Spotlight on Writing

Sissy Goes Tiny – Interview with co-author Rebecca Flansburg

Please welcome Rebecca Flansburg, co-author of Sissy Goes Tiny, the latest picture book releasing from Audrey Press this July!
ABOUT THE BOOK: Eight-year-old Sissy loves her life. She loves her toys, her Big house, and her Big backyard. But when Sissy’s parents decide they are going to live in a Tiny House on wheels and travel around the U.S., Sissy isn’t sure that she will like the idea of “living tiny.” But as she and her mommy and daddy learn about downsizing, re-purposing, and how “stuff is just stuff” in a positive way, Sissy soon understands that living Tiny has BIG possibilities; possibilities for all sorts of adventures and learning.

Q: What was it like to co-author a book?
Writing Sissy Goes Tiny was kind of a happy accident! Even though I have worked for years in the children’s publishing industry, I was never motivated to write a children’s book myself until B.A. and I created the story-line for our book. B.A. is not a parent, but she brings such a level of authenticity and accuracy about tiny house living to this book via her insight, wisdom and personal experience. She was an amazing co-author and will always be a great friend.

Q: What one word would you use to describe Sissy Goes Tiny?
Timely! I think people are really starting to gain awareness that we are living in a very “stuff orientated” world and how much we own will not make us happy. Meaningful experiences will trump “stuff” every time.

Q: The illustrations for this book were partially paid for with an artist’s grant; can you tell us more about that?
We are lucky enough to have The Five Wings Arts Council (FWAC) in our area. Five Wings is a non-profit that encourages and promotes arts creation, appreciation, and education through grant programs and technical assistance. FWAC believes that everyone should have access to take part in the arts. They have an annual Individual Artist Grant that B.A. and I applied for to help with illustration costs. A quality illustrator can be a costly part of creating a picture book but also completely worth it. The staff at FWAC was wonderful to work with and B.A. and I were awarded a $2250 grant!
Q: Your co-author, B.A. Norrgard, lives in a tiny house … have you ever thought about doing the same?

I’ve always told B.A. she is a braver soul than me! I’ve been in her tiny house many times and it is truly tiny (around 78 square feet). I would gladly live in a tiny home if it was more around the 250-300 square foot range. And my kids and pets would have to live in their own home because I’m not sharing… 😉

Q: What inspired the story?
It actually started as a “what if?” conversation between B.A. and I over a “catch-up lunch.” She currently lives in Texas even though she is born and raised in Minnesota like me. We went to school together and reconnected around seven years ago when I asked if I could do a magazine article on her transition from traditional employment and lifestyle to tiny house living. The new chapter of her life was fascinating to me and I was (and still am!) so proud of her for becoming heavily involved in teaching people about going tiny and empowering them to downsize through leading by example. We stayed in touch ever since and see each other often.
That day in the summer of 2018 when we were lunching, the conversation soon turned to what was new and exciting in B.A.’s lifestyle of “living tiny.” It was during that conversation I wondered out loud what the process of “going tiny” might look like through the eyes of a child and how scary that could actually be. There are many books on the market and several TV shows geared towards helping people “go tiny” but they are all focused on adults. I put myself in the shoes of the kids that may be part of this transition and the perspective could potentially look very different to them. The more we talked about this, the more an idea for a children’s book kept percolating in my brain. I shared this idea with BA and the idea for an innovative children’s book was born.

Q: What makes Sissy Goes Tiny a diverse picture book?
Sissy is considered diverse because the family in the story is biracial. I remember seeing a family similar to the one in our book on TV years ago and was struck by what a beautiful family they were. When we were looking for an illustrator, I happened upon children’s book illustrator Penny Weber’s site and there was an illustration of a little girl in her portfolio that was perfect for the character of Sissy. Needless to say, we felt it was “meant to be” and Penny became the illustrator for our book!

Q: Future plans to write solo or another co-authored book?
I love the collaborative process of creating a book with someone and would do it again in a heartbeat. Even if authors live in different states, the Internet makes it so easy to work together and share ideas. I would like to do another Sissy book with BA about Sissy’s new life on the road in the future.

If you wish to purchase a copy, the pre-sale is going on now (link to buy at the bottom).

To learn more about Rebecca, stop by her website. You can follow her on Instagram: beckyflansburg

Book Reviews, Spotlight on Writing

Interview with Meg Raby, author of My Brother Otto

Please enjoy my interview with children’s book author, Meg Raby, and her first picture book, My Brother Otto.

photo credit: Michelle Sterling @averyandaugustine

During an Instagram story you gave viewers the opportunity to learn that My Brother Otto almost never happened. Tell us your thoughts about when you decided to send it off to Gibbs Smith Publishing.

