The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Monica Acker
Monica Acker is a writer and educator. She holds a BA in creative arts and a MAT degree in childhood education. Monica is a member of SCBWI, the 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, and Children's Book Insider. She lives in Reading, Massachusetts, with her family.
Her debut picture book, Brave Like Mom, releases Tuesday - November !st!
Welcome Monica, I’m so excited that you’ve stopped by to chat with us about your writing and debut book.
I’m so excited to be here! It’s extra special, because not only are you a picture book expert but you are also a trusted CP of mine. I am so lucky!
Aww, thanks Monica. I love being a CP with you and our group. 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? )
Early in my teaching career, I taught Pre-K and was reintroduced to my love of picture books. Fast forward a decade or so and in 2018 my deep appreciation for picture books developed into a desire to write my own. I used to write every day when my kids were napping. Oh, how I miss naptime. Now that all of my kiddos are in school and I work Monday – Thursday, Fridays have become my dedicated writing days. I also write in what I call the “nooks and crannies” of life; in the waiting room at gymnastics practice, in my car waiting for school pickup, in the dead of night by the light of my phone when an idea hits (those may or may not be decipherable in the morning).
I love to write stories that make the reader feel something. I was a theater kid in high school and my best memories were when something I did on stage resulted in sounds of laughter or crying sniffles. I believe that if I can achieve a real emotional connection between the reader and my words, then it will be a book they will come to again and again. (I hope🤞🏽).
Those are the best books. What do you like to do outside?
No, really, being outside makes me breathe deeper and notice more. I enjoy taking walks or just sitting outside with a cup of tea, but, with my family, it’s definitely eat s’mores.
I have to say, a cup of tea and a s'more don't sound too bad right now. What was your inspiration for Brave Like Mom?
Brave Like Mom was inspired by my sister-in-law and nieces. In 2018, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. The strength and bravery I saw from her, but also my little nieces blew me away. I also didn’t intend for this to be a book when I wrote it. It started as a little something I wrote in my notes app just for them. During the revision process I found that I also pulled from my experience as a kid when my mom was sick and in the hospital.
You are such a strong person. I can see your inner strength reflected in the girl. What was the hardest part about writing Brave Like Mom? The most fun part?
The hardest part about writing Brave Like Mom was having to write it at all. When my sister-in-law passed away, working on this project helped me heal. Then the idea of this story being there for others helped me put it out into the world.
The most fun part was finding the right words to say what I needed to say. No matter what I’m working on, landing on the right words is super satisfying.
I'm so sorry. But I am glad that it was cathartic and helped you as much as it will help your readers. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
This is not a fair question, lol. One of my favorite picture books was Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard and James Marshall. As I got older, I remember anything by Avi was a score for me at the Scholastic Book Fair. Ask me this question tomorrow and you might get a completely different set of answers.
"Sorry" - got to have one tough question, right? Is there something you want your readers to know about Brave Like Mom?
One of the joys of being an author only is when an illustrator brings your words to life. Paran Kim, the illustrator for Brave Like Mom, gave the main character a little stuffed lion. I love how that lion symbolizes the bravery the main character has had within all along.
I love discovering the elements that the illustrator adds to the story. How long did it take from first draft to publication for Brave Like Mom? What is the toughest part in general about writing for you? The most amazing?
From first draft to publication Brave Like Mom took 4 years including about 15 months of being ignored.
Letting a story rest so I can come to it with fresh eyes can be so tough. Luckily, life keeps me busy so it forces me to take breaks, but every time I write something I want instant feedback and have to tell myself “NO. Do not hit send. Don’t do it.”
The most amazing thing is that even the worst drafts, and there are some doozies, came from a blank page. How cool is it as a writer to create something from nothing!
Super cool! When you first saw Paran Kim’s illustrations in Brave Like Mom did anything amaze, surprise, or delight you? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Monica Acker, 2022. Image © Paran Kim, 2022.
The image of the MC facing the bedtime shadows was as though Paran pulled it from my mind, which was wild and part of my favorite spread. I loved seeing the confidence in the MC grow as she realized what she was capable of.
I’m going to break the rules and say that the cover is my favorite image of all. The task of creating a cover that carried the weight of the story could not have been easy. I had no idea how Paran would make sure it was inviting but not joyful, honest but not scary. And then I saw the cover and it was everything it needed to be and more. She captured the relationship and the emotion in one perfect image.
I agree with you about the cover; it is amazing. And what a great bedtime shadow battle. What is the biggest piece of advice you’ve gotten in your career so far?
I think the number one thing I needed to hear is that rejections are not personal. When I heard Jane Yolen, THE Jane Yolen, still gets rejected, I realized that if I wanted a writing career, I would need to be able to handle hearing “no.” That “no” does not mean you’re not worthy of a writing career, but rather, this story isn’t the right fit for that person.
I think that's the hardest lesson to learn. Are there any new projects you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us?
I’m always working on something and have a few stories looking for a home on sub.
Fingers crossed. Hope to be able to celebrate good news with you soon! Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I’m super lucky that my brother and the nieces Brave Like Mom is dedicated to live not too far from the Rocky Mountains. When I go out to visit, we often find ourselves in the beauty of the mountains, dipping our toes in ice cold snow runoff and we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park this past summer on Trail Ridge Road.
Thank you so much Monica for participating in this chat!
Thanks so much for hosting me, Maria!
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Brave Like Mom.
To learn more about Monica Acker, or contact her: