Barbara Lowell’s BEHIND THE BOOKCASE – Author Interview

Children’s author Barbara Lowell returns to the blog to talk to us about her latest book, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place.

About Barbara

Barbara Lowell is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books. Her books include GEORGE FARRIS WHAT A WHEEL, DARING AMELIA, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AMERICAN HERO, MY MASTODON, and more books for children.

One of her latest books, SPARKY & SPIKE: CHARLES SCHULZ AND THE WILDEST, SMARTEST DOG EVER, is a Junior Guild Library Selection.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Barbara’s new book:

BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank, and the Hiding Place by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Valentina Toro

Release Date: September 01, 2020

Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing

Genres: Picture Book, Nonfiction Biography

BUY THE BOOK HERE:
indiebound

Plot Summary:

​Anne Frank’s diary is a gift to the world because of Miep Gies. One of the protectors of the Frank family, Miep recovered the diary after the family was discovered by Nazis, and then returned it to Otto Frank after World War II. Displaced from her own home as a child during World War I, Miep had great empathy for Anne, and she found ways–like talking about Hollywood gossip and fashion trends–to engage her. The story of their relationship–and the impending danger to the family in hiding–unfolds in this unique perspective of Anne Frank’s widely known story.


 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: I’m so happy you’ve returned to the blog for another interview! The last time you were here, your very first picture book was coming out. Now you have just celebrated the publication of your THIRTEENTH book!

CONGRATULATIONS! How have you changed as a writer from that first book, GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL, to now? What have you learned about the publishing industry that surprised you?

Barbara Lowell: Thank you, Valerie! And thank you for inviting me on your blog!

What surprised me about writing and publishing is that writing a new book never gets easier. You think it would, but it doesn’t. I really didn’t have any expectations about working with an editor, but what I have found is that they are a joy to work with. I have learned so much from every editor’s revision skills and knowledge of the business.

I’m a more confident writer now then I was at the beginning, but I always remember that I have lots more to learn. It’s a joy to learn from many, many fantastic writers that have chosen to write for kids.

VL: Your newest picture book, which came out on September 1st, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: Miep Gies, Anne Frank and the Hiding Place, has been described in a review by Booklist as: “A historically accurate but gentle introduction to the Holocaust for elementary-age readers.”

What else can you tell us about it?

BL: It’s the story of the young woman, Miep Gies, who as an Austrian child after World War I was sent by her parents to live in the Netherlands. She was malnourished as a result of the war and might have died. Families in the Netherlands offered to care for Austria’s children.

Miep loved the Dutch way of life and chose to stay with her Dutch family. In 1933, she became Otto Frank’s employee after he moved from Germany to Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution. He is of course, Anne Frank’s father. Miep along with four other people, helped to hide the Frank family and their friends during the Holocaust in the annex above their offices. She had a close relationship with Anne Frank and after Anne’s arrest, Miep found and saved Anne’s diary. I think it’s important that children know Miep’s story and that she along with other brave people were willing to hide and care for an estimated 25,000 Jews in Amsterdam.

VL: You write nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books for reluctant readers. What are the unique challenges for each genre that you have to make sure you address as you create each story?

BL: At present, I’m concentrating on nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Everything I have written has required research. Fortunately, I love researching. I think the challenges are the same for each genre and for every writer.

Writing is hard. Finding the right focus and structure is the first step and often the most difficult. Then comes writing the first draft. I am so happy when I complete one because the next step, revising, is my favorite. I love the revision process especially after I receive feedback.

VL: I love the way you find the most amazing quotes and unique bits of historical detail for your stories. Talk about your intensive research process and how you find all of these great gems – if you don’t mind sharing your secrets!

BL: My ideas primarily come from reading adult nonfiction but some have come from visiting sites. When I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I knew I needed to learn more about Miep Gies. After reading her autobiography, I decided to write BEHIND THE BOOKCASE.

The idea for GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL came from Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City. I learned that 2,160 people could ride George Ferris’s Ferris Wheel, a structural engineering marvel, at the same time. I look for ideas that interest me and ones I think kids will find interesting too.

When researching an idea, I try to find as many primary and secondary sources as possible. When researching DARING AMELIA, I found a book by Amelia Earhart’s sister which gave me the line “It’s just like flying,” in reference to Amelia jumping up after crashing her homemade roller coaster. I look for as many sources as possible and dig until I’m sure my research is right.

