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Cindy Jenson Elliott

Dreams Find A Way

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Dreams Find A Way

Were you one of those kids who always knew what you wanted to be when you grew up?  Not me!  I entertained a lot of possibilities – nurse, business woman, pharmacist – but I ended up becoming a teacher.  I don’t think that I ever wanted to teach per se, but teaching allowed me the opportunity to be close to books.

 I have my mother to thank for my love of books. She was an avid reader and we went to the library every week. Until I was six and able to write my name, I had to check out books on her library card. This meant there was a limit on the number of books I could check out. What a wonderful day it was when I finally got my own card!  I no longer had to share but could take out the maximum number allowed. 

A few months ago, Newbery Award winning author, Richard Peck, spoke at our SCBWI-San Diego meeting. 

“No one but a reader wants to become a writer,” said Peck.

I’m sure that he shared other tidbits about writing, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember anything else. I was dumbstruck by what he said. I felt that he was speaking about me. Maybe being a writer is something that I’ve always secretly wanted. I certainly love books and admire authors. But I don’t think writing was every presented as a career opportunity.  Now that my first children’s picture book, A PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME, will be published by Doubleday (Spring 2015), I guess it is!  

Last Friday, my family and I had the chance to meet two local authors at their garden-themed book event at Yellow Book Road. Cindy Jenson-Eliott and Edith Hope Fine, read their books, Weeds Find a Way and Water, Weed and Wait to an enthusiastic crowd of children and parents.

Cindy’s book celebrates the unexpected beauty of weeds while Edith’s book pays homage to school gardens as a community building activity.

My daughter with Cindy Jenson-Elliott

It was a joy to watch Cindy and Edith read. My children and I also enjoyed the gardening activities that they planned. My daughter brought home a seed packet and dried fennel to replant.  I wrote a haiku poem.

Wind-sewn seeds aloft!

Sunbeams chase away the rain.

Beauty in the dirt.

On the car ride home, my family and I talked about what fun we had at the event.

My five year old daughter enjoyed meeting “Miss Cindy” and “Miss Edith”. 

“I want to be a "draw-er" (illustrator) when I grow up,” she said.

“Like Miss Salina?” I asked. (She met Salina Yoon at her book event at Barnes and Noble a few months ago)

“Yes,” she said. “And I want to write the words, too.  Like Miss Cindy and Miss Edith.” 

I knew that I was fortunate to be part of a writing community. SCBWI is filled with creative and enthusiastic men and women and the camaraderie is like nothing I’ve experienced before. But after last Friday’s event, it struck me that I should be grateful to my writing friends for something else - for being such wonderful role models for my daughter.  I want her to know that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be…including a draw-er (illustrator) and writer. It’s something that I didn’t know when I was a child. 

So thanks Salina, Cindy and Edith for planting the seed of a dream. I can’t wait to see how my daughter blooms and grows.

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Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot

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Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot

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.

Weeds Find A Way Cover.jpg

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!

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