Today I get to celebrate yet another book birthday with one of my prolific picture book friends: Diana Murray. Her latest release is a genius concept not to be missed (counting AND bedtime together in one story).
Diana Murray has visited my blog several times over the years. Not only is she talented at what she does, but she is kind and hard working too. She has FIVE picture books coming out this year alone! Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe her! She has also published many poems for Highlights and other children’s magazines. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her latest picture book, “Five Fuzzy Chicks,” releases TODAY! Yay! Bedtime stories are a unique niche in the market, but this one takes the cake! It is not only a counting book, BUT it includes subtraction. SUBTRACTION! Do you know how hard it is to write a book that cleverly disguises subtraction AND includes a plot?! As an elementary school teacher with students who struggle to understand the concept, let me tell you, they are FEW and FAR in between! This book is not only adorable, but it can easily be tied into classroom use. What a great marketing concept!
Welcome back Diana!
Me: It’s starting to get hard to count how many books you have out! And I love how diverse your stories are, never about the same setting twice. This is your first book (in almost thirteen picture books now) that is set on a farm. Why do you think that is?
Diana: In this case, the inspiration for the story came from a poem I had written for Highlights earlier. It wasn’t a calculated decision to try a farm story because I didn’t have one yet, although I do give consideration to that sort of thing.
Me: Once again your rhyme knocks my socks off with its scansion. I loved all the animals that were included in the story, but I was surprised to see a dog in the mix. What made you choose a dog in the storyline?
Diana: Thank you. From what I’ve seen, farms tend to have a dog. Also, I think the sound of a dog is one of the first animal sounds that kids learn, so that’s another reason I wanted to include it. When my kids were little, they loved naming the sound of each animal. Also, I thought it would add some variety and humor if I named the dog, so that the chicks are hopping “right over Rover” instead of just “the dog”. Finally, I liked the internal rhyme of “over” with “Rover” and “clover”. You do have to be careful when you rhyme with a name, because sometimes it can sound forced. But I thought it worked in this case and my crit partners agreed.
Me: The illustrations by Sydney Hanson are wonderfully soft (a combination of watercolor and colored pencils I think?) and perfect for “fuzzy” chicks. I laughed at the incredulous look on the mama hen’s face when the chicks ran off. Did you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Diana: Yes, I thought she captured the cozy fuzziness soooo perfectly. She really nailed it. And I loved the look on the hen’s face, too! So funny and relatable to most parents (even non-chicken ones, haha).
Me: Exactly! LOL! I thought this was quite a clever take on the bedtime story book for little chicks who don’t want to settle down. What gave you the idea?
Diana: I wrote a short poem which ended up getting published in Highlights High Five as a 4-page story a few years ago. It was called “Four Fun Chicks.” I notice it’s actually available as an audiobook through Highlights now! It was about four baby chicks who go outside to play and then get called back in by their mother hen to go to bed. I thought it turned out really cute and wondered if I could expand it into a picture book with a counting element and to make it more of a true bedtime story. I took a seed of the idea and wrote the story from scratch, adding the subtraction angle, increasing tension, and adding a climax for the story arc (when the chicks are scattered all over the farm). I also added lots of different animals with sounds for each.
Me: Were there any surprises or struggles in writing this story?
Diana: The most difficult part of writing was making sure that there was a sufficient story arc. Very young books like this can be deceptively simple. Also, I was quite surprised by the illustrator, Sydney Hanson’s decision to place one of the chicks right on top of the dog’s head! At first, I worried about whether that matched the wording of the text. But then I realized how genius it was, because little ones would get such a kick out of it! It was totally better than what I pictured.
Me: I know you have quite a few books coming out this year. Can you tell us what books you’ve written to be looking out for this year?
Diana: I have five books coming out in 2020, but it’s possible that one of them might be delayed. FIVE FUZZY CHICKS (Imprint/Macmillan) comes out first, on February 11th. Next is GOODNIGHT VEGGIES (HMH, March 10), which is a bedtime story set in an urban garden; and WILD ABOUT DADS (Imprint/Macmillan, May 5), which is an ode to dads of all kinds (both human and animal) featuring some non-fiction information. Then, tentatively scheduled for Fall 2020 are DOUBLE THE DINOSAURS (Step-into-Reading/Random House), which is a rowdy math concept book; and SLEEP, LITTLE DOZER (Random House), which is about a little bulldozer getting ready for bed with Papa, when Mama is out working late. That last one is the only one I haven’t seen a cover for yet, but I do know who the illustrator will be!
Me: If you had a farm, what animals would you have on it?
Diana: Well, believe it or not, we used to have ducks! They wandered around our house and sat in our laps. We built them a little duck house in the yard, complete with a pond. They’re messy but adorable! As someone who grew up in the city, I never in a million years thought I’d have ducks one day. It was kind of a dream come true. They were named Twinkie and Skipper. 🙂
Aww! I love those names. Your pets have the greatest names. Seriously. Dear readers, this is a book you won’t want to miss! Be sure to give it a read and marvel at its “simplicity” (and know that there is no such thing). It’s stunning in what it achieves.