In October I offered published authors the opportunity to participate in Free Fall Friday. Susan Hood entered and was the October winner and I couldn’t be happier to share with you a talented author who debuted not only her first picture book this year, but three picture books.
Before launching a full-time writing career, Susan was the Children’s Content Director of Nick Jr. Magazine, where she edited original stories by the winners of the Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Book Award and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. Before that, Susan was a children’s book editor at Sesame Workshop, and a children’s magazine editor at Scholastic and Instructor Magazinefor early childhood educators.
While working as an editor, Susan wrote hundreds of children’s books for ages 1-8, including board books, concept books, interactive books, nonfiction and beginning readers. She has published books with Disney, Fisher Price, Penguin Putnam, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop and Simon & Schuster, among others. In addition to writing for children, she has written for parents and early childhood educators in The New York Times, Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect, Sesame Street Parent’s Guide, Working Mother and more.
Susan lives with her family in coastal Connecticut, and enjoys spending the summer sailing with her husband along the coast of Maine.
I asked Susan a few questions that I thought might interest all of you.
KATHY: Susan can you tell us the story about each of your three books and how they got published?
SUSAN: People say to “write what you know.” I tend to write about things that surprise me. I figure if they surprise me, they’ll probably surprise kids. And then I try to convey what’s meaningful in the stories, what spoke to me and what’s universal. Here are the stories behind the stories and how a few surprises led to three new books:
JUST SAY BOO! Illustrated by Jed Henry – Published by HarperCollins, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-06-201029-2
SUSAN: This book got its start when I noticed that really little kids were just a bit jittery around Halloween with all the spooky goings-on. Not that they’d ever admit it! I wanted to write an interactive book with fun-to-say words and lots of sensory details that would encourage and empower them. I perfected the verse by studying with Patricia Hubbell, an acclaimed kids’ poet I met through SCBWI, who now runs a monthly poetry group at my house. When the book was done, I happened to reconnect with a HarperCollins editor at an SCBWI event set up by Stacy Mozer. She bought the book almost immediately.
If three dinosaurs roar when you open your door, what do you say? “Boo!” of course! In this charmingly spooky story by Susan Hood, little trick-or-treaters learn just what to say in every Halloween situation. From rattling bones to ghostly footsteps, Susan captures all the best scares of the season–and teaches just the right way to dispel fears in favor of fun. Jed Henry’s lustrous watercolors add the perfect crisp chill to this fall-weather story. For if a skeleton groans as she rattles her bones, what do you say? BOO!
SPIKE, THE MIXED-UP MONSTER: Illustrated by Melissa Sweet, winner of a 2009 Caldecott Honor Medal and the 2012 Robert F. Sibert Medal
Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster, September 2012
SUSAN: I was at home, fact-checking a magazine story on baby animals when I came across this photo.
Having worked at Sesame Workshop, my immediate thought was, “It looks like a Muppet!” I couldn’t believe it was real. Research revealed that this cute freckle-faced critter is an axolotl, a critically endangered salamander that lives in one lake in the world — Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City. Like Peter Pan, the axolotl never grows up. While other salamanders lose their gills and develop lungs to live on land, axolotls live their whole lives as youthful water babies. The story gets better. It turns out that the axolotl is crucial to science and medicine because…get this…it can regrow damaged body parts, including legs, tail, toes, parts of its brain and spinal cord, heart and lungs! Given this backstory and a Mad Magazine connection, I thought there must be a million axolotl books out there, but a quick check on Amazon revealed only a pet owner’s guide. I knew I had to write about it. When the manuscript was finished, I got excellent feedback, which gave me the courage to submit it to agents. I signed with Brenda Bowen and the book went to auction with three publishing houses bidding on it!
Meet Spike, a lovable monster—and a real-life salamander—who’s looking for friends in this lively picture book that includes Spanish vocabulary.Spike is a scary-looking salamander who keeps trying to frighten other animals—until he finds that using fear is not the best way to make friends. And since Spike lives in Mexico (he is an endangered species called the axolotl), this story is peppered with easy-to-understand Spanish words. In addition to a charming tale of friendship, this picture book contains nonfiction information about the axolotl and a Spanish/English glossary.
SPIKE cake baked by Karen Jordan, leader of my SCBWI writers’ group, for Susan’s book launch party.
