Article by Jessica Messinger, author of Stinky Feet
Thank you, Karen, for asking me to guest blog about children’s books during Kids’ Week. I’m glad to be here.
I think every children’s book author has to deal with the question, “What makes you think you can be a writer of children’s books?”
I hear voices.
My writing began with my love for stories. My mother used to tell me stories about the mice that lived in my hair to get me to sit still while she combed the snarls out of my long, fine, blonde hair. My grandfather and my childhood babysitter read stories to me, and I can still hear their voices when I read those same stories. Stories are a huge part of our lives, and I suppose writing stories grew out of my love for hearing them, and then thinking, “Hey, I could write something like that.”
What did I do to research writing children’s books?
Though I have a BA in English, the research that helped me the most was reading to children. I learned what kinds of books they like, and I learned what I liked and didn’t like about children’s books.
I paid attention to how children looked at the world. Kids will spend hours looking at ants, bugs, worms and spiders. I got down on the ground and the floor with them and listened to what they had to say about the world.
I think it is imperative to spend time with children in the age group for your book, and it helps if you ask them questions or find out what they think about your book topic. With my book, I began to write it when my daughter was in second or third grade and she wouldn’t wear socks with her shoes. When she took off her shoes in the car it smelled like something had died. I knew this problem of stinky feet inside and out by the time I wrote the book.
What books, if any, did I use to help me?
I read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, parts of Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books, and many children’s books. I also like to read grammar, usage, and punctuation books.
What audience do I hope to attract with my book?
I hope children will enjoy my book, but I hope that the readers of my book will enjoy it as well. If my book becomes a favorite that is asked for over and over again that would be nice too. Some people have told me that my book is definitely a “read-to” book. I do not believe that just because my book is a children’s book, all the words should be simple! Though I like simply-written books to help early readers, when people read my book, I want the child to ask, “What does this word mean,” so their vocabulary expands.
As so many authors do now, I added some thought questions at the end of the story, to encourage discussion about the book between the reader and the listener. I believe this is an important aspect of reading together.
Since you’re self-published, what did you do for your beta-reading and editing?
I sent pdf files to a few friends and asked for their feedback. I tweaked it a little and then I printed five copies and handed them out at my book group for people to see. They looked at the books for a few minutes and loved it. It is a nice book to look at, the illustrations “read” very well, and the colors are fabulous! I learned that beta-reading even a simple children’s book should take time. Next time I’ll print out a few more copies, give them to people to read, and ask specific questions.
I paid to have my book edited (Thank you, Karen, you do fantastic work!) and I would encourage any writer to have their book professionally edited!
What is your writing schedule?
I don’t have one. Maybe that’s why it took me seven years to publish this book. With a toddler and two busy teenagers (our third teenager is currently on a two-year mission for our church) it’s hard to find time to write. Most books about writing say that writing isn’t so much working on your story as it is honing your writing skills, so I have a blog for my book, and a blog for my son, which give me specific writing deadlines.
I love to write letters too! I think we’re losing the art of letter-writing to the convenience of instant messages. Because our family can’t call our son while he’s on his mission, we take time to write letters and lengthy emails to him. Sometimes I get creative and email him a letter written from the perspective of the three-year old, the cat, or the dog. It’s fun to watch my daughter and the animals and to think about how their perspectives might sound. My son loves to get those letters!
What is it like working with your husband?
I’m not sure if most children’s books are written and illustrated the way we did it, but it worked for us. Todd is one of those rare, gifted, fine artists who can also illustrate. When I wrote the story I had ideas in my mind of what the illustrations would look like, so I described them and put them in the manuscript where I wanted them. Todd took those descriptions and worked his magic into the illustrations we have now – which are fabulous! For the last 20 years, I have seen his work on other projects and he still surprised me with these illustrations.
Do you have another project in the works?
Yes! StoryCub has done a video reading of my book, which will be available for free on iTunes and their web site soon. I have a notebook full of ideas and I can’t wait to see which project will jump out at me next.
Jessica Messinger has a BA in English with a minor in French from Brigham Young University. She lives with her husband Todd and their four children in upstate New York. They live in a teeny house with a yellow lab, Bailey, and a black cat, Midnight. Stinky Feet is Jessica’s first children’s book. She has a lot of ideas for more children’s books and hopes to have enough time to write them all.
You can buy Stinky Feet on Amazon here.
Interesting information about StoryCub –
StoryCub produces videos of children’s books being read while the camera pans through a few illustrations from the book. If you click on the YouTube icon on StoryCub’s home page, you’ll go to their videos on YouTube. Jessica’s book will be there soon!