I love these books almost as much as my daughter does so as soon as Jen wrote me about her upcoming release (I’ll be there and you should too!), I knew this would be the perfect time to share these little gems with you, Jen included. Below is my impromptu interview with Jennifer, in which she even kindly gives advice to other aspiring children’s book writers. Enjoy! THE INTERVIEW
(photo courtesy of Gibbs-Smith)
I skipped breakfast and cut my workout short this morning (no arm-twisting there) in order to share this post with you as quickly as possible. I could not be more to introduce you to the brilliant author, Senior Editor at Quirk Books, my friend and former neighbor Jennifer Adams.
Jennifer has written over a dozen gorgeous books ranging from 101 things to do with cheese to Shakespeare, but her current project BabyLit, a series of board books for children based on your favorite pieces of literature, is my new favorite. The BabyLit series is a “fashionable way of introducing your toddler to the world of classical literature” (Gibbs-Smith). Parents Magazine named, Little Master Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet, one of the 20 Best Children’s Books of 2011 and just yesterday two new books in the series hit shelves: Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre.
As an avid reader of classical literature and a mother, I couldn’t be more thrilled about these books. What inspired you to start creating the BabyLit series?
I wrote a book called “Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen” in 2009 and an ABC book on Shakespeare for grown-ups “Y is for Yorick” in 2011. I think those two books got Austen and Shakespeare germinating in my editor’s mind and we started thinking what more we could do with them for a modern audience. She came up with the brilliant idea of Austen and Shakespeare for babies.
How many more books are still to come?
We just announced the two titles for Fall 2012, Little Master Stoker (Dracula) and Little Master Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and I am currently researching and writing two more books for Spring 2013. I think they can keep going indefinitely, for as long as they keep selling. The possibilities are endless!
The illustrations, created by Alison Oliver, in the series are gorgeous. They are whimsical and fun with enough sophistication to represent legendary authors like Jane Austen perfectly. How did you choose your illustrator? How much direction did you give her?
Alison (www.pure-sugar.com) is a designer who designed books for my publishing house, Gibbs Smith Publisher. My editor, Suzanne Taylor, selected her for the job and she is a perfect match! She illustrates as well as designs the books. She is one of the best literary illustrators and designers that I’ve ever worked with, which makes a huge difference in what she brings to the art, especially with some of the sweet little details. I’ve been lucky in this process to have a lot of input. It’s been a great conversation between me, the editor, and the artist.
Are you going to use contemporary literature in the future?
I’m not sure where the series will take us. We have our ideas, but like to keep
them under wraps until about 6 months before the new books are released. Stay tuned!
Why do you think reading with children is important?
Reading was such a formative part of my growing-up life and is so much a part of my current life both professionally and personally—that I hardly know how to begin answering that question. There are so many reasons. I think holding a child and reading to them is one of the ways children learn to feel safe and secure and loved. Besides being wonderful for cognitive and language development, books open up a world of possibilities to us. Stories help us process our life. They help us understand who we are, and how to make sense of this world. They give us escape and they give us meaning. Love of books is started earlier than most kids can remember, I think, and if you use your first book as a chew toy, who cares? You know the book is something to hold, to love, and that it is a good thing in your world.
(photo courtesy of Jennifer Adams)
As an author of other books for children and Senior Editor for Quirk Books, I’m sure you’ve seen more than a truckload of manuscripts. What do you think aspiring writers for children’s books should know?
First, be ready for rejection. It’s very difficult to get something published and it takes many writers years to achieve. It doesn’t mean your book is bad or you’re a failure or any other thing you keep telling yourself. But sometimes persistence is as important as anything.
Second, some practical advice that many people don’t know: children’s book manuscripts are most often sold separately from the illustrations and the author doesn’t get a say in who the illustrator is. Unless you are a professional illustrator, don’t submit illustrations with your work. Also, realize you most likely will have no say in what your book’s title is, and realize that your chances of actually making money from your book are slightly larger than winning the lottery, but only slightly. The huge book deal advances that you actually hear about are the superstars of this world. There are thousands and thousands of wonderful books published every year that no one’s ever heard of and that are labors of love more than means of an income. Do your research and only send your manuscript to publishers for which you are a good match.
Third, if your manuscript is accepted, be nice to your editor. Many people see the editor as the enemy who wants to “change” their manuscript, but in nine cases out of ten your editor is just a nice girl who loves books as much as you do. She wants your book to succeed and is doing her best to make your book the best it can be. And she’s a professional. Give her credit for knowing more about her job than you do. Authors who are open to editing and changes are often the most successful in the long run.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’ve got some funny complaints from people who freak out that Romeo and Juliet is about a murder-suicide and not suitable for babies, and Little Miss Austen is sexist because it has dresses and money in it. To that I say, Romeo and Juliet is about love, which is suitable for everyone, and if you think board books about farm animals like chickens and goats have more to do with your child’s daily life than pretty dresses or money, by all means go ahead and buy the book about the goats!