Why did you become a children's book writer and illustrator?
I was working as an architect, and struggling
with a bit of malaise regarding my career, when I rediscovered children’s books—one of the many perks of becoming a parent. So much amazing beauty and incredible writing—and artistic freedom! All of a sudden I realized that being a children’s book author and illustrator would be a much better outlet for my creative interests. That idea lodged itself in my noggin, and I set my sights on becoming a published author and illustrator.
Was the journey difficult? How did you learn to master your craft?
Yes, the journey was difficult. Once I decided that I absolutely wanted to become a children’s book author and illustrator, I had to teach myself how to do it. Most of that process involved reading gazillions of picture books and carefully studying and deconstructing how my favorites are written and how the illustrator made the art. It took me many years of trial and error, and many false starts and rejections before I finally got some actual positive interest from within the publishing industry. And then it was several years after that before I actually had something publishable, found my agent, and sold my first book. Fortunately I have a pretty thick skin from my years as an architect, and fairly single minded focus once I set my sights on something I want. I had only one moment when I almost threw in the towel—about two weeks before I got an offer of representation from Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties, which I accepted with so much relief and joy.
How have you, personally, benefitted from the SCBWI?
I absolutely would not be published were it not for SCBWI, and I would not be a part of this amazing community of people who love children’s books as much as I do. Most of what I know about becoming published has come directly from SCBWI events and publications. Many of my dearest friends are the people I have met through SCBWI. Now I am so grateful to be able to give back, by sharing my knowledge with SCBWI members who are eager to experience the wonderful joy of publishing books for children.
What are you going to talk about in your Keynote, why is this important to writers and illustrators of children's books?
Well, I don’t want to give it all away here, but it’s fair to say that I will share a few details of my journey to publication, and how I battle the inner critic who assures me that I will never have another good idea once I am done with whatever project I am currently working on. Based on all I have learned from others in this field, I am sure that what I have learned along the way about writing and illustrating for children will be helpnothers who are on this same journey.
Can you mention your thoughts on the value of children's literature?
It is no wonder that most of us will cite a children’s book when asked to list our favorite books—the books we read as children are our first exciting glimpse into the amazing world beyond our own experience, a world that is wondrous, confusing, sometimes painful, and always mysterious. Books allow children to build their inner worlds and expand their imaginations, develop empathy and gain understanding of experiences other than their own. Picture books help children to recognize beauty, develop visual literacy, and to feel the power that words and images have to relate experiences both familiar and brand new.
What words do you have for someone who wishes to create a children's book?
Work hard and be patient. Read read read, and then read a whole lot more, especially in the genre in which you hope to be published. Your best education will be those books that you read and look at carefully. The masters have so much to teach us, and you can access their wisdom with only your library card! Be prepared to spend a lot of time and energy birthing your idea, honing your craft, and learning what it takes to get published. Enjoy the process, and have faith!
What are your favorite kids' books? How have they influenced you?
I was born in the era of the golden age of picture books, but my parents, after raising my four older siblings, were probably too tired to notice--I honestly don’t remember a lot of picture books from my childhood except The Cat in the Hat, and all Richard Scarry books. The books I do remember from my childhood are the ones I could read to myself--all E.B. White books, Harriet the Spy, the Velveteen Rabbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia. That feeling of being someone else, somewhere else, is a feeling I cherish from those reading days. I strive to recreate that feeling for my readers in everything I create.
I have experienced wonderful moments of connection numerous times. One of the best was when a fifth grade girl, shy and awkward, approached me after I read I’ll Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard. While her teachers tried to lead and back to class, telling her not to bother me, she told me that she felt that she was just like my character, Rose, who is a misunderstood, messy, creative dreamer. It meant so much to her that I had written a book that she felt was about her. The effort the she made to tell me how she felt meant to so much to me. This makes all the struggle worthwhile!
Learn more about Jennifer at her website.