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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lisa Amstutz

If you can't guess - I love nature. I have been fascinated by birds most of my life. This year, my daughter and I had the privilege of watching many birds raise their young in our yard. We especially enjoyed the fledgling Pileated, Hairy, and Downy woodpeckers this year. It was the first time EVER that we had seen a young Pileated or Hairy woodpecker.

And I experienced the heart-stopping, harrowing drive an hour north to a Wildlife rehabilitation center, to save a young Downy woodpecker who collided with my window. [She misjudged landing on the feeder.] Fortunately, I had properly wrapped her in a towel and had a box just a bit bigger than the towel bundle. She survived the drive and the center was able to rehabilitate and release her.

So it is with great excitement that I get to share the interview my friend and wonderful author - Lisa Amstutz - about her newest book, involving the Christmas Bird Count.

Welcome back, Lisa! I am so excited to talk with you about Finding a Dove for Gramps, which released November 1st!

For some basic information on Lisa, see our earlier interview (here).

What was your inspiration for Finding a Dove for Gramps?

The story was inspired by my love of birding and memories of doing bird counts as a child. I also see huge value in citizen science, both from a scientific point of view and as a way to raise awareness of environmental issues. I believe it’s vitally important for kids to experience nature and learn to care about it so that they will see value in protecting it.

I wholeheartedly agree! In addition to Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, I participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, and the Project FeederWatch Citizen Science project each year. Having worked with two different illustrators, did you have any “ah ha” moments that will help you in creating future books?

I didn’t have much interaction with either illustrator, but over the past few years, I’ve learned the importance of thinking visually when creating picture books. I now try to write picture books as a series of scenes, making sure that there is something visually interesting happening on each spread. Making a physical dummy is ideal, but at the very least, I paginate my manuscripts while I’m working on them.

Both great ideas for working on picture books. How did your experience writing nonfiction educational books help you write this one?

I believe any writing you do teaches you something. I wrote all kinds of things—newspaper articles, magazine stories, website copy, poetry, adult nonfiction, educational nonfiction, and more—before I sold my first trade picture book. All these genres taught me something: interview skills, how to write more lyrically and concisely, how to write for a specific grade level, how to work with editors, etc.

[Check out Hector Helps Out Cricket Media 2015.]

Was this book harder or easier than any or all of your others for you to write? What was the toughest aspect of writing Finding a Dove for Gramps?

I wrote both this book and Applesauce Day (reviewed here) pretty quickly following a spark of inspiration. That usually doesn’t happen! Of course, they both went through many revisions afterward.

The hardest part was probably making sure the book was accurate. I did a lot of research and had an ornithologist review the book before publication to make sure we got all the birds right for the setting.

I was interested in your acknowledgment, since that isn't often seen in fiction books. What's something you want your readers to know about Finding a Dove for Gramps?

This is a story about the Christmas Bird Count, which is an Audubon Society citizen science project. It’s a great project to get involved with, and there are many similar projects out there. You can even install the eBird app on a mobile device and can share information about birds you see every day!

Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m excited about two other forthcoming books! Amphibiology is an activity-based book about amphibians (Chicago Review Press, 2019) and Plants Fight Back is a fun rhyming book about plant defenses (Dawn Publications, 2020).

Those sound fun. I'm looking forward to seeing their covers. Having gone through a book release and associated readings and school visits, do you have any advice for those just learning their book is to be published?

Start as early as you can and clear your schedule for a few months if possible. I confess I haven’t done very well at this, but it would make life a lot less stressful. And while live events are great, there are lots of ways to promote your book even if you can’t travel. If your book has a natural tie-in with an industry, event, or organization, contact them and introduce your book. Contact bloggers to do guest posts or interviews. Write articles for magazines your target audience reads. Utilize social media. Basically, think about where your target audience hangs out, and try to get your book in front of them!

I like your idea of writing an article for a magazine targeted at your audience.

Thank you, Lisa for stopping back by. It was wonderful to chat with you again.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Maria!

Be sure to stop back by for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post this Friday.

To find out more about Lisa Amstutz, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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