One day, a few years ago, my daughter handed me a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions from our front yard.
“Flowers for you, Mama,” she said.
I was delighted by her heartfelt gift. What mother wouldn’t have been? But when she insisted we go inside to find a vase, I tried my best to dissuade her.
“But they’re weeds,” I told her.
“But they’re pretty,” she said.
I am thankful for that moment with my daughter. At the tender age of just two and a half she was able to see the beauty in what most people (including myself) consider a pesky weed.
My friend and colleague, Cindy Jenson-Elliot, has the same way of looking at the wonders of the natural world. Her first picture book, Weeds Find A Way (Beach Lane Press), will be published next month.
I asked Cindy to stop by and tell us about herself and her forthcoming book.
What made you want to write for children?
Like most writers, I was a bit of a book worm as a child. From ages 9 - 14, I lived in a small town in the desert. In the summer, when the temperature hovered at 120 degrees, and there was NOTHING to do, I would get a stack of books from the library, and lay on the top bunk of the bed I shared with my sister, and go through book after book. I could visit all the places I longed to go -- mainly back in time and any place that looked green. Books still take me other places in that same way, and I rely on them emotionally. So, I guess that's a round-about way of saying I write books for children because I needed books as a child. The right book at the right time can heal your heart. My hope is that my books will help heal the world a little bit by helping children connect with the beauty and wonder of nature.
What inspired you to write Weeds Find A Way?
I was inspired to write Weeds Find a Way during my first year as Garden Teacher at Explorer Elementary Charter School. We had a garden full of weeds that spring, and it struck me what a wonderful natural resource they were. I figured I would pull a book out of the library and teach students about the wonders of weeds -- how they adapt and thrive everywhere. The problem was, although our school has a fabulous school library with all kinds of garden books, we had no books on weeds. And further research revealed that there were no books on weeds for children. So, it was up to me to form the Weed Fan Club and shout their praises.
How does one make a non-fiction topic (such as weeds) exciting and engaging for young readers?
Any topic can be inspiring and engaging when the right person gets hold of it. The only way I know of to make nonfiction topics exciting is to be inspired by the topic myself. The good news is that I can usually find something inspiring in any topic, once I look into it deeply enough. I really love being able to take something I am interested in and thoroughly explore it. Then the question becomes, how do you frame or present that topic in an exciting way? I look through other books that I admire and see how other authors have presented a topic. Did they write lyrically or did they write a narrative -- or both? How did they organize their information? I try out different styles for the same topic. I may rewrite a manuscript 30 or 40 times before it is ready to send out to a publisher. And then, it may be rejected over and over again. I take whatever feedback I get from editors, my critique group, friends, mentors, teachers, and use their ideas to revise, revise, revise. Sometimes I get stuck. Then I put a manuscript aside for a while -- sometimes for years -- until I can see it with new eyes. That's a wonderful thing -- how time gives us new eyes to see our work. Even then, I may think a topic is really cool, but other people don't.
What can we expect next from you?
I'm interested in so many different things, I am writing about five different manuscripts at the moment -- all on different topics in natural history. In 2015 or 2016, Beach Lane Books will publish a second garden-based picture book called "Dig In." And I recently sold a manuscript to Henry Holt, Christy Ottaviano Books -- a picture book biography of a well-known nature artist. I have so many books I want to write -- after I'm done with the books I am currently working on -- that I can see myself staying busy my entire life, exploring the natural world through words!
Thank you, Cindy!