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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Cindy Kane Trumbore

Cindy Kane began her children's publishing career in the 1980s, rising to a position as senior editor at Bantam Books for Young Readers before moving on to hardcover children's books. She was editor-in-chief of Four Winds Press/Macmillan from 1987–91 and executive editor (1991–98) and editorial director (1998–99) of Dial Books for Young Readers. Books she has edited include the Newbery Honor book A Long Way From Chicago and Newbery Medal winner A Year Down Yonder, both by Richard Peck.

Cindy was an instructor at the Institute of Children's Literature from 2005–12 and is currently a writing mentor in the Southampton Children's Literature Fellows program. She is married to the cartoonist/illustrator Harry Trumbore,

Under her married name, Cindy Trumbore, she began writing children's books in 1999, publishing four nonfiction books for classrooms with Modern Curriculum Press. Cindy is the award-winning co-author (with collage artist Susan L. Roth) of Prairie Dog Song (Lee & Low 2016), Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee & Low 2013; winner of the 2014 Sibert Medal), and The Mangrove Tree (Lee & Low 2011). She has also published the fiction chapter books Huzzah for Liberty! (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 2017) and The Genie in the Book (Chronicle 2004).

Again working with Susan L. Roth, Cindy has a new nonfiction picture book, Butterfly for a King, which released February 9, 2021. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and has received starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal.

Welcome Cindy, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about Butterfly for a King and writing.


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?)

CINDY: I was a late bloomer as a writer. I didn’t start writing until I was in my early 40s, and that was because a friend knew I was a Titanic buff and gave me a contract to write a book about the disaster. I’ve been making up for lost time since then, though! I write nonfiction on a newer upstairs computer that can handle the constant searches to check facts, and fiction on an older downstairs computer. I enjoy both genres. Nonfiction is like puzzle solving, putting the pieces together. Fiction lets me use my imagination.

Ooh, great descriptions of those genres. I love that you write both fiction and nonfiction. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

I got a D+ in Bio 101 and never took a history course in college. Everything I know about research-based writing for children comes from my career in publishing, watching great writers like Joanne Ryder, the late Robert D. San Souci, and Diane Stanley at work.

So, basically an apprenticeship. Sometimes I think that might be the best way to go. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

My favorite writer was the fantasy writer Edward Eager, who is best known for Half Magic. All his books were tributes to the late 19th/early 20th century fantasy writer E. Nesbit, and he worked a mention of her into every one of his stories. So when I wrote my first novel, The Genie in the Book, which is a tribute to Eager, I worked both Half Magic and E. Nesbit into that.

We found Half Magic when my son was in second grade. He devoured it and the rest of the series. I love Hawaii and was intrigued by your story of saving a native Hawaiian butterfly. What was the inspiration for Butterfly for a King? How long did it take to figure out the title?

When thinking of possible book ideas for my work with Susan Roth, I keep an eye on what’s being funded by wildlife services and groups, since these are often fascinating, cutting-edge projects. That’s how I learned about the Pulelehua Project, which breeds captive Kamehameha butterflies in order to restore them to their native habitats. The scientists use information sent in by everyday people, “citizen scientists” who are like their eyes in the wild, to plot release sites for the butterflies. I began researching the project in 2016, but the story didn't have an ending. After the first release of captive-bred butterflies in 2017, I knew how the story would end. The title just came to me, which is a little unusual. Usually Susan and I have some back and forth on our book titles.

Interesting that you had to wait for science to catch up, so you could finish your book. How does your experience writing, and/or publishing, Butterfly for a King differ from your other nonfiction books? What was the toughest aspect of writing this book?

Actually Butterfly for a King was very similar to Parrots Over Puerto Rico, in that I did a lot of my research and my interviews on-site. The research trip in Oahu wasn’t tough but it was jam-packed. In five days, I did three interviews, visited the Bishop Museum and the Lyon Arboretum, hiked two of the release sites, and took several of the photos that appear in the backmatter. Everyone I spoke to in Hawai’i was incredibly helpful and supportive, and my husband navigated the Honolulu traffic so I could focus on my work.

Sounds like a wonderful partnership. Your nonfiction picture books are co-authored with Susan L. Roth. How did this partnership develop? How much of a difference is there in your process for creating these nonfiction picture books from that of creating your individually authored chapter books - Huzzah for Liberty! and The Genie in the Book?

Susan and I first worked together as editor and artist starting in the early 1990s and have been friends ever since. She brought The Mangrove Tree, our first book together as writers, to me because she was stuck with the text structure. I suggested using a cumulative structure (like “The House That Jack Built”) and showed her a loose draft of how it might read. She made me a co-author and we’ve been working together ever since. Since Mangrove Tree, I have “gone first” with the text, but we always bat it back and forth until we’re both happy with it.

My fiction chapter books are similar to my picture books in being very research-based. But they are less scripted; since the nonfiction books must be strictly accurate, I know what will go on every spread. The chapter books are a looser writing process.

Which can be a bit freeing at times and also frustrating if you get stuck in the middle. Is there something you want your readers to know about Butterfly for a King?

Like Mangrove Tree and Prairie Dog Song, the book works on two reading levels, with “big text” for younger readers and smaller, more detailed text for older ones. I thought about the sound of a butterfly’s flapping wings as I wrote the big text. It’s in loose trochaic meter: LAva FLOWED and ISlands ROSE.

That's a fun tidbit to discover, thank you for sharing it. Since Susan is also the illustrator, did you have much input into the illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

Text © Cindy Trumbore, 2021. Image © Susan L. Roth, 2021.

My research turns up a lot of visual reference materials, so I save the images and send them to Susan. She listens to my feedback on her work in progress, but in the end, she makes the final decisions together with our editor and designer. My favorite spread is the first piece she completed, the erupting volcano.

That is an impressive image. What, or who, is your greatest source of inspiration?

My sisters, husband, and kids inspire me. They are all creative in different ways; most of us have been published, and my daughter just wrote the music for the Butterfly for a King trailer. They understand the creative process and can keep me on track when I hit roadblocks.

You are so lucky! And congrats to your daughter. What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? Any advice for unpublished authors?

I sold a young adult historical novel in 2014, and the company went under the day before I flew to Ireland to do the research! My agent called and said, “Cindy, what’s the worst thing you can imagine happening to your book?” I have worked and reworked it since then and it’s never sold again. That was hard because the story meant so much to me.

For advice, I’d say not to be afraid of rejection. I tell my writing students that rejection is a very painful way to get valuable feedback.

Maybe, one day, it will sell. Rejection can be helpful, but it still stings. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Yes, I’m working on a counting book with Susan Roth, and I’ve just started researching a chapter book set in World War II.

We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. What is your favorite animal? Or animal that you are currently enamored with. Why?

My late dog Oatmeal was the inspiration for the main character of my Colonial Williamsburg story, Huzzah for Liberty, which is about George Washington’s dog. Oatmeal was a border collie and, like my fictional sheepdog Liberty, they will herd anything that moves. It was a lot of fun to put myself into a dog’s perspective and think about what the motivations (chicken!) and challenges (cats!) would be.

I'm sorry for your loss. But glad that you got to put a bit of Oatmeal into a book.

Thank you, Cindy for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.

Thanks for the opportunity!

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Butterfly for a King.

To find out more about Cindy Kane Trumbore, or get in touch with her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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