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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Patricia Toht

I am honored today to talk with a very special author and person.

She lived in London during Will and Kate's wedding, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and the Olympics, owned a children's bookstore/toy store for seven years, and married a "Happy Meal Toy" designer.

It's the amazing writer and poet - Patricia Toht. Her newest book, Dress Like A Girl, releases tomorrow!

Patricia, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and writing.

I’m so happy to be here, Maria! Thanks for inviting me to The Picture Book Buzz.

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)

PATRICIA: I’ve been writing for children for a LONG time – I began before the turn of the century!

My interest in children’s books started when I took a children’s lit class in college. But the first incarnation of my interest was actually a children’s bookstore that I owned and operated for seven years. After it closed, I turned my interest from selling books to writing books.

I began by writing poetry for children’s magazines like High Five and Ladybug. I had taken a wonderful class with poet Heidi Bee Roemer, and the weekly homework was to write lots of poems. I managed to sell about one out of every ten poems, which was encouraging to me. Other poems were expanded into longer forms and became my first books, which are all rhyming picture books.

What a great way to break into this business. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

It’s unusual to see large families these days, so I love telling kids that I have six siblings. I grew up in neighborhood with large Catholic families. One year we counted 81 children within a block and a half! Lots of friends to play with!

That's a lot of kids! What a great place to grow up. And you're right, so unusual these days. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I was an early and voracious reader with lots of favorites. Not surprising, many were rhyming books – Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, Snow by P.D. Eastman, Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, and Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Conder Soule and George Booth. My favorite novels were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

I'd never heard of Soule's book, but I found readings of it & a pdf online. How does your newest picture book, Dress Like A Girl, differ from your previous books Pick A Pine Tree and All Aboard the London Bus? Where did the idea for this story come from?

All three books are rhyming picture books, but they grew from very different inspirations. All Aboard the London Bus is a collection of poems illustrated by Sam Usher. It grew out of our family’s time living outside of London. Pick a Pine Tree, and its companion Pick a Pumpkin (July 2019), illustrated by Jarvis, grew out of our family’s love of the holidays and the traditions we celebrate each year.

Dress Like a Girl was actually inspired by a tweet! In early 2017, many professional women reacted to word that an important public figure suggested that females should “dress like a woman.” Professionals who worked in jobs that required some un-ladylike outfits – astronauts, soldiers, firefighters, scientists, etc. – posted photos of themselves at work with the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman.

Good for them! What great inspiration for a PB! I love the title. I reminds me of the saying “you throw like a girl.” Did you have the title at the start? How did you come up with the title?

I owe the terrific title to my agent, Julia Churchill. She had seen my positive reactions to the #DressLikeAWoman tweets and gave me a nudge by emailing me one sentence: “What about DRESS LIKE A GIRL?” Rhymes immediately began popping into my head, and they grew into a book that encourages girls to pursue whichever jobs they wish and dress accordingly.

You’ve expressed a love for poetry. Did you initially set out to write Dress Like A Girl and your other books in rhyme? Which was the hardest to write? The easiest? Why?

I’ve written many books in prose, but I have yet to sell them! Poetry seems to be my sweet spot. My rhyming books all center on a concept. My prose books follow a more classic story arc, where a character faces a problem, then makes several unsuccessful attempts to solve it, followed by a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion.

So far, Dress Like a Girl has been the most challenging since it involved several major rewrites as the vision for the book evolved.

Interesting. Many authors find it the opposite way around. Did you submit any of your manuscripts with illustrator notes? Did you have much input into the images?

All of my manuscripts have had some illustrator notes, but only to indicate things that HAD to be conveyed by illustrations because I had removed any text pertaining to them. Dress Like a Girl is a great example. The text is purposely vague about what the girls are wearing. The words are supposed to sound like old-fashioned rules, and the illustrations show a modern twist on what those rules suggest.

I had no say in illustrator selection, but I’ve been super happy with the illustrators chosen. The art directors at publishing houses are WAY more knowledge about various illustrators than I am! They’ve selected artists that fit seamlessly with my words.

I totally agree; they have been amazing. Now, having worked with three different illustrators, what surprised you the most when you saw the illustrations for Dress Like A Girl? Is there one that tugs at your heart?

The text of Dress Like a Girl was pretty straight forward, so I love the fun and whimsy that Lorian Tu brings to the illustrations. The little penguins in the Arctic scene are adorable!

What's something you want your readers to know about Dress Like A Girl?

I want readers to know that the book isn’t just for girls! It’s important for boys to see that girls work in a wide variety of vocations, and for boys to also consider what jobs would appeal to them. I want kids to understand that “form follows function” when it comes to work clothes.

Yes! The clothes are not the person. Who or what is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)

I find myself particularly inspired by photos! I have loads of photo files on my computer of images that are story-worthy. I’m also inspired by clever picture book writers like Tammi Sauer, Jill Esbaum, and Linda Ashman.

Those three have inspired many, myself included. You’ve worked with both UK and US publishers. Were there many, if any, differences between them?

Thanks to living in both places, when I write a text, I often have a feel for whether it will appeal more to a US market or a UK market. Luckily, my agent works with a North America agent who can submit books in the US, too.

There is a difference in length for US and UK picture books. The text and illustrations in a US picture book usually run 14 or 14 ½ spreads (one spread = two open pages). But UK picture books are usually 12 spreads long. My manuscripts tend to work themselves into 14 ½ spreads, so I have to cut even more to get them UK-ready!

Don’t even get me started on language differences! For example, the gingerbread men in Pick a Pine Tree caused quite a discussion. I called them “cookie boys.” But Brits don’t say “cookie,” they say “biscuit”; in the US a “biscuit” is anything but a cookie! I ended up taking out the reference altogether.

Ha! And I imagine that was a minor issue. I am sure there are many more. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?

Don't let others discourage you from your goals! I took a creative writing course in high school and my teacher encouraged me to continue writing. But a very opinionated college professor who didn't care for my writing told me I had no business pursuing it. Can you believe it? She derailed my writing for years!

I am so sorry. Unfortunately, that seems to be all too common an occurrence. Teachers (and critiquers) should be more careful (constructive). But, I think you proved the professor wrong! With three picture books published in the past two years, does it still feel like a dream?

It does! I know that I’ve worked really hard on my craft, but I still often feel like publication is a fluke. I wonder when that feeling goes away…

We could ask Jane Yolen (365+ books published). Many authors are encouraged to have blogs. In 2014, you joined a group blog – The GROG. How has writing for, and helping manage, this blog helped you? What has been the greatest advantage(s), or disadvantage, to belonging to a group blog?

The GROG has been wonderful. I’ve been blessed to have this supportive group of diverse individuals. We all learn so much from each other. And I doubt I would have time to commit to sustaining a blog by myself – many writers make light work on the GROG!

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

In addition to Pick a Pumpkin, which comes out in July, I have two more books in the pipeline. Taxi, Go is a bit like a game of Red Light/Green Light with a taxi, and Together with You is a four-season celebration of grandparents and grandchildren. Very exciting!

That is exciting! Congrats. Is there anything about writing or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or maybe something you are glad you hadn’t known at the time?

Great question! I’m glad I didn’t know how long it would take for my first picture book to be published, or I may have been discouraged. But once I started writing, it was such a part of my thinking that I couldn’t help but write.

What is your favorite animal? Why?

My husband and I currently have inherited a dog named Sanji who was my daughter’s dog. She had asked us to care for him while she prepared for her wedding and a move to a new house. My husband couldn’t bear to give him back, so he’s been here for years. (He’s a really good dog!)

Aww, that gave me a giant smile. Thank you, Patricia for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

Thanks again, Maria! What great questions! I really enjoyed our chat.

Be sure to stop back by Friday for the #PPBF post on Dress Like a Girl.

To find out more about Patricia Toht, or get in touch with her:

If you're in the area, don't miss Patricia's book launch:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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