The 100th day of school is a pretty big deal for Kindergartners and 1st graders. For that matter I’ve even seen 3rd graders celebrating the day in my elementary school. Yet for some reason there isn’t a great supply of picture books dealing with this topic. Inevitably you get a counting book (and counting to 100 takes a LONG time for 5 or 6 year old) or some sort of story with no emotional arc.
BUT I’m happy to say that this is NOT the case with the book I will be discussing today with its author Lynne Marie. “Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School” is a wonderful addition to the classroom picture books I will share with my 1st grade students on this very subject. Spike is the one of the cutest hedgehog’s I can remember in recent picture books and I’m sure my students will love him as well.
This is Lynne Marie’s second picture book with Spike the Hedgehog. You can learn more about her, her books, and her blog at her website.
Welcome Lynne Marie! I’m excited to have you here today. I’ve got to tell you that I absolutely loved both of your books. I “aww”-ed out loud at the end of each of them as I was reading. I love being able to do that as a reader. And as a teacher, I can definitely see using them in the classroom. Kids will fall deeply in love with Spike too. I’m excited to be able to introduce him to them.
Lynne: Thank you!
Me: What draws you to creating picture books? Do you write in other genres?
Lynne: Probably my love of reading picture books! Also, I love the experience of seeing text-inspired art when reading, as well as the challenge of inspiring art when writing. I guess I would call it word-painting.
Me: I have to ask, why has so much time passed since the first book with Spike? Why two different illustrators for “Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten” and “Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School?
Lynne: It is a natural occurrence for life to get in the way, and I suppose it takes some of us longer than others to write through traumatic life-changing events. I think the important thing is to get back on the train and chug forward.
As for illustrators, I am not entirely sure. I was told that the publisher wanted to go in a different direction with the illustrations. It is ultimately not up to me as a writer, but I was very pleased with Scholastic’s choice, despite being also pleased with their previous choice. The art is absolutely adorable!
Me: I’m so sorry to hear about tragedy in your life Lynne. I’m glad you were able to get the train moving forward again. Spike is such a cute character! What inspired him? Do you have other books or stories planned for him?
Lynne: Spike’s namesakes is my pet hedgehog, Apollo Nike, who we called Spike as a nickname. He was my first hedgehog and was my little buddy, which inspired the original title for the first book “School Bus Buddies.” He used to cuddle up on my lap and sleep while I sat on my computer and wrote stories. When I spent time outside my office and he wasn’t sleeping, he would run around the kitchen in his Hedgehog Ball. He was absolutely adorable and sweet!
The plot was inspired by a combination of the natural flaws of a hedgehog (nervous, easily agitated to the point of spiking) as well as situations I had witnessed or heard about when my son Kevin attended elementary school. The publisher currently has another one of Spike’s stories and I have some that I have not submitted yet. I do hope that Spike will get to have more tales – I enjoy writing his stories, and this last one and the next one have arts and crafts angles to them, which is fun for me, too!
Me: Oh my goodness! Nike is adorable! My students would definitely be “aww-ing” right now if they could see that picture! Can I ask about your writing journey up to publication? Were there bumps in the road? Detours? Planned stops along the way?
Lynne: I had been studying the art of writing picture books for children since 1999. I took the journey seriously and really studied it – through college classes, online classes, conferences (SCBWI local, multi-state, national and international conferences as well as RUCCL Conferences [aka Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature]), Highlights Foundation Workshops at Chautauqua, and reading, reading, reading. I was not a heavy submitter in the beginning of my journey and I am thankful for that now. Writers really need to learn their craft and polish their skills before going on submitting binges. Otherwise, when you look back, those submissions were just wasted chances because the pieces submitted were not ready.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Lynne: I was surprised that after my process of writing the one book, including character analyses of all animal characters, that the second book was much easier to write and required just a few drafts. Same with the third. Although all picture books characters will not ultimately get sequels, it’s fun to explore with them in new stories. To be honest, Spike did not have any sequels until Scholastic asked me if I had written any other Hedgehog stories. I said “YES!” and sat right down to write them. Now, as I write, I take notes about any future story ideas that pop into my head while I am writing a particular book.
Me: You also have an upcoming preschool activity coming up in an issue of Highlights High Five magazine. Congrats! Is this the first time you’ve published in a magazine? Do you have other work published in magazines?
