Simply 7 with Amanda Henke: NOT A BOOK ABOUT BUNNIES

Ladies and gentlemen, do NOT be alarmed!  This is just a normal picture book interview, but this is NOT a book about bunnies today.

0-headshotAmanda Henke writes funny books for kids. Amanda spends her time reading, exploring nature with family and friends, and whipping up self-proclaimed masterpieces in the kitchen. A graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, she lives in Minnesota with her family. You can learn more about her at her website.

CoverNOT A BOOK ABOUT BUNNIES is her debut picture book.  Just as the title promises, it’s a funny book that does NOT focus on bunnies (who get far too many books about them anyway, according to the main character).  Instead, it’s all about Porcupine!  That’s right.  An amazingly prickly and perfect porcupine who talks right to you (i.e., the reader), telling you all about how magnificent porcupines are.  Readers will be so fascinated by the approach, they won’t even realize they are learning things!

Welcome Amanda!

Me: How many times had you participated in the Twitter pitch #PBPitch before you reached success with this manuscript?  Can you tell us a little bit about your success story with the pitch?

Amanda: I think this was my third time trying #PBPitch. Here’s what I wrote: “In NOT A BOOK ABOUT BUNNIES, slightly envious Porcupine wants to show how amazing porcupines are compared to bunnies. But an uninvited bunny keeps poking her whiskers into the story. What could she possibly want with Porcupine? #PBPitch” 

I tweeted this at 5:58 pm and sometime during a dinner date with my mother and my friend, the tweet received a heart from Allison H. Hill at Page Street Kids. I discovered this when I checked my phone during a boring conversation. Rude? Yes. Worth it? You bet. I connected with Allison the very next day and… [Insert montage of manuscript editing, virtual handshakes, coffee-drinking, laughing, contract offer, finding agent, contract falling through, agent leaving, lots of crying, lots of stress-baking, break from book, writing new things] but then. . . In October, 2020 Allison, who left Page Street Kids and was now at Starry Forest Books, reached out to me to see if my BUNNIES manuscript was still available. And Ba-Poof! Here we are today. 

Me: I love the idea of a show-boating porcupine who is fed up with there being no books about her.  What gave you the idea for this story?

Amanda: While I was studying for my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline, I was writing about a lot of the usual cute picture book suspects: bunnies, bears, butterflies…and I thought, hey, I should write a book that’s not about bunnies.  The title popped into my head first, and then I decided I should write about an unsung hero, a confident underdog. I wrote the story over the course of the next four years.

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Me: Was the porcupine always the main character of your story?  Or did the main character change from the first draft?

Amanda: I wanted a main character that was typically unloved but had something really cool to share. In my first draft the main character was an oyster who was excited to share its pearl with the world. My professor that semester was the brilliant Elana K. Arnold, and she suggested that an oyster and a bunny would probably not easily cross paths. Fair point! So I changed the main character to a termite who wanted to show the world the cool houses termites build in the wild (click here if you’re interested, I was!). Once again, Elana came to the rescue with the kindest constructive criticism imaginable, suggesting that the size difference between a bunny and a termite may make for difficult illustrations. Right she was! I researched woodland creatures that bunnies may actually meet, and the mighty porcupine turned out to be a wonderful fit.

Me: What’s with the dislike of bunnies?  Where did that come from?  Are there really a lot of bunny books out there in your opinion?  Or was that just for humor’s sake in the story?

Amanda: I have nothing against bunnies! I think they’re adorable. I do think there are a lot of bunny books, yes. And there should be more, definitely. I personally love to discover a new creature, and to research fun facts about it. My son and I have always done that, and sometimes it translates into story ideas. But yes, I suppose I thought the title was catchy and funny when it popped into my head, so I took the idea and ran with it. But I hope all the bunnies (and bunny book authors) know I am rooting for them. 

Me: LOL!  I’m sure they do.  The illustrations by Anna Daviscourt are both sweetly alluring and hilarious.  Were there any illustration surprises for you?

Amanda: Anna did such a great job! I feel like she really understood the personalities of Porcupine and Bunny, and what I had imagined for the story. I knew Anna was brilliant when I saw the first spread, which is of an adorable squirrel librarian in a little woodland library. I had no art notes for that, that was all her! Anna really took it upon herself to build a world for the book and made it cheerful and inviting. At Hamline we learned to “leave room for the illustrator to tell their side of the story,” and Anna added so much with her bright pops of color and character portrayals.

Me: What is your favorite illustration in the book?

Amanda: I have two!  As I mentioned above, I love the first spread with the woodland library and the squirrel librarian. I smile every time I open the book to that, it’s such a cozy and cheerful place to go. I hope kids feel the same warmth I feel when I see that spread.

My other favorite is the Ba-Poof! page. I feel the energy on this page, both from the enthusiasm and confidence Porcupine is conveying, and from Bunny’s amazed reaction. I also love the excited little mouse hidden on this page. I also think the shift to more vibrant colors here makes the page really impactful, I just love it. 

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Me: Any advice for new picture book writers? 

Amanda: Some excellent writing advice I once heard from the brilliant Nina LaCour is to make your writing time less precious. Instead of lighting a candle and brewing a cup of tea before sitting down at your perfect desk designed for endless wordsmithing, squeeze it in when you can. Maybe write for 20 minutes while waiting in the car at the school pick up line, or record a voice memo and write it down later. This goes hand in hand with another tip of hers, “Some Words on Most Days.” This takes a lot of pressure off, and I think the quality of my writing is better when I don’t try to force myself to write for a certain number of hours a day. Take care of yourself!

That is great advice!  Thank you for stopping by my blog today Amanda.

Dear readers, if you haven’t had time yet to read this book (just released into the wild last week), I highly recommend tracking it down.  It’s an incredibly fun way to learn nonfiction facts with a fictional character that talks directly to the reader.  You won’t want to miss it.

3 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Amanda Henke: NOT A BOOK ABOUT BUNNIES

  1. This book looks like so much fun! I’m impressed by how flexible Amanda was about her writing. It must have been hard to change the protagonist several times!

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