The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Jennifer Wolfthal
Jennifer Wolfthal grew up in sunny South Florida. As a child, you would find her immersed in anything creative – drawing, dancing, and playing teacher with her stuffed animal students. This passion for teaching and creativity followed her into her adult years where she graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Elementary Education. Jennifer taught fourth grade in public school for the next eight years.
During those years, she enjoyed instilling a love for writing in her students and found picture books to be a beautiful medium to accomplish this goal. Jennifer continued her teaching journey through homeschooling her own children and further developed her love for picture books. She still enjoys anything creative; singing, dancing, event organizing, learning to play her ukulele, and of course, writing stories. Currently, she resides in Central Florida with her sweetheart husband, Joseph, and their three children.
Her debut picture book, A Real Friend, releases tomorrow!
Jennifer, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.
Thanks so much for having me, Maria!
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?)
A love for writing is something that has been with me for most of my life. I was pretty shy as a child, and writing was a way I found to express myself. Journals, stories, poems and letters to family were a big part of my growing up years. When I started teaching, I enjoyed organizing poetry coffeehouses with my students, classroom newspapers, and finding other ways to foster a love for writing. As a homeschool mom, I hope to encourage this in my children as well. Homeschooling keeps me busy, so I have to be flexible with personal writing time. I usually write late at night and during those pockets of mommy free time. I especially love to write outdoors. Nature inspires me! My favorite type of books to write at this time are . . . picture books!
Seeing the joy you get from writing will have an influence on your kids. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
My eclectic taste in just about everything! If you visit our home you will find one room that transports you to a country farmhouse and another that makes you feel like you’re in an Italian bistro. My taste in music and food is similar. From Greek to Thai food, and bluegrass to Latin music, I have an appreciation for it all. It’s funny because I still hear the same thing from those who have known me all my life - “I didn’t know you liked that.” I guess I’m just full of surprises!
It reduces the boredom factor and keeps friends on their toes. What inspired you to write A Real Friend?
During my years in the classroom, I remember a recurring theme . . . the dreaded best friend drama. I must have heard the phrase, “you’re not my best friend anymore” a hundred times. When brainstorming ideas for a story, I knew this was a topic I wanted to write about in a fun and imaginative way.
Navigating friendship is such a tough, and not just for kids. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Shel Silverstein was one of my favorites. His books inspired me to start writing poetry at a young age. I wasn’t an easy laugher, but reading his poems always got a giggle out of me. I still have a silly poem I wrote when I was ten about a dial tone.
He really was a master with humor. Is there something you want your readers to know about A Real Friend?
When I wrote A Real Friend, I wanted to realistically portray how children often resolve conflict. Although I chose not to include a verbal apology, the themes of humility and forgiveness are there. But for those looking for more direct conflict resolution, I created discussion questions and character connections on my website that parents and educators can use to dig deeper into the story. They are great for talking more in depth about acceptable behavior, apologies, etc. Also, there are lots of activities and crafts on my website to enhance the story. If you buy the book, make sure to hop on over and check it out!
I like that idea as a compromise to having a "lesson" explicit in the text. It feels more trusting of the reader. How long did it take from the first draft to publication? What was the hardest part of the publication process? The easiest?
The easiest part for me was thinking up the idea. I always have a ton floating around in my brain. Getting them down on paper is the tricky part. I think it took about two years from first draft to publication. I wrote the first draft in a day or two. Then I spent a few months editing. After that, I sent it out and endured the endless silence. Next, the rejections started coming! That’s probably the hardest part. Ok, time to get back to editing. I set it aside for a few months, edited some more, got a critique, edited some more, wrote a few other manuscripts, and edited some more. I held my breath and sent it out for a second round. Only this time – an acceptance! Once it was accepted by Clavis, it was about a year to publication day.
Unfortunately, that seems to be a fairly typical story journey. I'm glad it found its "yes." Did anything about the illustrations surprise you (when you first got to see them)? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Jennifer Wolfthal, 2020. Image © Judi Abbot, 2020.
I don’t think I was really surprised by anything. I was too busy jumping up and down with excitement! That moment when you see the story from your head come alive in picture form is truly surreal. I am thankful Judi Abbot was chosen as the illustrator. She did a wonderful job! My favorite spread is the one where Benny misses Max. Judi decided to include Benny on his bed looking sadly at a picture of him and Max. I thought it was perfect. It really brought a lot of emotion to that scene that I appreciated.
You did a great job leaving room for Judi to illustrate this moment, by simply saying, "Most of all, Benny missed Max." 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?
Not hearing back from publishers and rejection form letters are probably the most frustrating. I can handle the rejection, but not knowing why was the hard part. It’s difficult to know what to improve without feedback. My advice would be to read books focused on publishing children’s books. Once I started learning the endless reasons a publisher could reject a manuscript, including recently publishing a similar story, it helped me press on. Also, be sure to read LOTS of children’s books and get critiques from someone who knows the industry.
Both are wonderful suggestions! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m currently working on two new manuscripts. As a matter of fact, I recently sent them out for the first round of rejections. Ha! There are dragons, unicorns, and a whole lot of imagination in these.
[Note: her second picture book, Corabelle’s Butterfly, is due out Fall of 2021].
Now that sounds intriguing. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for them. Best of luck! Is there something you wish you could tell your younger self or kids today? I
I’d probably share one of my favorite verses, Psalm 38:4- Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. I think the key is in the first part of the verse. I would tell little me . . . if you’re truly delighting yourself in God, it’s funny how often those desires in your heart will begin to change. And who knows? Someday, you might find yourself walking down a path you never even planned – like writing children’s books!
Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with right now. Why?
Recently, our family has fallen in love with birds. Our home addition was abandoned by our contractor for about a year. As the months passed, we watched the birds begin building their nests in our unfinished addition. They would swoop through the addition area and sing songs in the morning that would echo through the house. It was like they were right there living with us! Beautiful creatures that brought so much joy to our lives during the most difficult of times.
Wow, that is a silver lining to a frustrating circumstance. Thank you, Jennifer for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.
Thank you, Maria! I enjoyed our time chatting together!
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on A Real Friend.
To find out more about Jennifer Wolfthal, or get in touch with her: