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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Laura Renauld

I have loved books for as long as I can remember.

Picture books, poetry, chapter books, series. I love them all.

Books nourish my soul. ~ Laura Renauld

Prior to becoming a children’s writer, Laura Renauld shared her love of books with her third-grade students. After experiencing first-hand, the power of story to captivate, amuse, and encourage, Laura knew that she wanted to create books for kids.

When she is not writing picture books about porcupines, pirates, and pickles, Laura can be found on a trail, at the library, or in the kitchen. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and their two sons. Laura is the author of Porcupine’s Pie (2018).

Her second picture book, Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life And Legacy Of Mister Rogers, released January 14th.

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

Thank you for having me, Maria. It is a pleasure to be here!

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

LAURA: I am a former third grade teacher, mom of two elementary-age boys, and a full-time picture book writer. I joined SCBWI in 2011. While I had been writing a bit before that, joining SCBWI marked the point when I started taking myself seriously as a writer. Five years later, I had my first contract.

Once my kids are off to school in the morning, I sit down and get right to work. Okay, well, that’s not usually how it happens. I have a bad habit of checking social media first and it is a bit of a rabbit hole. But I am finding that I need to balance creative time with publicity and marketing, so keeping up with social media really is time spent working, right?

Definitely. It's all about the connections, after all. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I love to travel, immerse myself in different cultures, and try new cuisines. One of my most eye-opening experiences was a 4-month study abroad semester I spent in Ghana during college. If anyone knows of a West African restaurant in the states that serves Fufu, I just might have to plan my next vacation around it!

Interesting. Let's see if anyone responds to that request. I loved Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child. What inspired you to write his biography - Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life And Legacy Of Mister Rogers?

I was also one of Mister Rogers’ television neighbors as a child. He was a companion and a storyteller. He made a point to illuminate the arts, show how things were made, and address challenging topics. Mister Rogers knew how to speak to children. He calmed their fears, accepted them, and encouraged them to express their feelings in healthy ways. Mister Rogers was inclusive, curious, and compassionate. He embodies the kind of attention and caring that we hope to instill in our children. Mister Rogers is the very best kind of role model. Children and adults need him just as much today as they did when his show was on the air.

It does amaze me how he's able to fascinate current kids. They just know he's genuine and honestly cares about them. What was the hardest part of researching and writing Fred’s Big Feelings? The easiest? Did you get to meet with any of his relatives?

Fred Rogers is such a public figure that I didn’t have to look far for a lot of great research material. And this was before Maxwell King’s biography, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, came out! One of the best sources was an archive of taped interviews that Mister Rogers did late in life that spanned his childhood through the end of his career. The most difficult part was researching early children’s television to give myself the background knowledge I needed to speak about that time period. I tried to nail down some specific references to children’s programs that Fred Rogers found shocking without much success, even after consulting with a television historian. It was all fascinating research, though! And so much didn’t make it into the finished book.

Interesting. One would have thought the early TV programs would have been archived. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

For picture books, I loved Christina Katerina & the Box by Patricia Lee Gauch, Illustrated by Doris Burn. The characters create various imaginary worlds from a discarded refrigerator box. It is filled with the best kind of childhood play and lots of humor.

I've included a cover image for anyone else who is unfamiliar with this book. How long did it take from first draft to publication? What was the hardest part? The easiest?

I started my research in the summer of 2017 and Fred's Big Feelings is coming out this month so the whole process took 2 ½ years, which is a very short timeline for a picture book to move from conception to publication!

The hardest part was finding the right voice. I wanted this biography to reach out to children in a way that was warm and accessible, just like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. But I also wanted to share his childhood struggles and his passion for quality children’s television. When I landed on framing the biography through the lens of feelings, the content and the voice found the right balance.

I can imagine how hard finding that "just right" voice to capture Mr. Rogers was. How different was the creation process between Fred’s Big Feelings and Porcupine’s Pie?

With Porcupine’s Pie, I started with the title, brainstormed the plot, and started drafting. I only did a little bit of research about porcupines and where they live during the revision process. It was fiction, after all!

With Fred’s Big Feelings, I spent a couple of months exclusively on research before I wrote my first draft. I spent a lot of time on structure, organization, and using the lens of feelings to approach Fred Rogers’ life. I found it challenging to balance accuracy, brevity, tone, and accessibility. There was a lot more to juggle while writing a biography!

What a great summarization of the challenge that nonfiction presents. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?

Make your peace with waiting. It is never-ending in this business. Look at the time between submissions as the sacred space for writing, creating, and improving your craft. Don’t sit and wait. Sit and write!

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

I’m looking forward to working with my editor at Beaming Books on the final text for Bear's Bicycle, a companion to Porcupine's Pie, which is scheduled to release Spring 2021. Porcupine took the lead in her fall story about generosity and friendship. Bear gets a chance to shine in a summer story about encouragement and perseverance.

I’m also excited about promoting debut Kidlit creators through the Debut Review Challenge, which I launched in October 2019. A new round just started and runs through the end of February. Read, review, and win prizes! Details at my website: Follow the hashtag #DebutReviewChallenge. I hope you join the fun!

This sequel sounds fun. I do have to wonder if there will be two more - to round out the seasons, of course. What is your favorite animal? Why?

I have always liked frogs. As a child, my brother and I would catch frogs at the “frog pond” behind our house. (We’d always let them go later.) Now, as a writer, frogs remind me of those childhood memories, which I can tap for ideas and authentic emotions.

What a great memory to have. Thank you, Laura for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life And Legacy Of Mister Rogers.

If you're in the area, stop by and meet Laura at these Book Parties:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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