|If I Had A Little Dream comes out February 7, 2017|
My new book, IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM, written by me and illustrated by Melissa Castrillon is about to be born. I am very exited about this book for so many reasons, but first I want to tell you how this book, this LITTLE DREAM came to be, came to me, how it happened. I hope you will find the process interesting.
Let me describe the scene: It is August 24, 2013 and the height of summer on Lummi Island where we live. It has been a rough year for me with my husband almost dying more than one time from heart disease, botched open heart surgery, and a scary emergency room trip after the first surgery, followed by a second surgery. Finally Booth was patched up, albeit scarred and not-quite-whole, but our life was beginning to return to the sweeter things that we loved.
We both love blackberries, and they grow wild all around our property. For years and years we pick them in August, by the gallon, and I make my famous blackberry jam.
The process of heating the berry and sugar mixture to 220ºf can take a while and I have to be very careful not to let the mixture burn at the bottom or overflow at the top, so I'm constantly monitoring. I get into a certain rhythm when I'm "jamming" and I started writing a song while I was stirring. I've played guitar since I was eight years old, and I've written songs since I was thirteen. I pulled out the orange pad next to the kitchen counter and started writing down the verses as they came to me while I was stirring.
I was on a roll... and the verses came out of order, but I just kept writing and watching the blackberries cook.
I even wrote on the back sides, too.
There was time to call out the important words/themes.
And come up with what I wanted to name those themes.
All this while making jam. And I still thought I had written a song. I was thinking that and when Booth walked into the house, I asked him if he wanted to hear my song, and my poor husband, who always has to say "yes" when I ask him to read/listen/look at what I'm writing/singing/drawing said "sure." After I read it, he said, "that's not a song." I replied, a bit sadly, "it isn't?" He said, "it's your next book."
Booth was right. It was a book. Even though I've been writing and illustrating children's books and published for over twenty-two years now, I also know that even if I think it is a book, it doesn't mean that anyone else will think so. But I knew I had to give it a shot. So I figured out the order of the verses. You can see my numbers on the original text. Then I typed up the manuscript.
I started doing some sketches in my journal, and I did this bigger sketch on tissue paper.
I sent it to my intrepid agent, Laura and asked her what she thought. She loved the text, but for some reason didn't like my sketch. She thought that Renata Liwska who had just illustrated my poetic book, ONCE UPON A MEMORY would be a better illustrator.
I am professionally trained as an illustrator, btw. I have a BFA in Illustration and my parents were both fine artists, but I do understand that my style doesn't work with everything I write, so I've had to learn to let go and be collaborative. Working with Renata was a fantastic experience. We did ONCE UPON A MEMORY with publisher Little Brown Books for Young Readers, so we submitted it to them. They were interested and made me an offer, but it turned out that the offer was only if Renata could illustrate, and she was "booked" for years. The offer was rescinded. I felt sad and wondered if I should illustrate a full dummy and submit samples... but Laura told me not to do that and that she'd send the book out to other publishers.
To my delight, Paula Wiseman of Paula Wiseman Books at Simon & Schuster loved IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM and made me an offer. We talked about illustrators and she suggested a young illustrator from Cambridge, England named Melissa Castrillon and she sent me a link to Melissa's website. I loved Melissa's warm, quirky, almost fine-art drawings, and her color choices were both retro and modern at the same time. I didn't even worry when Paula told me that Melissa had never illustrated a children's book before. She had only done book covers.
As an artist, I have confidence in other artists. I also know to leave them alone. And I did. I didn't see what Melissa was doing until we got to the proof stages, and when they showed up, I nearly fell over. Here is just one spread:
Melissa's work was astonishing! Each spread was better than the next. This book was going to be a treasure and a dream all rolled together.
Meanwhile, Paula and I were tightening each verse and making sure that each word, like each blackberry in my jam, was perfectly ripe and right. I also had to submit my dedication. At the time the dedication was due, one of my dear friends, Debbie Alvarez, a librarian from Beaverton, Oregon, and then Hong Kong, was dying of cancer. She wrote the fantastic blog, "The Styling Librarian." I'd visited her school in Beaverton many times. I knew that this was going to be her book.
I wish I could have made Debbie's dreams come true. She fought cancer so valiantly, but cancer won and she died at age 42, leaving behind husband, Doug, and son Declan.
IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM is a deceptively simple book about naming things.
If I had a little land,
I would name it THERE.
THERE would be my home,
Be it stormy, be it fair.
It also about wishing for wholesome things that bring joy and grounding to your life.
And it is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
And it is a lullaby and a bedtime book.
On the dust jacket it says, "Our world is full of possibilities if you look for them. IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will inspire you to look around you and find the dreams that are waiting just for you."
Right now, more than ever, I think children, and the world needs to find their LITTLE DREAMS. We need comfort in what we have around us and I hope that IF I HAD A LITTLE DREAM will be that comfort for little readers everywhere, be it stormy, be it fair.
Thank you all for reading this- and please share the book and this post if you are so inclined.
If I had a little dream,
I would name it YOU.