About four years ago I had some eyes I highly respected take a look at my manuscript, which was then called PIPER AND OTTO, and tell me that it needed a lot of work and actually encouraged me to take the picture book in a whole different direction. If I had listened to this advice, I would have been writing something that was not my own—and not the point of MY BROTHER OTTO.
Because of the status of some of the people who provided initial feedback and because I found the whole process to be exceptionally vulnerable, I set the manuscript down and told myself to let it go—it wasn’t meant to be.
Fast forward about two years later and I’m in an accountability group all about taking risks (don’t worry, the healthy kind!), and they encouraged me to pick up the manuscript again—to risk the rejection all over. I picked it up, ended up making some significant, albeit important, changes to the manuscript and MY BROTHER OTTO was born.
Because Gibbs Smith Publishing publishes some of my family’s favorite books that seek to “Enrich and Inspire Humankind,” and because I thought it would be an incredible and more personal opportunity to actually get to meet the editor and other staff members of Gibbs, I put them at the top of my list. I will let you know my list was lengthy but that I never had to submit to any of the other publishers, because I heard back within 1 month.
Oh how my heart exploded!

Where/when did the idea to write My Brother Otto start?
I had known facts about autism spectrum disorders (ASD) but never had direct relationships with any child or adult with ASD until graduate school. I went to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and received my Masters in Speech and Language Pathology with an additional certification in ASD. Before graduate school, I could list off the common characteristics of autism and write a strong essay, but I did not truly know what it all meant.
In graduate school I had the chance to do a clinical experience, or practicum, at a local autism center. This experience lead me to my first job as a speech and language pathologist with kiddos on the autism spectrum. Oh how I wish I could share with the perfect words how much that practicum and job melted my heart and forever created a love for the children and their families.
I think it’s a common misconception that if you have a diagnosis of ASD then you are “living in your own world” and don’t have social needs. You see a bunch of odd behaviors and that’s it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I became friends with a 3-year-old who was nonverbal and who displayed a high amount of tantrums and aggression. This child was merely communicating frustration in a way he knew how—he was upset, and I realized that if others weren’t understanding what I was trying to communicate that I’d be upset, too. This same child grew to trust me and to enjoy our interactions. He’d see me in the hallway and flap his hands in excitement. On the occasion, he’d even hug me. I knew this needed to get out there for others to hear—I’m cutting my response to this question a bit short, because I could discuss dozens of more children (and adult) relationships similar to this one.
I do want you to know that the very first thing that set off my pursuit of writing this picture book was Ellen Degeneres’s statement to “Be kind.” She says this at the end of each show, and I love it. I love her. In order to be kind, especially when a child and when something or someone seems different or maybe even weird, gaining understanding and walking in their shoes to get a new perspective is absolutely essential. Gaining understanding leads to love—to kindness.
Your Instagram account, Bedtime Stories Forevermore, blossomed quickly. What was your hope when you started the account and did you think it would bloom into what it has?
My goal was merely to do something creative and to connect with others who love children’s books as much as I do. Sure, as a speech and language pathologist I know the importance of literacy and want to always advocate for more time reading together (it’s insanely important), but I also know the magic and the fun that comes from falling in love with books. I want to share only books that I believe will be endlessly beloved and help along in the “falling in love” process.
I will say as soon as I learned MY BROTHER OTTO was being published that I took the opportunity to address awareness and acceptance of children and adults on the autism spectrum on my account. I am so excited to spread the love for a misunderstood or often-overlooked community on Bedtime Stories Forevermore. I’ve connected with inspiring parents and friendships have formed. If even one person can gain new understanding or one parent can help their child understand their classmate on the autism spectrum and encourage kindness, then my job on Instagram is worth it.
Some states have a large group of writer programs/events and groups, while others lack. How does Utah stack-up?
Utah is a hub for children’s authors and for writing seminars and conferences. I honestly did not know this prior to moving here three years ago, but if you are looking for support in the children’s literature world, this is certainly a great place! I’m actually on my way to grab brunch with author Lezlie Evans—we met when her book FINDING CHRISTMAS came out and became instant friends. She’s so lovely.
Do you have any other picture books in the works?
Sitting in the hands of the publisher? Yes. Given the green light for publishing one of the manuscripts yet? No. I currently have a sequel about Otto that is being reviewed and actually a holiday book not related to Otto that is also being reviewed. We shall see what happens! It’s definitely a practice of patience in this field of work—but totally worth it.
Screenshot_20190330-124212_Instagram.jpgMy Brother Otto released on March 19, 2019. What is your ultimate goal with its release (how do you hope it inspires/helps the Autism community)?
I want MY BROTHER OTTO in the hands of all young readers—whether they have any association with autism or not. Currently 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with ASD in the US, so it’s safe to say there is most likely 1-2(+) classmates or neighbor kids in their daily life with this diagnosis. My goal is to make ASD understandable to the youngest of readers and to show that these classmates and neighbors like to learn, play, have friends and have fun just like they do. I want everyone to fall in love with Otto.