With SPARKY & SPIKE, I read everything that Charles Schulz wrote about his life, and every interview with him that I could find although the book is about his childhood and his dog Spike, the inspiration for Snoopy. My sister gave me an idea recently. I bought an autobiography by the subject and found multiple other ideas in the first chapter. I guess it’s about paying attention. I love to learn so lots of things interest me.

VL: For you, what makes a great subject for a nonfiction or historical fiction picture book. What or who inspires you?

BL: It’s usually someone who has persevered despite odds and hasn’t given up their dream. What I love most is writing about children who have done something unusual, something that kids will find intriguing.

I’m inspired by good people doing brave things without regard for their own well-being. That’s why it was important for me to write about Miep Gies in BEHIND THE BOOKCASE. She is a hero to me.

Barbara at book signing for SPARKY AND SPIKE.

VL: I absolutely adored your book SPARKY & SPIKE: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever, about Charles Schultz and his own dog that inspired his character of Snoopy. Not only was the story fantastic, but also the comic book style illustrations were amazing. Talk about your experience creating and publishing the book.

BL: First, I think the absolute best illustrator for the book did the art. As if by magic, he had a letter written by Charles Schulz with a drawing of Snoopy. Dan Andreasen had written to Schulz when he was a child asking for advice about drawing. The letter is in the book.

The first manuscript I wrote was about Charles Schulz’s childhood through the first appearance of Peanuts on October 1, 1950. A freelance editor suggested that I write only about Charles as a child and his dog Spike. I took her advice and wrote a second manuscript. SPARKY & SPIKE is actually a combination of both manuscripts. Many of the earlier spreads were taken from my original manuscript.

VL: What drew you to tell the story of Anne Frank from a different perspective?

BL: It’s important for writers to find a new way of telling a familiar story. And I wanted to tell Miep’s story too, not just Anne’s. Miep was a remarkably kind woman who faced adversity and risked her life in attempt to save the lives of others. Anne Frank relied on Miep when she hid in the annex. She shared her struggles with Miep when she couldn’t with her family. Miep brought the truth of what was happening in the outside world to the hiders but she also brought joy to them. That’s why I told the story of the red high heels Miep gave to Anne.

VL: I know you love to travel, what are the most unusual places you’ve ever visited? And have any of your travel adventures ever inspired a story idea?

BL: The most unusual places were: Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia, a more remote part of the islands. Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, although we didn’t leave the ship, the islanders sailed to us. And circling Easter Island multiple times because the ship wasn’t able to enter the port safely.

I have one idea from traveling. I visited an amazing museum in Sweden and decided to write a story about what I saw there. But I haven’t figured out the best way to tell the story.

VL: What’s next for you? Can you share with us any projects you are currently working on or anything that might be coming out soon?

BL: I have a new nonfiction picture book that will be released in Fall 2021. I wish I could tell you the title and more about it, but it hasn’t been announced. But – it’s a story about the son of a very famous American. I working on more picture books both nonfiction and historical fiction and have one manuscript ready for submission.

We will keep an eye out for your upcoming book! Thank you so much for joining us, today, Barbara. It’s been a pleasure talking with you!

Learn more about Barbara by visiting her website HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

SCBWI Oklahoma August Twitter Chat Guest – Frances Gilbert

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

This month’s chat session was Tuesday, August 25th.

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


It was a delight to talk with  Frances Gilbert, Editor-in-chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers, during our latest Twitter chat. It was also very enlightening.

She shared a wealth of knowledge in a short amount of time, from what makes a good rhyme to what you should do during a face-to-face critique and much, much more.

Here’s an introduction to Frances:

August 25th – Frances Gilbert – Editor/Author

Frances Gilbert works at Random House where she is the Editor-in Chief at Doubleday Books for Young Readers. She started her career with books in high school when she worked in the children’s department of her town library. After graduating from university with an M.A. in English, her first job in publishing was as a Book Club Editor at Scholastic Canada in Toronto. She moved to New York in 2000 to set up a children’s editorial division at Sterling Publishing.

Frances is also a published author. Her picture book, GO, GIRLS, GO!, a cars and trucks book for girls, that was released last fall.

Her Twitter handle is @GoGirlsGoBooks

We had an outstanding conversation with Frances. She discussed her unorthodox stance on query letters and her new insights she gained about the creative process (and what it takes to market your own books) after writing her own picture books.

