Bookroo Interview With Susanna Leonard Hill
Happy New Year! We hope your 2018 is off to a terrific start. However it has been going, we can assure you it’s about to get better! Why? Because Bookroo boxes are now arriving!
We had a great time putting together this month’s boxes. One book we’re very excited to share in our Bookroo board book boxes is When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles, written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman.
Today we’re happy to share with you an interview we did with author Susanna Hill to learn more about her work creating When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles and other books. (The interview has been edited for brevity.)
Susanna is an award winning children’s author who has authored 15 children’s books with 7 more forthcoming over the next two years. She was born in New York City and attended Brearley School, then graduated with a degree in English and Psychology from Middlebury College. Later she received her M.A. and M.Ed. from Columbia University. She spent many years teaching dyslexic students, and she has been writing stories ever since the second grade, when she wrote her first story, The Girl and The Witch. Her books have earned awards including Junior Library Guild Selection, Amelia Bloomer Project Feminist Books For Youth, Booklist Children’s Pick, Children’s Book of the Month, Parents Magazine #1 Board Book 2017, and Gold Mom’s Choice Award. In addition to authoring children’s books, she is a mother to five, a teacher, and a lecturer.
Bookroo: Where did you get the idea for When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles?
Susanna: I have five children, and over the years they have supplied me with plenty of inspiration for stories. When Your Elephant Has The Sniffles was born from the many times one child brought the sniffles home from school and thoughtfully shared them with the rest of the family :) It is part of a series in which all the stories revolve around finding the fun in experiences that children sometimes find objectionable or unpleasant. In these stories, the animal has to take a bath or get the sniffles or have a haircut, and the child gets to be in charge - a nice switch on reality. When it came to the sniffles I thought, what could be worse than an elephant sneeze? And that’s how it was an elephant that got the sniffles :)
Bookroo: What do you do to brainstorm ideas for new stories?
Susanna: Usually, I find I have more ideas than I know what to do with :) I have 5 children, I was one of 4 siblings, and I have 4 nieces, 4 nephews, and 2 granddaughters, so ideas tend to be everywhere! For me, brainstorming is more about evaluating ideas to decide if they’re good enough to make a book, or about how I can take a moment, or a piece of an idea, and turn it into a story worth reading. That involves finding the right combination of idea, character, setting, conflict, and resolution.
Bookroo: What is your process from story idea to finished manuscript?
Susanna: I write all my first drafts out in longhand with a pen on paper - very old school :) They are a dreadful mess! - full of cross-outs and arrows and stuff scribbled in the margins. But I think better with a pen in my hand, so that’s how I write. Once the first draft is written, I type it into my computer, revising as I go. Then I read and re-read, checking to make sure the story flows well, the rhythm of the language works, that each word I’ve chosen really deserves a place in the story. I read the story aloud to hear how it sounds that way, and often make changes based on that - very important since the books I write are all intended to be read aloud. Eventually I reach a point where the story feels as good as I can make it. Then I send it to my agent. That is the first hurdle. If she doesn’t like it, I have to rewrite it or abandon it. But if she does like it, it will go out on submission!
Bookroo: How do you balance being a mother with writing and teaching writing?
Susanna: As I mentioned above, my children supply a lot of story inspiration, and much of writing takes place in my head before I ever sit down to write. So it’s actually not as hard as you might think to balance writing with being a mom as long as you keep something handy to scribble things down on so you don’t forget them until you have time to write. My desk is littered with grocery store receipts, ATM statements, deli napkins, and odd scraps of paper with all manner of bizarre notes on every square inch of white space :)
As for teaching writing, I wrote my own class (Making Picture Book Magic) and I teach online, so I can do it from home on my own schedule. I have students from all over the world, each on his or her own schedule, all in different time zones, and it works out very nicely with everyone communicating when they have time.
Bookroo: Have you ever tested out a story idea on your own children?
Susanna: Many, many, many times! :) They are delightful about it, but not too helpful as they claim to love everything I write :)
Bookroo: What is one challenge you’ve had to overcome to succeed as a children’s book author?
Susanna: Writing, especially picture books, is a surprisingly competitive field, so learning to accept rejection has been a challenge to overcome. In addition, with all the opportunities for readers to write reviews and express their opinions, there is the challenge of coping with what can be quite negative reviews that are posted online. It’s important to try not to take them personally. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, and no book appeals to everyone - not even Harry Potter :)
Bookroo: Do you have a time of day when you feel most creative or productive?
Susanna: First thing in the morning is my favorite time. I’m as rested as I’m going to get :), the day is new, the world is quiet, and the coffee is hot and fresh! :)
Bookroo: What have been some of your favorite projects to work on?
Susanna: I actually particularly like working on rhyming manuscripts like Airplane Flight and Freight Train Trip and Alphabedtime! as well as several other books that are forthcoming. I like the rhythm of the language, and I like the challenge of finding a way to tell the story so that the meter is steady and the rhymes work - it’s kind of like doing a puzzle :)
Bookroo: What family activities do you enjoy?
Susanna: I love hiking, baking, reading aloud at bedtime (which I did well into middle school with all my kids), sledding, building sandcastles (especially digging the moat!), and playing all kinds of board games and card games!
Bookroo: Do you have any upcoming books you can tell us about?
Susanna: I have 7 books coming out over the next 2 years, some of which I can’t mention yet. But WHEN YOUR MONKEYS WON’T GO TO BED will be out from Little Simon this fall - it’s a companion to WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES - and ALPHABEDTIME! is due out in Spring 2019 from Nancy Paulsen Books.
We really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Susanna and her work as an author. You can learn more about her and see more of her work on her website. And please let us know what you enjoyed from the interview in the comments below!
(All images in this interview are courtesy of Susanna Leonard Hill.)