Inspiration Café: Ann Whitford Paul, author of “Writing Picture Books”


Ever since I heard about the Author Blog Tours of WOW-Women on Writing, I've been wanting to host one here at the Studio. So, when I finally got the opportunity, I became really excited about hosting one of the interesting featured authors.

And, as a writer, mother, and now, a pre-service teacher, I knew I just had to host Ann Whitford Paul when I came across her new book, "Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication". Since I love children's books and I have a special fondness for picture books, I couldn't wait to get the chance to chat with Ann. Here's how our interview went -

In true online social media fashion, can you tell us something about yourself in 140 characters or less (a brief bio/description)?

Ann Whitford PaulAnn Whitford Paul writes picture books, poetry, early readers and this year a book for adults WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication.

I'm always interested in people's beginnings. Can you please share with us how you got started as a picture book author?

That’s easy. I became inspired to write picture books after years of reading them to my four children. I loved the closeness, the quiet, and the focus together on a book. It was such a pleasure I decided to try and write books that other adults and children could share together.

How many picture books have you authored/published - and can you tell us a bit about one or two of them?

I’ve authored hundreds of picture book manuscripts and have sold 20. However two of them were cancelled because an editor left and because an editor “lost enthusiasm over the project.” Many of our stories no matter how we work on them, don’t turn out. I’ve also sold one adult book. A new book TORTUGA (the Spanish word for Tortoise) IN TROUBLE published just this year is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a Spanish twist. This is part of a series I’ve written that introduces children to some Spanish vocabulary with the hopes that they will be inspired to learn Spanish. Another new book titled IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT is a rhymed picture book about how animals might kiss good night. It grew out of a game my third child, Alan, and I used to play guessing how Snakes and Elephants and other animals would kiss.

Do you have any favourite characters/stories from your own books? Why/why not?

I love all the characters in my series that splatters a handful of Spanish words in each story. The first book was MAÑANA IGUANA. Iguana loves to party, but her friends who love it also, don’t want to help. In FIESTA FIASCO, Conejo (the Spanish word for Rabbit) talks his friends into buying birthday presents for another friend that he wants for himself. How many times do we buy a gift that we wish for? COUNT ON CULEBRA was especially fun to write because Culebra (the Spanish word for Snake) pretends to be a doctor and is very bossy. I’m married to a doctor and my daughter is a doctor so I could use some characteristics of both.

What inspires you to write these picture books?

About five years ago, I was in Africa on an airplane next to a 9 year old boy from Afghanistan. He spoke English perfectly. In response to my question, he said he’d been studying English for just one year. Then, and this is the embarrassing part, he asked, “How many languages do you speak?” I must admit I told a fib. I said, “one and one half,” hoping that my two years of college French counted for something, even though I would be hard pressed to carry on a conversation.

While we now have many immigrants in our country we speak more than one language, many still persist in thinking that just speaking English is enough. With the shrinking of our world through travel, television and internet, we all should learn another language. . . maybe two.

I now study Spanish and thrilled to be able to speak not only in the present, but also in the past and future.

Do you have any favourite picture books written by other authors? What are they? And, what do you like about them?

I absolutely adore this new rhymed picture book I CAN DO IT MYSELF by Diane Adams and illustrated by my friend Nancy Hayashi. THANK YOU, SARAH: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson is also a favorite. It's amazing how lively she made a history book. Helen Ketteman in BUBBA THE COWBOY PRINCE and other retellings uses fabulous fun language. Check them out.

Other than writing picture books, what other interests and passions do you have?

I’m an avid reader going through at least one and most often two books a week. Besides that I quilt and knit and needlepoint and take long walks. I love listening to cats purr, watching spiders spin their webs and following silvery snail trails.

Writing Picture BooksWhat's the best advice you have for people who wish to get started in writing picture books?

Spend a lot of time with your young audience. Pay attention to what are big issues for them . . . being left with a babysitter, dealing with a bully at school, a favorite shirt is too dirty to wear. Write about what matters to them, not to you. Another bit of advice is to read picture books . . . lots and lots of them. I also type them up and even make a dummy book to see which page the print falls on. Do this and you’ll learn lots about pacing and page turns and language. I would not be a good promoter if I didn’t give a plug to my WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which I wish I’d had when I first started out.

Do you have another advice for anyone who might need the encouragement to do the things that they love to do in general?

Don’t let others divert you from your dream. Keep on trying. Keep on working. I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your goal, but I do guarantee that you’ll never get what you want if you give up.

I wrote for five years and received 118 rejections before I sold my first book. This is not meant to be discouraging, it’s meant to be encouraging. Don’t let others divert you from your dream. Keep on trying. Keep on working. I can’t guarantee you’ll achieve your goal, but I do guarantee that you’ll never get what you want if you give up. Usually you do get what you want or you discover something equally wonderful to pursue along the way.

Is there anything else that you wish to share?

My 94 year old mother is quite ill now and that makes me super aware of the fact that we only have one life to live and that each day is precious. Don’t wait! Follow through on your dreams NOW!

Thanks, Shai for your wonderful questions. And to all of your readers, check out my web-site at www.annwhitfordpaul.com for more info and if you’re interested sign up for my e-mail newsletter.

Thanks so much, Ann! And, congratulations again on your new book, "Writing Picture Books".

About the Author Shai Coggins

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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