She talked about what makes for great rhyme…and what doesn’t. She discussed her editorial style and how she approaches working on a new project. And she shared many thoughts about board books, like how to decide if you should write a board book versus a picture book version of your story. All of which was very enlightening.

As Frances will be one of our faculty members for our online SCBWI OK fall conference this October, she gave us a great idea what to expect from her presentation with fellow Children’s publishing superstar, picture book author extraordinaire and SCBWI OK member, Tammi Sauer. They’ve worked together on several projects. (Tammi stopped by the chat and added a joyful moment to the conversation when they talked about their past collaborations and other things.)

The hour flew by, and honestly we all could have talked with Frances for another hour or two. I’m really looking forward to our conference!

***Interested in the rest of our conversation with Frances?

View the full chat recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

SCBWI Oklahoma July Twitter Chat Guest – Janee Trasler

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

This month’s chat session was Tuesday, July 28th.

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


This was the second visit to our Twitter chat for Janee Trasler. We’re always happy to have repeat guests! Janee has been quite busy since we spoke with her last, and she now has an adorable series of early chapter books that just released in May she was happy to tell us all about.

Here’s an introduction to Janee:

July 28th – Janee Trasler – Author/Illustrator

Janee Trasler writes and illustrates funny books for kids. Including the popular CHICKIES board book series and other great picture books like I AM NOT A CHAIR, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and the newly published titles FROG MEETS DOG and GOAT ON A BOAT.

Janee loves to make kids laugh. Whether she is writing books, drawing pictures, singing songs, or performing with her puppets, she is going for the giggle. Janee lives in Texas with her hubby, her doggies, and one squeaky guinea pig.

Learn more about Janee by visting her website: http://trasler.com

Her Twitter handle is @janeetrasler

We had a wonderful conversation with Janee. She discussed her newly published early chapter books and how they gave her the confidence to break out of her Picture Book comfort zone. We talked about her work on graphic novels for the very young, which led to a deeper discussion about the different approaches one takes when creating a story in graphic novel form versus picture book form.

She also championed mentor texts as something that helped her understand and learn about young graphic novels before she dove in herself. “Before I started, I took a TON of existing graphic novels for young readers and broke them all down by page number, number of panels, trim size, etc. It really helped. I have Word files full of mentor text notes now.”

Janee also spilled some juicy secrets about her fellow critique partner – and SCBWI Oklahoma author – Tammi Sauer that you won’t want to miss.

***Interested in the rest of our conversation with Janee?

View the full chat recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

SCBWI Oklahoma June Twitter Chat Guest – Kelly Starling Lyons

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our next Twitter chat session is Tuesday, June 23rd. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


Kelly Starling Lyons is the children’s author of several books, including this year’s Caldecott Honor Book GOING HOME WITH DADDY and the ever-popular Jada Jones series.

She also a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf, which hosted the phenomenal Facebook Live event #Kidlit4BlackLives which brought members of the kidlit community together for an online Rally for Black Lives earlier this month. If you missed this wonderful event, you can now view it on YouTube HERE.

Here’s an introduction to Kelly:

June 23rd – Kelly Starling Lyons – Children’s Author

Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. She is a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf and an advocate for kidlit diversity.

Her books include CCBC Choices-honored picture book, ONE MILLION MEN AND ME; ELLEN’s BROOM, a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book, Junior Library Guild and Bank Street Best selection; TEA CAKES FOR TOSH, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People and winner of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Award for Juvenile Literature (sponsored by the AAUW of North Carolina); HOPE’S GIFT, a Storytelling World Award winner, IRA/CBC Children’s Choices selection and SIBA Okra Pick; and the popular JADA JONES chapter book series.

Learn more about Kelly by visiting her website: http://www.kellystarlinglyons.com

Her Twitter handle is @kelstarly

I hope you’ll join us for a fascinating conversation with Kelly this Tuesday!

***Missed our chat with Kelly? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

SCBWI Oklahoma April Twitter Chat Guest – Barbara Lowell

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it agent, editor, author, illustrator, etc. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our next Twitter chat session is Tuesday, April 28th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


Barbara Lowell is an Oklahoma author and an active member of SCBWI OK. She has several published picture books. Barbara finds interesting characters from history, researches them until she finds just the right way to tell their stories and, lucky us, we get to read them.

And she also happens to be one of my most beloved critique partners. I’m so excited we get to have a conversation about her books!