You can purchase My Brother Otto on Barnes & Noble, Amazon and directly from Gibbs Smith

You can follow Meg on Instagram at: bedtime.stories.forevermore

Spotlight on Writing

Illustrator Interview with Lisa M. Griffin

Please enjoy my interview with Lisa M. Griffin, illustrator of Nonnie and I and multiple other picture books, including the upcoming Spacing Out!

countrycitymice.lmgriffinIllustrating with new technology over the “old school” way of mediums on paper has caused you to _______?

Well, I still combine the two processes. All of my illustrations begin on paper with pencil. I work out thumbnail sketches and then move on to more finely rendered pencil sketches until I am happy with the composition. Then I scan in the artwork and begin to add color. New technology certainly makes the creative process easier in terms of revisions and proofing though.

Do you accept every illustration job/contract you receive? How do you decide what to accept? City.Country.Mice.LisaMGriffin

No, I don’t. There are a lot of factors that go into taking on creative assignments. My current production schedule, my interest in the project and even the ease of working with the client. It is a funny balance at times, but I prefer this approach to ensure that I can deliver the best artwork possible (and on time) to the client.

If you could go back to the past and illustrate any book what would it be?

That is an interesting question. I don’t know so much about going into the past, but I would someday love to illustrate a version of “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice”  by E.T.A. Hoffman.

How do you research landscapes for illustrations? Such as Botswana for Nonnie and I?

Nonnie.sketchThere is a lot of research that goes into most of my illustration projects and that certainly holds true for “Nonnie and I”. I visited the library for resources and sketched out parts of the landscape, particular trees and animals that are native to the area. I really dig the research process and find it helps greatly with the creative process overall. If I can take my own photographs, that is a benefit too, and for this project, I had a lot of reference for Nonnie thanks to a trip to Animal Kingdom Park a few years ago.

Who is your favorite artist that has passed and who is your favorite living artist?Nonnie.Page1

It is so hard to pick only one! Can I choose two? From childhood through adulthood, the two artists who have influenced me the most would have to be Trina Schart Hymann and Maurice Sendak.  I am part of an Illustrator Critique group and the individuals that are part of that group are so crazy talented and supportive that I feel they have made me a better artist. So as a collective group, I would have to say that they have influenced me the most. As far as a popular living artist goes, hands down Chris Van Allsburg.

To learn more about Lisa and her work please visit her website.


* Nonnie and I (Xist Publishing, 2014) authored by Savannah Hendricks, illustrations by Lisa M. Griffin.

Available through Amazon

Spotlight on Writing

Will The Real Nonnie Please Come Forward ~ The Story Behind The Name

Nonnie’s first day home – Sept 1993

Nonnie is not a usual name, that’s why I liked it to begin with. I have mentioned that my book Nonnie and I was originally Nia and I. The name was not switched to something out of thin air so to speak.

Nonnie was a cat, my first and only cat. The first time I heard the name was in A Far Off Place (a great kids movie!!!). Reese Witherspoon’s character was named Nonnie and as soon as I heard it, I loved it.

When my father got me a cat I picked Nonnie for her name. I loved Nonnie more than she would have liked. She was a very independent cat that rarely came out of hiding or would snuggle. I would have to chase her out from under my bed just to capture her to get her to sit with me. Within about two minutes she was attempting to escape my thirteen year old grasp. (She knocked over the Christmas tree one year and scratched my father’s leather couch with her panic-escape attempts). RIP 12/9/2002.

Nonnie - 1998
Nonnie – 1998

Nonnie is a variant of Eleanor and is considered Old Provençal and African-Hausa, Old French, Old German, and Latin. As you can see it’s origin is all over the place!!!

I have always picked the character names for my stories with great thought. I spend a bit of time looking up names and their meanings when I write a story. I also enjoy using kid’s names that I know because who doesn’t like to see their name in a story!?