Are you a fan of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream? Me too! And that is one of the reasons why I loved today’s picture book biography all about them!
Lisa Robinson was born in Kampala, Uganda to Peace Corps volunteers who later became world-traveling diplomats. When she was a child, her family moved frequently, from Seattle to Dakar to London to Moscow, so books became her best friends. Now she works as a therapist for children, teenagers, and adults, reads voraciously, and writes stories for children and young adults. She lives in Massachusetts with her scientist husband, two daughters, and a family of cats, the Spice Cats—Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Paprika. You can learn more about her at her website.
THE SWEETEST SCOOP: BEN & JERRY’S ICE CREAM REVOLUTION explores the lives and interests of the famous duo. It’s a nonfiction biography complete with cows telling jokes all throughout (just like on the ice cream cartons!). It’s interesting to see how this book works, telling the story of two people (instead of just one) while using a second person point of view framework.
I was also surprised how much I learned about Ben and Jerry and their company after reading this book. I didn’t know they had been best friends from childhood. Or that they tried to start a bagel company first. I also didn’t know about some of their company’s eco-friendly habits that are really changing the world. Fascinating!
Me: You have written several nonfiction picture book biographies. You have quite a knack for finding stories I’ve never heard of before. What gave you the idea then to write a story about two very famous entrepreneurs like Ben and Jerry?
Lisa: I must give credit to my agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. When I mentioned to her that I was between projects, she suggested that I consider writing a nonfiction book about Ben and Jerry. I listened to an episode of NPR’s How I Built This podcast that featured Ben and Jerry discussing the origins of their ice cream business. . . and that sold me on the idea. Their story has so many fun ingredients for cooking up a child-friendly tale: ice-cream, perseverance, humor, and social activism.
Me: This is your fifth picture book, but I’m guessing it was sold during the pandemic. How long did it take from your first draft of this story to its ultimate publication? Were there detours or road blocks along the way?
Lisa: This book was acquired in fall 2019 so it was pre-pandemic. I started writing it in early 2019, so it took about three years from first draft to publication. The process was fairly smooth and the cherry on top of the sundae was an endorsement from Ben and Jerry! They provided a lovely quote about the book:
“The Sweetest Scoop is a visual treat! Kids (and some adults too) will enjoy it for the great illustrations alone, with lots of ice cream, cows and 60s-70s vibe! The story is told in a way that kids can understand, and balances the fun with the social mission of the company. It’s a book that parents and grandparents can really enjoy reading to kids as well.”
Me: Wow! Awesome quote! I haven’t seen any other stories about Ben and Jerry. Did you have any unique sources? Can you tell us a bit about your research process? How long did it take you to research all the different facts and tidbits that went into this story?
Lisa: There is A LOT of information about Ben and Jerry in the public domain: nonfiction books, podcasts, interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, etc. In general, when I’m researching a topic, I like to read absolutely everything I can find about my topic. I’m a fast reader so I like to think of it as drinking from a fire hose until I detect a theme or a point of entry. With Ben and Jerry, I immersed myself in all the available material over 6 months, and then began drafting the story. I would have liked to have interviewed them, but knew that it was unlikely that I would find a way to reach them.
Me: I loved your voice in this story, addressing the young reader at times. Second person point of view can be a challenge, but you really make it work here. How many revisions did this story undergo? Was this a difficult story to write?
Lisa: Thank you, I’m glad you like how the story directly addresses the reader! It’s hard to count the number of revisions because I tend to count every draft as new even if I’m only changing a few words. I save the drafts in Scrivener and that allows me to easily compare them and take wording from an early draft (like draft #10) and apply it to draft #30. Technically, there are about 50 drafts of this story although some of those drafts are very similar to one another. There are probably 4-5 different approaches to the story though; for example, one approach was a time travel concept (which I ditched when I realized it was too confusing). Another approach was in the form of a factory tour where I took the reader on a tour of the ice cream factory and threaded Ben and Jerry’s story through the tour. That was also confusing.
Me: Time travel? Interesting! Stacy Innerst’s illustrations in this book are wonderful. They fit so perfectly. I particularly like the joke telling cows. Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Lisa: I LOVE Stacy Innerst’s illustrations. I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the joke-telling cows throughout the story.
Me: I love the message that even ice cream can change the world. Why is this a message you want to share with young readers?
Lisa: There are so many ways to work toward making the world a better place . . . and you can do this whether you are an artist, a writer, a plumber, a teacher, or a food service worker, etc. I hope that kids see that they should follow their dreams based on who they are and what they want to do (rather than what others tell them they should do) and that they can blend in social activism no matter their choice.
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers?
Lisa: The first piece of advice is: read, read, read as many picture books as you can, especially ones that are being published right now. Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and use their resources to learn about the craft of writing for children and the publishing industry. There are many great places to take classes about writing picture books, too, including Highlights, The Loft Literary Center, the Writing Barn, Grub Street, Writers.com, Gotham Writer’s Workshop. I confess to having taken classes at all of these places. It’s a particular vice—I love writing classes! It’s a good way to meet writer friends, too. The best thing to do is to find a critique group.
That is excellent advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog today Lisa.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to track down this book yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a fun twist on nonfiction biographies with joke-telling cows and fascinating facts thrown in. Swirl it all together and it’s a sweet picture book read!