Here’s an introduction to Barbara:

April 28th – Barbara Lowell – Children’s Author

Barbara Lowell is the author of nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, nonfiction early readers, and nonfiction educational market books. Her books include GEORGE FARRIS WHAT A WHEEL, DARING AMELIA, ALEXANDER HAMILTON AMERICAN HERO, and more books for children.

Her book SPARKY & SPIKE: CHARLES SCHULZ AND THE WILDEST, SMARTEST DOG EVER, is a Junior Guild Library Selection.

Her newest book released this February,  MY MASTADON, received a starred review from Kirkus.

Her upcoming title, BEHIND THE BOOKCASE: MIEP GIES, ANNE FRANK, AND THE HIDING PLACE is scheduled for release this fall.

Learn more about Barbara by visiting her website: https://www.barbaralowell.com

Her Twitter handle is @barbara_lowell

I hope you’ll join us for a fascinating conversation with Barbara this Tuesday!

***Missed our chat with Barbara? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

Book Review – MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

 

I have to admit that I am a little partial to this story as I had a very small part in shaping it from its very beginnings when my wonderful critique partner, Barbara Lowell, first brought this adorable story to the attention of our critique group years ago.

I immediately fell in love with Sybilla, the young girl whose family lives in a natural history museum and whose best friend is a mastodon skeleton. I really wanted to see this story become a book…and now it is finally here!

Barbara at Magic City Books in Tulsa at the Launch of MY MASTODON
Barbara signing my copy of MY MASTODON, a dream come true!

Although it’s been a long road to get Sybilla’s story from beginning concept to reality, and it has seen many, many revisions, it’s even better than I could have imagined. The gorgeous illustrations by Italian illustrator Antonio Marinoni are a perfect fit.

MY MASTODON by Barbara Lowell

Published by: Creative Editions

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Genres: Picture Book, Nonfiction, Biography

indieboundbn-24h-80

 

Plot Summary:

Inspired by the 19th-century lives of artist and scientist Charles Willson Peale’s family, this is a tale of a girl and her favorite companion—a fossilized mastodon!

(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Isn’t that a fascinating place to grow up? In a museum? And that story is based on a real family!

I love Sybilla and how she thinks of herself as an explorer, just like her father. I also love how she helps out around the museum.

 

Sybilla has strong feelings about what should and should not be done with her mastodon. When she hears her friend will be sent away, she campaigns to have him stay.

And even creates flyers advertising her opinion.

 

 

She also has a pretty great older brother, Rembrandt, who doesn’t like seeing her so sad. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so you should read this wonderful book yourself!

But don’t just take my word for it, this book received a starred Kirkus review!

“Accomplished illustrations further elevate this engaging introduction to America’s first family of science.”

Here are what other reviewers had to say:

“It’s a sweet and remarkable story, with Marinoni’s exquisite illustrations inviting the reader directly into the Peale’s museum home, a world of taxidermic animals and towering skeletons” – Booklist Review 

“Nurtured by intelligent eccentric family members and permitted familiarity with priceless scientific curiosities, Sybilla has an ideal Enlightenment-era childhood” – Publishers Weekly

I know you will love this story as much I as do!

Happy reading!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

 

2020 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chat Season Begins! January Guest – Traci Sorell

 

As the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, I host a monthly Twitter Chat for our members (and anyone else who’d like to participate) where we talk for an hour with someone from the children’s publishing world, be it an agent, editor, author, or illustrator. The conversations are always lively and enlightening.

We meet from 7-8pm CST using the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, stop on by! We love meeting new people.

Our 2020 Twitter chat season starts on Tuesday, January 28th. I hope you’ll join us!

CLICK HERE to view our full #okscbwichat 2020 schedule.


I’ve had the pleasure of meeting our first guest, Oklahoma Children’s author, Traci Sorell, and she is having an amazing debut year!

Her first picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, is such a delight and has won critical acclaim. She followed that up with a double book launch for two more amazing books and then traveled all over the country promoting her wonderful work. We are truly privileged to have her as our first guest.

Here’s an introduction to Traci:

JANUARY 28th – Traci Sorell – Children’s Author

Traci Sorell grew up immersed in stories. The ones her mother told at bedtime and the accounts of her ancestors’ lives mirrored her Cherokee heritage. Books she brought home from the library and selected during her school’s annual Reading is Fundamental (RIF) Day showed a world beyond her life in rural northeastern Oklahoma.

