I have a confession. I’ve been hobbled with a boot due to a foot injury since Thanksgiving and BOY is that humbling. I do not have my normal mobility and I miss it like you wouldn’t believe. So when I read today’s picture book focusing on feet, it felt fortuitous.
Marcia Berneger is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She taught first and second grade, special education in grades K-6, and Sunday school through fifth grade. She is also the author of the picture book Buster the Little Garbage Truck and the chapter book A Dreidel in Time. Marcia is a member of SCBWI, 12 x 12, Children’s Book Insider, and the Storyteller Academy. Best of all, she is the proud Grammy of Ori, her first grandchild! She lives in San Diego, California. You can learn more about her at her website.
BUSY FEET is a 24 page picture book that follows two pairs of feet throughout the journey of a day. It incorporates all sorts of verbs, opposites, and is all done in rhyme. This is an interactive book that 2-4 year olds will love. All those feet still manage to leave quite a bit up to the imagination. I bet this book will get repeated requests for read alouds.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as a writer? What brought you to writing this book?
Marcia: I’ve been writing stories since I was about 10 years old. I love writing! In the mid 1980’s I woke up from a dream about a face in a flower. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I stayed up two hours and wrote a few chapters. I finished that book and went on to write a different one. Then I had to focus on my job, raise a couple of sons, and sneak in some drawing practice. As we entered the 21st century, I came back to writing. This time, my eye was on publishing. It took over a decade of practice, of learning the craft, and of finding the right story. In 2015, an editor liked Buster the Little Garbage Truck and published it. I’ve also had a young chapter book published in 2019. That was one of my original stories written at the turn of the century. Busy Feet is my third published book.
Me: I love the idea of a story that focuses on action using feet. What better part of the body is there to show action? What gave you the idea for this story?
Marcia: I’ve had a wonderful career as a teacher, watching busy feet run around in my classroom for over 35 years. They go up, down, and all over…continuously all day long. Busy Feet popped into my head one day as a simple rhyme. Feet wake up, time to play, happy feet, out all day! I worked through several verses, tweaking words here and there, and discovered several verses had antonyms in them. From there I drew lists of opposites and lists of rhyming words that might go with them. It became a game to see how to pair the right words together for the verses. Tedious, but lots of fun!
Me: I also love that your rhyme focuses on opposites. Was that always a part of this simple text? Or did that come about in many revisions?
Marcia: It wasn’t my intention to include antonyms. They just appeared as a happy accident. Being a teacher, however, might have influenced my decision to keep them. There are two more books that will hopefully join Busy Feet in this Busy Baby series. One might be called Busy Hands and the second, Busy Faces. I’ll leave the skills they cover as a secret for now.
Me: Your picture book is only 24 pages long. That’s shorter than your average picture book. I know the target audience is toddlers and preschoolers, were you hoping this would be a board book, or did the text just fit that page length better? Who determined the final page count: you, the editor, or the illustrator?
Marcia: It’s interesting to see how the illustrator arranges the text on the pages. A choice was made to combine two separate verses onto one spread (one verse on each page). This actually shortens the book by a full spread (or two pages). The dedication and copyright pages are also combined, cutting out another page. This brought the book to 24 pages. This makes sense, since picture book pages are cut from paper in multiples of 8. So a typical picture book can be as little as 8 pages for a small board book, to 16, 24, 32, and so forth. I had actually written Busy Feet for the 0-4 year old child and was a bit surprised when it was published as a picture book. If it does well, a board book may be in Busy Feet’s future.
Me: The illustrations by Susanna Chapman are so vibrant and compelling. I think they really add something special to your story. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorite illustrations in the book?
Marcia: I was quite surprised by the vivid colors Susanna chose to use, but I also think they add to the story in a positive way. I believe older siblings (and parents, grandparents) who read this to their younger family members will really like the illustrations as well.
The age of the children in the illustrations surprised me as in my mind toddlers have shorter, pudgier legs and feet. But the 2- and 3-year-olds I’ve read Busy Feet to don’t seem bothered by that at all. And, again, it will appeal to the older preschoolers also.
I also love the fact that the family is bi-racial! One of my adopted sons is from Korea, and there were no books illustrated like this when he was growing up.
My favorite spread is the last one, where the feet are waving goodnight and tugging at the light switch with their toes!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this book?
Marcia: It surprises me that my first draft is so similar to the final copy. I just checked back. Only one verse was changed, one deleted and a few new ones were added. But the rest remained unchanged.
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers?
Marcia: There’s so much good advice out there: write what you know, don’t write to current trends (it takes 2-3 years to publish a book once an editor takes it; trends change quicker than that), and “show, don’t tell.” My advice is to let the words write the story for you. Just get the story out of your head and onto the paper, computer, illustrations—however you normally do it. Hold your inner critic back until the words are all down. Then go back and revise, revise, revise.
Good advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog today Marcia.
Dear readers, this picture book is a fun romp through a busy toddler’s day focusing just on the actions of those little feet. It’s a great concept that is delivered really well. Don’t miss it!