The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Ronni Diamondstein
Ronni Diamondstein is a children’s book author, journalist, award-winning photographer and retired school library media and teacher of gifted and talented students in the U.S. and abroad.
An avid reader since childhood, libraries, books, and writing are her life’s work. Ronni immersed herself in the world of children’s literature and nurtured her students’ creativity by sharing her love of books.
Ronni grew up reading and writing stories and creating writing opportunities for herself. In high school, Ronni successfully pitched a column for the school newspaper, so she had a voice. Many years later, she gave a voice to her toy poodle by creating the Maggie Mae Pup Reporter column in a local magazine, writing from a dog’s point of view that developed into a blog. Ronni took pride in her collection development, as she enriched the lives of her students with extraordinary books, both fiction and nonfiction, that she read and recommended to them. Ronni once lived in a building in Rotterdam, the Netherlands called the “The Pencil,” the perfect place for a writer!
Ronni’s work has appeared in The New York Times, WAG Magazine, Inside Chappaqua magazine, U.S A. Trade Today, Window on the Netherlands, EuroHolland Magazine and Women’s News. She is a graduate of Syracuse University, attended Bread Loaf Writers Conference and led writing workshops and open mics to encourage people of all ages to tell their stories. Ronni served on the Board of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival and is a Past President of the Chappaqua Library Board of Trustees. She lives in Chappaqua, New York with her toy poodle, Maggie Mae.
Ronni’s debut picture book, Jackie and the Books She Loved, was released on November 7th.
Ronni thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and your writing.
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?)
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I write longhand and then I go to my desk to start typing on my MAC. Every morning I start the day with a quote of the day on my website that’s about writing and one on all other social media that’s about kindness with a nature photograph. I write at a variety of times during the day. The morning is best and then around 4PM.
I have many favorite types of writing. I love writing feature articles interviewing people which carries over to my love of writing picture book biographies like Jackie and the Books She Loved.
I can see how they are connected. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I loved watching soap operas growing up and always have wanted to write for one. I still watch one now. I started watching The Bold and the Beautiful when I lived in the Netherlands from 1989-91 because it was in English with Dutch subtitles—a good way to learn Dutch. I picked it up again when I came back to the states.
Ha! Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
I’m an optimist so I just keep working. I got my agent during the pandemic, so I have been busy.
I'd say so. Congratulations! What was your inspiration for Jackie and the Books She Loved?
Jackie and the Books She Loved is my debut picture book biography and it truly was a labor of love. I was eight years old when John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. I remember Jackie, especially how she led the country in mourning her husband. I was always interested in her style and admired her for becoming a book editor. After she passed away, I had an idea for a novel about her and started researching her and talking to people who knew her. I started to interview people who knew her. When I was talking to Margot Datz, the illustrator of Carly Simon’s children’s books that Jackie edited, she suggested that I write a children’s book. I have an extensive library of books about Jackie and the Kennedys.
Your interest and knowledge definitely come through the book. How many revisions did Jackie and the Books She Loved take from first draft to publication?
I first wrote a long chapter book that got no traction and then about five years ago I thought a book about how reading and writing were a thread through her life. I knew that picture books bios were a great genre and began to work on this book. Then there were many drafts before it was acquired and several before it was published. I was lucky to work with a great editor, Nicole Frail at Sky Pony Press.
I'm glad you kept working at it. She is a remarkable woman, and many might not know she was also an editor. And what was the toughest aspect of writing Jackie and the Books She Loved?
I think for all of us it’s the word count and making the narrative lyrical and engaging. And for this book specifically what to do with the quotes. I had wanted them as part of the narrative, but it didn’t work so I suggested that we use them on the endpapers. I also knew Jackie’s personal stationery was Smythson powder blue, so that was the color we chose for the endpapers.
Thank you, that is fun behind-the-scenes information! As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?
Such a hard question! I loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell both books handed to me by my school librarian Mrs. Galinsky at Circle Hill School. A picture book I loved was Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Buttered Bread by Maj Lindman and the other books in that series.
I love Madeleine L’Engle's books. And thank you for Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Buttered Bread; I love discovering "new" books! Is there anything you want your readers to know about or gain from Jackie and the Books She Loved?
I hope the book will spark the imagination of children and that they will be able to connect with Jackie and the book at some level. Do they have collections of books like Jackie, do they spend quality time with a grandparent like Jackie, do they have pets they love like Jackie, and of course do they love to read like Jackie? Jacqueline Kennedy was an important First Lady for so many reasons and I love that I am introducing her to a new generation.
I love that you are doing so, too. When you first saw Bats Langley’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?
Text © Ronni Diamondstein, 2023. Image © Bats Langley, 2023.
I had a lot of input in the illustrations, so I wasn’t surprised by much. Bats and I had a marvelous collaboration. I have a vast library of books about Jackie, so I sent him numerous photographs. Many of the things you see in the book were in Jackie’s home. The horse statue on the cover is one example.
I don’t have a favorite spread but there is one spread that I didn’t expect--the last spread in the book. Readers will see how he brought my words to life in a very clever way. I hope readers will love it as much as I do!
I can't show you the last spread...so I chose this one and hope you will check out the book and see the stunning final spread. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I love writing about people and my dog so that’s all I can tell you now!
Intriguing. We'll have to keep our eyes open. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I love the Duck Pond and Gedney Park in my town. I’ve photographed both a lot. The FirstLadies Library is managed by the National Parks Service, so if you count that, I’d like to go there since they have an exhibit about Jackie now through April and they asked me to do a Legacy Lecture program online.
Thank you, Ronni for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post on Jackie and the Books She Loved.
To find out more about Ronni Diamondstein, or contact her:
Check out Ronni Diamonstein’s Upcoming Events:
VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH - CHAPPAQUA LIBRARY
co-sponsored by Friends of the Miller House, Skyhorse Publishing
November 9th at 7 pm
BOOKS OF WONDER NOVEMBER PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES EVENT, Sunday, November 12 at 1pm
online registration https://booksofwonder.com/blogs/upcoming/november-picture-book-biographies
NATIONAL FIRST LADIES LIBRARY
Legacy Lecture: Jackie and the Books She Loved, Penning a Jackie Kennedy Picture Book
Thursday, November 16 at 12 noon