hear my stories. I think children deal with more challenges today than when I grew up. If my stories bring them joy, I am grateful.
What advice would you give to someone that is interested in starting the process of creating a picture book?
About 10 years ago, I contacted a children’s book author. She had written a story about a child trying to understand what was happening to her grandmother who had dementia. I wanted to tell her what a beautiful and loving book she had created. I shared with her that I, too, wanted to write for kids. She passed along the best advice she’d received when she was starting out. “Join SCBWI,’ she said. SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I took her advice and have found it to be an amazing resource for aspiring writers and illustrators. You can learn more about this organization at www.scbwi.org.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you when sharing your picture books with kids?
One day, a student asked me how old I was. I told him I was 65 (at the time). I followed up by telling the class about another writer who said a student told her he thought all authors were dead. When I shared this (thinking it was funny), I heard a little voice in the back of the room say, “That’s sad.”
What is it like to read reviews of your books?
I love reading reviews of my books! Thankfully, so far they’ve been positive! Though a bad review (or critique) can be upsetting for an author, I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that a review is one person’s opinion. Others may feel differently. In the kid-lit community, we are encouraged by these words…”Believe in yourself. Believe in your work.”