THE TOOTH MOUSE – Illustrated by Janice Nadeau, three-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Illustration, Canada’s most prestigious literary prize. Published by Kids Can Press, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-55453-565-1 – 2012 Junior Library Guild SelectionSUSAN: Long before I decided to get an agent, I published a series of ten PUP AND HOUND beginning readers with Kids Can Press. My editor sent me an illustration of a mouse in a tutu and asked if I’d like to try to write a picture book about her. Would I?! Around that time I was writing a column for Nick Jr. Magazine called “Kids Like You” in which I interviewed kids around the world about their everyday lives. I asked six-year-old Sophie, a little girl in Paris, “What happens when you lose a tooth in France?” She said, “You give it to the Tooth Mouse, of course!” I had never heard of such a thing. The more I researched, the more I found that many, many countries all around the world (Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Morocco, Russia, Spain, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela and more) have a Tooth Mouse instead of a Tooth Fairy. Italy has both!
So I wrote a story about the Tooth Mouse that, in retrospect, was God-awful. It wasn’t a picture book. Kids Can rejected it and the illustrator moved on to other things. But my editor thought there was something there and asked me to rethink the story. I put it away for more than a year, but kept thinking. I discovered a 17th century story about the Tooth Mouse, La Bonne Petite Souris, written by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, one of the most prolific fairy tale writers of the French Salons and the person credited with the term fairy tale (contes de fées). D’Aulnoy’s story is quite long, and like many fairy tales, it’s filled with murder, deceit and revenge. Don’t get me wrong. I loved fairy tales as a child and still do. But I wanted to write a younger, gentler story—my own modern fairy tale with some wordless graphic novel elements—and yet include the quests and challenges I loved in books as a child. I threw out my old story and completely reimagined the plot. Et voilà! This time, Kids Can bought it and Janice Nadeau, three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for Illustration, agreed to illustrate it!
In many countries around the world, there is no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. Instead, there is the Tooth Mouse! This modern fable, set in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, tells how an aging French Tooth Mouse names her successor. Can little Sophie meet the three contest challenges? Can she prove she is the right mouse for the job of La Petite Souris? Illustrated in gorgeous watercolors, the book includes information about tooth traditions around the globe.
KATHY: HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Kids Can Press – three publishers and three books. Do you have an agent? Was that a strategy your agent came up with?
SUSAN: Yes, as I mentioned, I have an incredible agent—Brenda Bowen. Brenda was a top editor at several publishing houses before she became an agent. So she knows the folks on the other side of the desk and she has an insider’s understanding of the publishing priorities, tastes and strategies of the various companies. While I can’t speak for her, Brenda seems to think that each manuscript has a unique personality and it’s her job to match it to the personality of an individual editor and house.
KATHY: It looks like all three books help introduce word from other languages. Are you bilingual?
SUSAN: It’s true that SPIKE, THE MIXED-UP MONSTER, set in Mexico, has a little Spanish in it and THE TOOTH MOUSE, set in Paris, has a little French. I included the other languages to add a little flavor of these places, to contribute to the mise-en-scène. I speak some French and my husband is an elementary school French teacher. In fact, although Paul’s American, he spoke to our daughters in French from the time they were born. We live in such an increasingly global society, how can we not introduce kids to the sounds of other languages, to make them aware of other places?
KATHY: Do you feel your editorial experience in children’s publishing helped you get published?
SUSAN: It certainly helped with networking, but more importantly, it helped me be a better writer. I knew what to strive for and what mistakes to avoid! My first job at Scholastic was as an editorial assistant at the See-Saw Book Club, where I read thousands of picture books—a very good foundation. At Instructor Magazine, I learned what teachers look for in books. At Nick Jr. Magazine, I was lucky to be able to hire top authors and illustrators (Chris Raschka, Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, Jane Yolen) to write original stories for us. Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak created a new Little Bear story for us! Seeing how these talented folks tackled a story taught me a lot. We also published a “Best Books of the Year” article every December, so again, I was reading thousands of picture books along with our esteemed panel of librarian judges.
KATHY: Any tips for your follow writers?
SUSAN: Join SCBWI and a writers’ critique group for the support, the advice, the camaraderie and the laughs. Ah, the laughs! Members of my writers’ group not only read my work and gave me invaluable feedback, they crafted my press release, introduced me to reporters, ran contests and giveaways on Facebook and Twitter, videotaped their kids reading my books to post on YouTube, hounded—yes, literally hounded!—librarians and booksellers to buy my books, baked me cookies and cakes, toasted me with champagne, listened to me whine and complain, and on and on. The generosity of other writers is astonishing and humbling. And did I mention the laughs?
Susan thank you so much for sharing the background stories of your three new books. It is always so much fun to hear how ideas come to life. Visit Susan at: www.susanhoodbooks.com