SOPHIE'S SQUASH by Pat Zietlow Miller - GIVEAWAY!
SOPHIE'S SQUASH written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf has set the entire kidlitosphere abuzz. So much so, SOPHIE'S SQUASH recently won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Golden Kite Award for best picture book text. Wowsa! It even has its own facebook page! And it deserves the attention for the spot-on humor and cleverness. Truly, half way through I wondered "How is Pat going to get herself out of this quandry?" And she did! In such a charming way. Sweet magic.
I'm thrilled to have Pat on my blog today...
Q. Pat, SOPHIE'S SQUASH is your debut picture book - and what a debut it is! How long have you been writing and what's been your path to publication?
A. I have been seriously working on picture books for about six years. But before that, I was always writing something. Newspaper stories, magazine articles, corporate communications … But I can honestly say that writing picture books is the most fun, by far!
My path to publication was like that of a lot of debut authors. Loads of rejections, a few close calls, many more rejections and then, a yes! I had almost given up on finding a home for SOPHIE when Anne Schwartz of Schwartz & Wade called.
Q. How did the idea for SOPHIE'S SQUASH come to you?
A. The initial idea came from something my daughter, Sonia, did when she was three. We were shopping for groceries, and I put a butternut squash in the cart. When it came time to check out, I couldn’t find the squash. That’s when I realized Sonia was rocking it like a baby. When we got home, she drew a face on it and carried it around like a doll. We never did eat it.
So that got the story going. Then, I added a lot of things that hadn’t really happened to make it a better story. That’s the benefit of writing fiction. You can make things end the way you wish they would have in real life. (SPOILER ALERT: The parents in my book are much more patient than I was.)
Q. I love the humor in SOPHIE'S SQUASH. It's both for adults and clever children - for Sophie is indeed a bright little girl. The best picture books speak to all the ages that will be reading them (children and their parents). How did you nail that?
A. Well, my daughter, Sonia, has had a very dry sense of humor from an early age. So when I made the dialogue up, I wanted it to be something I could imagine Sonia saying. A few editors said they thought Sophie sounded too grown-up, but I think that’s part of her charm, and the humor.
And, now that I’ve read this story out loud to lots of groups of people, I’ve noticed that adults and kids laugh in different places. I’d like to say I planned that, but I really didn’t.
Q. We always hear that children should solve their own problems in stories - it empowers them. Sophie definitely did that. But I wonder if that was hard to noodle out?
A. It was! My earliest drafts had the story ending with Sophie’s dad going to the grocery store to get her an acorn squash and a spaghetti squash. So Sophie didn’t solve anything. Then, the dad came home with Ace the goldfish after Bernice lingered and died. That didn’t work either. It was too sad.
It took me a bit – and some good advice from my critique group friends – to have Sophie ask the farmer for advice and then plant Bernice in the garden.
Q. You received the Golden Kite Award for SOPHIE'S SQUASH!!! Congratulations!!! And how did that feel?
A. It was amazing. I had obviously heard of the award, but it was never on my radar that I might actually win it. So when my phone rang and the caller ID said “Lin Oliver,” I thought it might be an automated message about needing to renew my SCBWI dues.
Instead, it was Lin herself, telling me I’d won. It was a very happy moment. I think I tweeted something like I was happy, just like Pharrell Williams, except he was a better dancer and wore cooler hats. Some spontaneous kitchen dancing may also have occurred. But there were no witnesses, so nothing can be proved.
Q. You have now become the Squash Queen! (I love this photo of the Dallas Arboretum somebody shared on Sophie's FB page as a perfect place to visit.) Are you having fun with it?
A. Oh, yes. I think the biggest change is that while I still eat squash soup and risotto, I now feel slightly guilty doing so. And I’ve received adorable photos and stories from readers. A few of my favorite moments are:
• A girl who dressed up as Sophie and took her own Bernice to school. The kids were supposed to dress up as Dr. Seuss characters, but she wanted to be Sophie and Bernice.
• A little boy who had a mini pumpkin he was treating like a baby. His mom read him the story so he’d know that it wouldn’t last forever.
• A pre-school class that added a squash to its classroom, took great care of it and then planted it when it started getting soft. They sent me picture of it sprouting in a pot. The class also tied taking care of the squash to its kindness curriculum, which made me very happy indeed.
Q. I hear you're working on a sequel?
A. SOPHIE’S SEEDS, which should come out in 2016, follows Sophie to kindergarten. She brings Bonnie and Baxter with her, of course, but her classmates don’t immediately appreciate their value.
And let’s just say Sophie doesn’t immediately appreciate her classmates either. But things eventually work out. (And again, I drew on one instance from my daughter’s pre-school days for the heart of the story.)
Q. I also heard you mention a new story inspired by somebody's Facebook post. How do you go from idea to finished story?
A. Oh, goodness. It really varies. I guess the common thread is that I hear or see some small nugget of something that I like – either because it’s nicely phrased, or odd, or silly or charming. Then, I work with it to see what it could become. Sometimes, the story falls into place fairly easily. Other times, it seems I struggle for every word.
I have three critique groups I’m in where I get really good feedback, and that helps bring my stories together, too.
Q. Did you do anything special, or squash-related to celebrate the release of SOPHIE'S SQUASH?
A. I had a great book launch party with squash for the kids to decorate and temporary tattoos with designs from the book. But the coolest thing came from writer Lisa Morlock who’s in one of my critique groups. She sent me a beautifully painted, hollow gourd that now has a place of honor in my writing room.
Lisa also sent me a card with some famous quotations she’d modified to make them appropriate for the occasion, like:
“Well-behaved squash rarely make history.”
“The earth laughs in squash.”
“Hope is a thing with squash.”
Q. I can't wait to read more of your work Pat! Thanks so much for stopping by!
A. Thank you so much for having me!
Pat has kindly agreed to send one free, signed and dedicated copy of SOPHIE'S SQUASH to one of my lucky commenters! Must live in the continental US to win. Enter below!
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