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True Story Blog

Spring back for inspiration

Today is April 2nd and it’s snowing here in Connecticut! So I’m going to look back at some #firstpicturebooks that promise warmer weather and inspire me to keep writing . . . instead of hiding under the covers like my dog Ellie. Click on each book title to read the complete #firstpicturebook Q&A:

“I've always loved spending time outside. When I was young I think I took this connection to the natural world for granted. I didn't realize that you really have to hang onto that, or the busyness of life will take over. With my own kids I've tried to encourage outdoor play and a sense of wonder for nature, in both big and little ways. I think all of this was in the back of my mind as I wrote FINDING WILD. I wanted to celebrate nature and the special connection kids--and, really, all of us--can experience when we take the time to notice the beauty and wild all around us.”

“One of my favorite parts of the book is the surfing spread where it shows a girl surfing. Not only is it wonderful to showcase girls in sports, but this young girl is clearly experienced enough to be able to surf “toes-on-the-nose” style. I remember this phrase coming to mind after I had been working on the manuscript for quite a while.”

“It was inspired by a nature walk I took with my daughters, who were then 6 and 8. They were not especially keen on walks at that time, so we decided that, to liven things up, we would take a stroll through our local nature preserve while being on the lookout for spots where fairies might be hiding. From there the story took on a life of its own - and the result is as you see it!”

“One day, while walking my dogs, I found the milkweed along the side of our quiet road had been mowed. Milkweed is vital to monarch survival. Monarch caterpillars were clinging to the drying plants. Seeing this was upsetting. The monarchs are in trouble, and I wanted to share their story.”

“My daughter and I were at the park and she was playing pretend and said, “Salad Pie,” which I thought was so clever and creative that I repeated it in my head over and over all the way home. Then, during her rest time, I scribbled out the first draft of the story.”

“I was remembering when my daughter began reading middle-grade novels. She sank so deep into those books that she was in another world.... So that’s what the first version of the story was about—a boy whose best friend (his cat) gets lost in books. Gradually the story changed so that the boy teaches the cat to read. And then two cats were being taught, but reading didn’t come equally easily to both...”

“I've always loved to swim and remember clearly learning to jump off the diving board. I try to write stories about moments that are relatable to kids and that one stuck out for me.”

“My husband and co-author Baldev Lamba is a landscape architect.  Years ago, we were walking in a harsh urban area, and he pointed to some weeds and wild flowers springing up through cracks in the cement. And he said something along the lines of, "See that? Nature is always there just waiting to come back." That stuck with me for a long time, and became the inspiration for our book.”

“The idea for the story came while playing outside in the rain with my children. They were so happy running in rain, splashing in pools of water and rolling in the dirt.”

“I spent three months researching daily everything I could about pollen, forest animals, black bears. I dug up every creature that eats pollen, wrote to vetters to double check the science. I hiked through a few national parks and pine forests, visited live bears in New Hampshire, observed a large honeybee hive at the Boston Museum of Science, and constantly researched bees pollinating flowers everywhere I could. I also contacted beekeepers, and went to multiple butterfly conservatories.”
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A former fourth-grade teacher and current librarian, Christin Lozano wrote her first picture book on a familiar sight around her home state of Hawaii--ISLAND TOES!

Q. Was ISLAND TOES the first picture-book manuscript that you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it? 
A. Yep, ISLAND TOES was my very first picture book manuscript!

Q. What inspired ISLAND TOES? 
A. During the time I was working on ISLAND TOES, I was super involved with developing my library's weekly storytime program for toddlers and preschoolers.  I was always on the lookout for local, Hawaii-based picture books for my youngest "readers," since children as young as nine months old would attend storytime.  Most of the local books I could find were too wordy for the ages I was reading to.  The one exception was a Hawaii classic called WHOSE SLIPPERS ARE THOSE? by Marilyn Kahalewai.  It is still one of my favorites as it is simple, has wonderful illustrations, and the subject is all about something young children in Hawaii can identify with—our state's footwear of choice, the slipper (flip-flop). This book inspired me to write my own story short enough for a two-year old's attention span and about a subject everyone knows well—toes!     

Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. Actually, I'm embarrassed to say it, but my working title was Those Toes.  After I began working with my publisher, they came up with the much more appropriate title ISLAND TOES!  I'm so happy they encouraged me to think about a different title than what I originally had in mind.
Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. One of my favorite parts of the book is the surfing spread where it shows a girl surfing. Not only is it wonderful to showcase girls in sports, but this young girl is clearly experienced enough to be able to surf “toes-on-the-nose” style. I remember this phrase coming to mind after I had been working on the manuscript for quite a while.

Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing ISLAND TOES?
A. I had no idea there were so many places and "faces" of toes when I began writing this book!  Almost every day, I had a whole new list of possible toes and the final result was definitely a pared down story of my favorites.  

Q. Did ISLAND TOES receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. I feel that my experience was probably NOT the norm because I only sent my manuscript to two publishers, and both are locally based, here in Hawaii.  One never responded and the other one, which was my publisher of choice, accepted my manuscript.  However, it did take quite a few years and a couple of submissions to garner their attention.  

Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on ISLAND TOES.
A. I was absolutely ecstatic!  I had originally submitted my manuscript to the publisher about five years prior to receiving an offer, so it was the product of quite a few years of waiting, praying, and pursuing my idea.  My publisher told me that "it is all about timing," and in my case this was definitely true. 

Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book?
A. Since this was my first book, I was not even aware that I had any choice until the book was almost completed.  So I was extremely happy when I found out that Mariko Merritt was going to be illustrating ISLAND TOES.  

Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?
A. I absolutely loved the choice of colors used on the jacket cover and could tell from the sketches that we were all on the same wavelength as far as the artistic direction of the book.  I was relieved that it looked as great as it did because we all know that the illustrations can "make or break" a picture book.  I can't say enough good things about Mariko's work!

Q. How long did ISLAND TOES take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. The whole process took about 1 year.

Q. Is there anything you would change in the book today if you could reprint it? (Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?)
A. I wouldn't necessarily change the content, but someone pointed out an aspect of the book that I would change if it is reprinted.  Unfortunately we did not include the diacritical markings on the Hawaiian words and I would love to see these added.

Q. Can you share any funny or memorable parts of letters from kids about ISLAND TOES?
A. At this point, I haven't received any letters, but I do have a couple of adorable pictures of children stamping their toes on the last few pages.  (The end of the book includes an activity where readers can stamp their toes on the last four pages.)

Q. When you do readings of ISLAND TOES, which part of the book gets the best reaction?
A. Almost every time I read ISLAND TOES, kids giggle at the beginning when it comes to "clean toes, stinky toes."  They seem to really relate to the illustration of stinky toes. 

Q. What is your #1 tip to those who want to write picture books?
A. Read, read, read!  Spend lots of time at your local public library reading what's currently being published as well as older titles.  This will give you the best picture of the children's picture book world and it may even spark an idea for your first book.  

Q. What are you working on now?
A. The main thing I’ve been working on has been the promotion of ISLAND TOES. I didn’t realize all the self-promotion and events you need to do in order to share your work with others. I’m hoping to begin working on a few of the new ideas I have this summer though!
To learn more about Christin's work, visit her publisher's website.
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