You may have already seen today’s book making the blog rounds, but let me highlight it here again for you because it’s just that special.
Terry Pierce is the author of twenty-five children’s books, including the ever-popular Mama Loves You So, Soccer Time!, My Busy Green Garden, and Tae Kwon Do! (2007 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books). Love Can Come in Many Ways (Chronicle) is her first novelty book. Terry was a Montessori teacher for twenty-two years before deciding to follow her dream of writing for children. She now writes full-time and is a UCLA Extension Writers’ Program instructor. Terry holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has been an SCBWI member for twenty years. Terry lives in Mammoth Lakes, CA. You can learn more about her at her website.
“Love Can Come in Many Ways” is one of the sweetest board books I have seen in a long time. It celebrates love between a parent and a kiddo, but it also celebrates kindness and passing love on to others. It’s also cleverly engineered with cut outs and soft felt flaps that will have tiny readers delighted with a game of hide-and-seek every time they read it. It’s absolutely adorable and the perfect gift.
Me: You have written in quite a variety of genres over the years: joke books, early readers, etc. What draws you to writing for children?
Terry: I’ve always loved working with children. My formal education is in Early Childhood Development with an International Montessori Teaching diploma. I was a Montessori teacher for 22 years before I began writing for children. Around the end of my last year in Montessori education, I started thinking about writing children’s books. Life influences what we write, so my desire to write early readers came from my teaching days, helping young children learn to read. As a child, I LOVED joke books, so after a couple of years with no picture book sales, I tried my hand at joke writing and Sterling published three joke books of mine (no easy task—each book had about 600 jokes!). But my heart has always been in picture books for ages 0-8, so I often find myself writing books that will turn kids onto reading by focusing on topics like nature, humor, and other positive aspects of a child’s life.
Me: You have several books with love as a theme. Why is love an important topic to you to share with children?
Terry: Great question! In recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating toward topics like love, kindness, family, etc. In part, it serves as a self-soothing kind of writing during these challenging times in which we find ourselves. But more importantly, I want children to feel love and all the qualities that will help them become happy, healthy adults. If I can write a book that helps parents (or other significant adults) bond with their little ones even more, that experience will help those children on their journey toward adulthood.
When I did my Montessori training, I was told that 80% of a child’s brain is developed by age six. Think about that—80%! This tells me that the most important time of a human’s life is from 0-6 years. I try to write books with texts that help stimulate a young child’s brain (probably one reason I write a lot of verse) but more importantly, if I can bring some love into a child’s world via books and reading, I think I’m doing important work.
Me: Absolutely! “Love Can Come in Many Ways” is a wonderful board book with an incredible message AND it’s written in rhyme! Was it your intention to write in rhyme from the beginning? How many drafts did such a tight manuscript end up taking?
Terry: I didn’t start out intending to write it in verse, but as it happens with many of my books, I had a spark of inspiration that came in the form of rhyme. While I was researching photographs of animals showing affection, I came across a photo of a mother and baby giraffe, with their noses touching. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Aw…Nose to nose, gaze to gaze, Love can come in many ways.” Right then, I knew I had my opening lines, and that I had to write it in rhyme.
It took me about three months to get a final polished draft. I worked on many drafts initially, tinkering with the text a lot; then I sent it to my writing group, who gave me some suggestions for fine-tuning. One of the problems I was having was the title. I initially thought Love Can Come in Many Ways was too long, so I had it titled, Tummies, Tongues and Twisty Trunks. I loved the way it rolled off my tongue, but my writing group pointed out that it sounded “too nonfiction-y.” I switched it back, but told myself that an editor might want to change it (as it turned out, she loved it!). About two months later, Chronicle expressed interest in the manuscript and one month later, they made an official offer.
Me: The illustrations by Suzy Ultman are absolutely adorable. Did you envision this as a concept book from the beginning (like those amazing felt flaps)? Did you supply art notes or were you in contact with Suzy during the process? Or were there any illustration surprises for you?
Terry: I knew it would be a simple concept book, but I envisioned the art showcasing the words in a big way. It was subbed out as a picture book, but Chronicle wanted to publish it as a novelty book with felt flaps. I was thrilled because I’d always wanted to write a novelty book and was curious about production process. Fortunately, my amazing editor Ariel Richardson, brought me into the collaboration process in a big way. I didn’t communicate directly with Suzy, but Ariel was wonderful about communicating our thoughts and ideas. It was an incredible learning experience.
I did include art notes but only because the text was so sparse. For example, for the opening line, I noted “horses or giraffes.” I waffled back and forth on whether to include them. I didn’t want to appear to be micro-managing the artwork because I’m always flexible about leaving room for the illustrator to work their magic.
A couple of the illustrations took a different turn than I’d originally envisioned. When I first began communicating with my editor, I sent her all the photos I’d used for inspiration. An alligator mom with her babies in her mouth inspired the line, “Enclosed in tender, toothy jaws” but no matter how Suzy drew it, it looked like the mom was eating her baby! So, we brainstormed and opted for pandas instead. I also originally wrote, “Through soothing songs that mama sings,” inspired by belugas. But to better coordinate (visually) with the swan’s pond scene that was on the same double-page spread, we changed it to, “Through lively songs that mama sings” and Suzy drew a pond scene with frogs.
The last one I’ll mention is the final double-page spread. Suzy’s first rough sketch was sweet, but I asked if we could make it even more diverse. With the need for diversity in children’s books, including books for babies and toddlers, which I think is overlooked sometimes, I wanted that last page to show a wide range of diverse children so readers would see themselves in the art. Suzy did a great job!
Me: I agree; I love that spread. I love animals and the variety you have included in this book is delightful. Is there a favorite animal that you’ve included? If yes, which one and why?
Terry: I really do love them all and I was brought to tears more than once while researching photographs for inspiration. I love all animals—cats, dogs, whales, elephants, squirrels, bears, to name just a few—but if I were to choose a favorite from the book, I’d have to say the giraffes hold a special place in my heart because it was the giraffe photo that started it all.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?
Terry: The biggest surprise was that Chronicle saw it as a novelty book. That had never occurred to me! But when I found out, I was so excited. And it’s funny because now I find myself often thinking it terms of novelty elements when I write other board book texts. It’s as if it opened up a whole new way of seeing board books for me.
Me: I love that. Any advice for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Terry: I always tell new writers and/or illustrators to learn the craft of writing first. Dive deeply into the craft through books, classes, conferences, etc. before you start marketing your work. Doing so will save you some rejections, heartache, and time. And nowadays, there are so many opportunities to learn about children’s writing.
I recommend joining the SCBWI, as it got me off to a strong start. For beginners, I recommend Ann Whitford Paul’s fabulous craft book, Writing Picture Books.
There are many online and on-site writing courses available now (full disclosure: I teach online picture book writing courses for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program). With the pandemic, many virtual webinars and short classes are available through groups like The Writing Barn and the SCBWI.
Great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Terry. Dear readers, if you haven’t tracked down this book yet, please do. It’s a quick read, but I suspect it will be one that little hands will gravitate towards over and over again. It has felt flaps! I’ve never seen that before and what a great way to make the story physically feel as soft as the love inside its pages.