Marsha Diane Arnold
Celebrates the Release of Two Board Books!
Today we celebrate the book birthday of Marsha Diane Arnold’s board books: Baby Animals Take a Bath and Baby Animals Take a Nap, both illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes and published by Charlesbridge.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author, with over one million books sold. She has been called a "born storyteller" and a "magician of literary innovations." Her first book, Heart of a Tiger, won the Ridgway Award for Best First Book by a New Author. A few of her other many awards include Smithsonian Notable Book for The Pumpkin Runner, three times Dolly Parton Imagination selection for Roar of A Snore, and Junior Library Guild Selection for the three-star reviewed Lost. Found.
When not creating imaginative words and wacky characters at her home in Southwest Florida, Marsha enjoys traveling the world and, like her characters, always trying new things. Learn more about Marsha at her web site: http://www.marshadianearnold.com/.
Marsha was kind enough to answer a few questions. Get ready to be inspired and informed!
Tell us about your new board books—your inspiration and how the stories grew into these wonderful books.
Although I’ve had fourteen picture books published, Baby Animals Take a Bath and Baby Animals Take a Nap are my very first board books. Having them published by highly respected Charlesbridge and illustrated by my friend Phyllis Limbacher Tildes is the icing on the cake.
The image that began the books was a polar cub taking a “snow bath.” Where that image came from I can’t recall, perhaps while I was watching a wildlife documentary. Wherever the image came from, it made me think about all the different ways animals take baths. I wanted to share with the youngest of “readers” how human babies and animal babies are similar, indeed how humans and animals are similar. I immediately felt the best format for this concept would be a board book, but I’d never written one before. So the “snow bath” idea stayed in my files for years until I decided that polar cub really needed to finish his bath...and I needed to finish that book. When the bath book was completed, I decided to add a napping book and a snacking book. After all, don’t the best board books come in threes? Yolanda Scott was the acquiring editor and loved the bath and nap concepts, but decided to put the snack book to the side. When Yolanda took a leave to have her second child, Julie Blivens became my editor, so I was lucky to have two of the best editors in the business!
I know quite a bit about animals, but Julie wanted verification of the age at which each baby animal started to bathe and exactly how they napped. This was difficult; some of the experts I contacted weren’t even sure. The research was challenging, but it was also fascinating. I learned so much more about the wonderful animals in the books.
Marsha, you’re a well-published author, so tell us about your writing journey and how you “broke into” publishing.
Thank you, Rob. I never thought of myself as a well-published author. I rather like the sound of that.
I really think writing and reading go hand in hand, so I guess my writing journey began as a child who loved reading. But I never thought about being a writer. To me, the people who wrote books were like gods and goddesses, living in a world I could never hope to attain. The thought of being a writer never crossed my mind.
But as a stay-at-home mom, I was inspired by the wondrous imaginations, fanciful language, and daily adventures of my children and their friends. I just had to write about it! So I started writing a weekly newspaper column entitled homegrown treasures. I wrote that column for ten years. It was great writing practice. I was also encouraged in my writing because my column was much loved by my readers and won three awards from the California Newspaper Association.
All the time I was writing the column, I knew what I really wanted was to write a picture book. To me the best picture books embody a universal truth in a simple, beautiful way. I longed to do that. My first picture book Heart of a Tiger was rewritten scores of times and rejected 13 times before I found the editor who loved it as much as I did. It remains my most honored picture book, winning three state Children’s Choice awards, the Ridgeway for Best First Book by a New Writer, and many more – after 13 rejections. When I visit schools I share this with students and tell them that it only takes one “yes,” even in a sea of “noes,” to be on the way to where you want to be. It’s a good reminder for all of us.
What is your normal writing routine?
Some writers write every day. Some writers write from 7 to noon. Some writers have normal writing routines. But not this writer.
I fear I do not have a regular schedule or routine. Life keeps interfering! When I am very, very good, I write for a few hours in the morning, maybe four days a week, but nothing in my life seems to be regular...or normal.
Teri Sloat, my long-time writer-illustrator friend, once told me she believed I did a lot of writing in my head. I think she’s right. Sometimes I sit down to work on a manuscript that’s been on the back burner, excited to start where I left off. I open the manuscript and, to my surprise, see only a few words splattered about. Yep. I was writing in my head and forgot to write it on the page. Not a great feeling. So, dear writers, it’s best to sit down every day for a few minutes or a few hours, at least to transfer what’s in your head to your page.
What's your best tip for finding inspiration and new ideas?
Truly, I think it’s being aware. If you are aware of yourself in each moment and open to all the wonders...and surprises...around you, ideas will come. Inspiration has come to me on a walk, listening to NPR, reading a book/magazine/newspaper, watching my grandchildren, or listening to the cicadas sing at night.
Were you a reader as a child? What was your favorite children’s book and why?
Sometimes it seems that’s all I was as a child – a reader. As a preschooler, I was shy and didn’t have a lot of other children to play with. In elementary school, I was still shy and attended a two-room country school with only 30 students. I spent a lot of my time reading.
My grandmother bought and read to me “Little Golden Books.” I loved them all. At the two-room country school, one side of each classroom was lined with books. My favorites were books about animals. After all, I grew up on a dairy farm and have always had a special affinity for animals. Two of my favorite books were Black Gold by Marguerite Henry and Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight.
What are you working on now and what’s coming out next?
There’s a secret I can’t share...well, I’ll share part of it. In the second half of 2016, I sold three manuscripts! Two of them are still being negotiated and an illustrator has yet to be found for the other, so I’m sworn to secrecy until we announce them in Publishers Weekly. Previously, I mentioned my affinity for animals, so it should come as no surprise that the manuscripts have animals as characters. One story is set in China, one in a fantastical place called Thistle Hollow, and another in the Galápagos Islands.
At the top of my “to do” pile is going over the revision notes from the acquiring editor of one of these stories. After working on the story for years, I thought I was done! Nope. There’s lots of work to be done still, but with an editor who seems even more excited about the story than I am. What could be better than that?
What advice can you offer to new writers or those still dreaming of one day being published?
The practical advice you can discover with a bit of sleuthing. It’s always a good idea for writers to practice their sleuthing skills.
My advice always starts with “join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.” (http://www.scbwi.org) Then do what I don’t do and begin a writing routine, set time/times and day/days to be alone with your story and to write. It’s a good idea to attend a conference from time to time, to learn from the experts, to make connections, and to be inspired. I plan to share a little about this in my monthly blog over at Children’s Book Academy. (http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/blogonauts) It will be up February 11th.
But simply, the best advice I can give is to follow your heart. There are stories inside you that only you can write. Be true to yourself, but more than that, be true to your story.
Marsha, thank you for sharing about your books and yourself. Happy double-book birthday. Welcome to the world Baby Animals Take a Bath and Baby Animals Take a Nap!