As an adult, Traci has lived in four U.S. time zones and abroad in Madrid, Spain. Her early writing reflected the Native American history, law, and policy focus of her educational and professional background.

Now she lives back inside the Cherokee Nation with her family. She started writing for young people when she wanted more contemporary fiction and nonfiction children’s books featuring Native Americans to share with her son. Traci’s first nonfiction picture book, WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA (Charlesbridge, 2018), features the universal spirit of gratitude as experienced through modern Cherokee culture across the four seasons. Her other works include: AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE (Kokila, 2019), INDIAN NO MORE with Charlene Willing McManis (Tu Books, 2019), and POWWOW DAY (Charlesbridge, 2020).

Traci’s debut picture book WE ARE GRATEFUL: Otsaliheliga, was awarded the 2019 Sibert Medal Honor Award, the 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Award, the 2019 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, and was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist.

Learn more about Traci by visiting her website: https://www.tracisorell.com

Her Twitter handle is @tracisorell 

This first #okscbwichat of 2020 should be an exciting one! I hope you’ll join us for our conversation with Traci!

***Missed our chat with Traci? View the recap HERE.


You can read the recaps for all of our chats, from this year and from those in years past, HERE.

Whitty Books – Say Hello to a New Indie

 

As an author, I love supporting independent bookstores. Just a few short years ago, there was quite a drought of indies here in the Tulsa area, and now I am happy to say quite the opposite is true!

I want to introduce you to one of the newest indies in our area, Whitty Books. This little jewel opened its doors in July, 2018, in the Kendall Whittier District – just around the corner from the nonprofit Circle Cinema theatre.

The collection found in Whitty Books focuses on small publishing houses, diverse titles, #ownvoices authors, and under-the-radar releases.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Victoria, when I attended the double book launch for fellow SCBWI OK author Traci Sorell. She said after a year of being open, she really has a feel for her customers and what they want. THAT’S one thing I love about an independent book store!

Oklahoma author Traci Sorell at Whitty Books during her book launch in September.
Traci reading from her gorgeous picture book AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, published by Kokila.

 

I loved all of the artwork on the walls in the store and the friendly atmosphere. Books titles were easy to browse on the shelves – nothing felt overcrowded or uncomfortable. Victoria was approachable and friendly.

They have several book clubs at Whitty Books, and Victoria actually invited us to attend one the very next day, for a book by Joy Harjo – our current Poet Laureate, who just so happens is from Oklahoma. ( I do love her writing! If you haven’t checked her out, she’s amazing.)

The book clubs are held at the store – about one a week – all with categories like Sci Fi/Fantasy, True Crime, Native American Lit, Truth and Reconciliation, and Women in Horror. Visit their Facebook page to see what’s on the calendar this month.

Victoria ringing up my purchases.

The next time you’re thinking about buying a book, BUY LOCAL! And why not stop in and check out Whitty Books? Tell Victoria I sent you!

 

Brenda Maier – Author Interview

I met Brenda Maier through our local SCBWI Oklahoma chapter, and I’ve been thrilled to watch her grow as an author. It’s such a pleasure to help her celebrate the debut of her very first picture book.

About Brenda

As a young child, Brenda had a grand total of six books; consequently, she spent her summers walking to the local library to get more. Now she spends her summers driving her own children to the local library, where you may find her in a corner with a stack of picture books. If she’s not there, she’s probably at a bookstore, adding to her much-larger-than-six-books collection.

Brenda lives in Oklahoma with her husband and their five children, who provide endless inspiration for more stories. She also works with gifted children at a large, local school district.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Brenda’s debut picture book:

THE LITTLE RED FORT by Brenda Maier, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Release Date: March 27, 2018

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genres: Picture Book

BUY THE BOOK HERE:
indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

Plot Summary:

​In this retelling of THE LITTLE RED HEN, Ruby wants to build a fort, but her big brothers refuse to help her. When the boys see the finished product, they really want to play in it, but it’s too late to do anything about it. Or is it?


Maier’s publisher describes this book as “one of those multi-layered gems” in this YouTube video.

 

The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Congratulations on your debut picture book, Brenda! I’m so excited to see this book published.

What inspired the idea for this story?

Brenda Maier: Thanks for inviting me to chat, Valerie.

My children inspired this idea. A few years ago, my youngest son was four, and he was in a The Little Red Hen phase; consequently, that story was on repeat in my mind.