Lynne: Flashback to the fact that I have been focused on writing for children since 1999. While many aspiring writers think of magazine writing as inferior to book writing, I was fortunate to see it as a stepping stone to my goal. Prior to my book contract, I had published in many magazine markets, including Highlights for Children, High Five, Baby Bug, Spider, Hopscotch, Family Fun, The Writer’s Journal, Writer’s Digest, SCBWI Bulletin and many more, as well as several book review journals that no longer exist, like Riverbank Review and Kliatt. I have a writing resume that spans several pages for each section (Professional Experience – Leadership positions and Columnist Jobs, Professional Development – Classes and Conferences and Publication Credits, Writing and Publishing Awards), which shows the careful steps that brought me to where I am today. Writing for magazines is an excellent opportunity to practice mining ideas, writing and revising to spec, working with editors, etc. And often, it helps pay the bills, too!
Me: I agree! Magazine writing and working with deadlines and editors directly can be great writing practice. I just had a poem published in a local magazine recently myself. Any advice or inspiration for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Lynne: I will repeat a few that I think are important, just because I feel like most writers don’t really focus on these steps.
Richard Peck said to read 100 books in the genre you wish to write, before you even try writing one. I will say for picture books you should read at least that amount. I have a personal goal to read five picture books each weekday of the month (100). Life doesn’t always go as planned, so I don’t do that every month, but I reach or at least come close to my annual goal of 1,000 picture books read per year.
The next is to study your craft. Take classes, attend conference, READ picture books and books on craft, and to be in a critique group. Even if you have been published, there is always something to learn, look at in a different light, or be reminded of. In fact, I was at a SCBWI Florida Conference two weeks ago, and a KidLitCollege.com webinar just a few weeks ago, as well. It’s important to keep educated and inspired.
I am actually going to plug a particular course here – Jodell Sadler’s Pacing Picture Books to WOW (at http://www.kidlitcollege.com). It’s an online course I wish I had taken in the very beginning that would have saved me a lot of time and money. The thing is that picture book writing is NOT just about good writing. It’s about great writing. There are devices that an aspiring writer needs to learn to bring their writing from good to great. This class covers them all. So basically it helps you stock your writer’s toolbox with the essential tools to be successful. And, if you’re already published, it helps you sharpen the tools you have in your toolbox. It’s an amazing course – the most helpful I’ve ever taken.
Also important – find a critique group. You can usually do this through and FB groups like KidLit College Writing Events or your local SCBWI.
And my advice to more advanced writers is be willing to take apart your manuscript and put it back together. Put every word, every phrase, every sentence on trial. Is in the best word? Does it forward plot or characterization? Is it necessary? Does it inform the art? I am always glad to help with things like this via my mentoring service.
Thank you for stopping by and the amazing advice Lynne! Wow, am I humbled. I read a ton of picture books, but I don’t think I’m anywhere near 1000 a year! Though I do follow Tara Lazar’s advice and take myself to the bookstore on a “date” every once in a while to do nothing but read and study the picture books currently on the shelf. And I also track the tons of library books I’m constantly putting on hold in Goodreads to help me keep track of what I need to read and what I have read.
I know many of us are pressing in and taking classes or attending conferences of all sorts. I can’t help reiterate that enough. Even as a writer of many years myself AND someone with an English degree that focused on creative writing, it seems I’m ALWAYS learning new things about the craft. But as an Education professor once told me, if you’re serious about this job (i.e., teaching but I think it also applies to writing), you’ve got to be a “lifelong learner” (someone who continually pursues knowledge). If we didn’t pursue knowledge of all sorts, where would we get our ideas from after all?
I think it was Natalie Goldberg in her book “Writing Down the Bones” that first gave me permission to be obsessed with other interests than writing. She said that “writers end up writing about their obsessions.” My husband and my students all know that I have obsessions. Just ask one of them what I like and I’m sure they could start a list (penguins, sea turtles, tropical fish, mermaids, troll dolls, etc.). And thanks to Spike and a few other Hedgehogs of late, I think I’m starting to become obsessed with them now too! And that’s okay. Maybe like Lynne, I too will find inspiration sitting in my lap while I write.
If you’d like an autographed copy of either “Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten” or “Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School” please contact Lynne at LiterallyLynneMarie@Gmail.com. You can also follow her on the following social medias:
FACEBOOK: Lynne Marie