One day I put him down for nap and went to check on the other kids in the back yard. They’d found some boards and lattice. Guess what they’d made? So the classic tale and my own kids’ ingenuity kind of converged that day, and I began thinking about a girl building a fort instead of a hen baking bread.

VL: Isn’t it exciting how our experiences can mesh together like that?

I just love the illustrations by Sonia Sánchez. What was it like seeing your words come to life for the first time? Is that how you had imagined them?

BM: I can’t say enough about Sonia’s beautiful art. Her unique style complements the text beautifully. The details keep me looking for new things. She has such a grasp of the characters, and she brought them to life in such a way that I can’t imagine them ever being anything other than what they are now. It’s like they’re real to me, and her illustrations are a big reason for that.

Illustrations from The Little Red Fort written by Brenda Maier. Art (c) 2018 by Sonia Sánchez. Used with permission from Scholastic Press.

 

VL: You work full time as a teacher and have five children at home. Talk about your writing routine. As in, where do you find the time to enjoy a moment’s peace, let alone find time to sit down and write?

BM: Kids will find you no matter where you are, and kids always come first. Therefore, I avoid this situation entirely by escaping for Panera at least a couple of times a month to write.

I write more regularly during the summer, when I can get up early and work for a few hours, but during the school year I have to be content to do the best I can. I might write before everyone wakes up, before I fall asleep at night, or even during my lunch break.

If it’s important to you, you will find a way to do it.

VL: Very true. You have to find that time to write anywhere you can.

As a debut author, what’s the best piece of advice you can pass on to fellow authors working in the pre-published phase?

BM: You should read. Reading helps you internalize so many things about stories—pacing, rhythm, page turns.

VL: What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

BM: I don’t know if I can only pick one. At this moment, I would have to say it’s a tie between two YA novels: Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. As different as they are, I appreciated the perspectives they both made me feel privy to.

You don’t want me to get started on favorite picture books.

VL: I love that you read widely – not just picture books! That’s so important. 

What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

BM: The Little Red Fort comes out in Spanish this June. A second book, Peeping Beauty, will be released next February from Aladdin, a Simon & Schuster imprint.

Peeping Beauty is a tale of chicks who resort to creative problem solving when their sibling won’t come out of the egg. It’s not a retelling, but it does give a subtle nod to the classic Sleeping Beauty.

VL: That sounds like another great story!

Thank you so much for joining us, today, Brenda. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you!

 

Learn more about Brenda Maier here.

Follow Brenda on Facebook here.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

 

 

 

2018 SCBWI Oklahoma Twitter Chat Schedule

 

For those who don’t already know, I’m the Social Media Coordinator for the SCBWI Oklahoma Region, and I host a Twitter Chat once a month for our members, although anyone is welcome to join in the conversation. We meet on the fourth Tuesday of the month (and sometimes on additional special dates, too) from 7-8pm CST and we use the hashtag #okscbwichat. If you’ve ever been curious about a Twitter Chat, come check ours out! They are always interesting. And we love meeting new people.

I’m so excited to announce the schedule for our FOURTH season of #okscbwichat! I can hardly believe we already have three years under our belt. Wow!

(If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can go back and view any of our previous chats here.)

We had a lovely topic chat in January all about mentor texts and how they can help you be a better writer. You can view that conversation here.

In February, we start our guest chats. We have a nice line up of guests this year. Let me introduce them to you:

 

February 6th – Allison RemcheckSPECIAL CHAT DATE

Literary Agent Allison Remcheck is an Associate Agent with the Stimola Literary Studio. She is drawn to voices that speak for themselves, stories that only the author can tell, and books that reflect the lives of every child – especially the ones told least often. Allison will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

Her Twitter handle is @allisonremcheck

 

February 27th – Daniel Nayeri

Daniel Nayeri is a Publisher at Macmillian. He is also an author of a few children’s books himself, including his latest book, STRAW HOUSE, WOOD HOUSE, BRICK HOUSE, BLOW. Daniel and his family immigrated to the United States when he was eight years old and arrived in Oklahoma. Daniel will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

His Twitter handle is @DanielNayeri

 

March 6th – Hannah Mann – SPECIAL CHAT DATE

Hannah Mann is a Junior Agent with Writers House Literary Agency. Hannah started as an intern in the New York office before becoming Steven Malk’s assistant. She’s had the privilege of working closely with a variety of talented bestselling and award-winning authors and illustrators of works ranging from very young picture books to middle grade to young adult. Now as a Junior Agent, she’s seeking clients from those genres. Hannah will also be speaking at our spring conference in April.

Her Twitter handle is @hannahmann

 

March 27th – Chad Beckerman

Chad Beckerman is Creative Director for Amulet Books, Abrams Books for Young Readers and ComicArts. Chad oversees the design of picture books, novels, and graphic novels.

He is the designer behind such successful children series as DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, ORIGAMI YODA, Nathan Hale’s HAZARDOUS TALES, FRANK EINSTEIN, THE TERRIBLE TWO, and Bill Nye’s JACK AND THE GENIUSES. He has also designed several bestselling picture books including ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, TROMBONE SHORTY, VEGETABLES IN UNDERWEAR, and Jillian Tamaki’s upcoming THEY SAY BLUE.

He has had the honor of working with many amazing illustrators including Jeff Kinney, Jillian Tamaki, Dan Santat, Victo Ngai, Sophie Blackall, David Roberts, Art Spiegelman, Jules Feiffer, and John Hendrix most recently on his DRAWING IS MAGIC. Chad will also be a speaker at our spring conference in April.

His Twitter handle is @chadwbecks

 

April 29th 1:00PM – Zoe WaringSPECIAL CHAT DAY AND TIME!!!

UK Illustrator Zoe Waring joins us on a special day and time – Sunday April 29th 1:00-2:00pm CST. Author and illustrator of NO HUGS FOR PORCUPINE, illustrator of TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE (with Oklahoma author Tammi Sauer), CAT AND DOG, and the upcoming PEEPING BEAUTY (with Oklahoma author Brenda Maier).

Zoe Waring has always loved the warmth and humour found in children’s picture books, and is a little obsessed with cute animals… just a little bit. She also loves drawing, has a rather silly sense of humour and a vivid imagination. You can begin to understand why she believes she has THE best job in the world!

Her Twitter handle is @zoemop

 

May 22nd – Heather Cashman

Heather is the Managing Director of Pitch Madness, Pitch Wars, and #PitMad – contests that help match writers with agents. Previously an Editor/Ambassador for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy US, Heather now freelance edits full time. She’s been an agent intern for over a year. She’ll be answering all of our questions about pitch contests. You can learn more about these contests at pitchwars.org.

Her Twitter handle is @HeatherCashman

 

June 26th –Pablo Cartaya

Pablo Cartaya is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (Viking, 2017); Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking, 2018); and two forthcoming titles in 2019 and 2020 also to be published by VikingHe is a Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” and has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

He is the co-author of the picture book, Tina Cocolina: Queen of the Cupcakes (Random House, 2010), a contributor to the literary magazine, Miami Rail; the Spanish language editorial, Suburbano Ediciones; and a translator for the poetry chapbook, Cinco Poemas/Five Poems based on the work of poet Hyam Plutzik. Pablo visits schools and universities throughout the US and currently serves as faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s MFA in Creative Writing.

His Twitter handle is @phcartaya

 

(We have some surprises planned for the summer chats that we’ll be announcing later in the year. Stay tuned!)

 

September 25th – Ashley Nixon

Ashley Nixon-Amador is the author of the YA fantasy CUTLASS series. She graduated from the university of Oklahoma and has a Masters in Library Sciences and Information Studies. She is a Gates Millennium Scholar Alumni. She loves pugs, libraries, and eyeliner. Ashley lives in Oklahoma with her husband.

Her Twitter handle is @AshleymNixon.

 

October 23rd – Sue Lowell Gallion

Sue Lowell Gallion, former Kansas SCBWI RA and PB author of the PUG MEETS PIG and PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT books, which both received starred reviews, writes for children because she is passionate about children, reading, and any combination of the two. Sue’s debut picture book,

PUG MEETS PIG, illustrated by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster) is now in its second printing.

We are definitely saving the best for last, here. Sue spoke at our Tulsa SCBWI Anniversary Dinner last year and she was just a delight. Her picture books are so adorable and she’s incredibly knowledgeable about so many things and she is generous with that knowledge with her fellow SCBWI people. You will love chatting with her!

Sue’s Twitter handle is @SueLGallion 

 

As always, we take November and December off for the holidays. Looks like it’s going to be a great year for chats! (And I’m already starting on next year’s schedule – can you believe it?) Don’t forget, if you have anyone YOU want to see as a guest, let me know and we’ll be sure to invite them if we can.

Our next chat is coming up soon. Hope to see you  there!