top of page

The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Pat Zietlow Miller/e.E. Charlton-Trujillo & Review A Girl Can Build Anything

Although collaboration is still not very common, I got to interview this terrific team which has created four books together so far, with more on the horizon.


Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to be a writer ever since her seventh-grade English teacher read her paper about square-dancing skirts out loud in class and said: “This is the first time anything a student has written has given me chills.”


Pat started out as a newspaper reporter and wrote about everything from dartball and deer-hunting to diets and decoupage. Then, she joined an insurance company -- and then another -- and edited their newsletters and magazines. Now, Pat focuses on her favorite thing -- writing picture books. Pat lives in Wisconsin with one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters, and two pampered cats.

Pat’s the author of 23 books, including Lupe Lopez: Rock Star Rules! (2022) with e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, illustrated by Joe Cepeda, My Brother, The Duck, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman (2020), When You Are Brave, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (2019), Remarkably You, illustrated by Patrice Barton (2018), Loretta's Gift, illustrated by Alea Marley (2018), Wide-Awake Bear, illustrated by Jean Kim (2018), Be Kind, illustrated by Jen Hill, Sophie's Squash Go To School, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (2016), The Quickest Kid In Clarksville, illustrated by Frank Morrison (2016), Sharing The Bread, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (2016), Wherever You Go, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (2015), and Sophie's Squash, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (2013) a Golden Kite Award for picture book text from the SCBWI and a Charlotte Zolotow and an Ezra Jack Keats New Author honor book


For additional information on Pat, see our earlier interviews (here) and (here).

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s dream of writing and filmmaking surfaced while staring at a supercell storm across a corn field at the age of four. Lightning veining through the clouds, e.E. used a Kodak 110 camera to snap pictures, and a soda-stained spiral notebook to try and capture what they imagined beyond the storm in the sky and impoverished Mathis, Texas: Population 5,239. Several spiral notes books and years later, a high school English teacher told a then struggling e.E., “You have something to say.” Though the journey wasn’t direct, they eventually found their way to saying something.

e.E. is an author, filmmaker and youth literacy activist who has written several award-winning books for teens and children such as the three book Fat Angie series, an ALA Award Winner, Prizefighter en Mi Casa, a Parents’Choice Silver Honor and Feels Like Home. Their short fiction appeared in the anthology Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican American, a Read Across America selection. Other essays and short form writing has appeared in the Huffington Post and The Windward Review. Their youth literacy activism is featured in the award-winning documentary At-Risk Summer. e.E. is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Never Counted Out which offers access to books and creative mentorship for at-promise youth. They are also co-host of the Instagram Live series Off The Cuff and a proud member of the Las Musas collective.


Pat and e.E.’s latest co-authored picture book, A Girl Can Build Anything, released on April 18th.


First off, how did your amazing collaboration get started?


PAT – Well, e. and I have been friends forever. And we’d share our writing progress – e. with young adult, middle grade, and short stories, and me with picture books. Then, e. had an idea for a picture book and sent me a draft. I encouraged them to pursue it, and they asked me to co-write it with them. So, I did. That first book was Lupe Lopez: Rock Star Rules, and we’ve continued collaborating from there, along with writing our own stuff.


e.E. – In full disclosure, it wasn’t that easy to convince Pat to collaborate. There was definitely a bit of reluctance because so many people say they want to write a picture book but aren’t always willing to do the work. To learn the craft. Because it was my first picture book, I poured over stacks of picture books. Studying the structure, rhythm, characters, plot. I read some books eight to ten times each, so I could have the confidence of being an equal collaborator in the process. I can say collaborating with Pat has made me a picture book’s biggest fan. We will often FaceTime one another and read picture books we’ve checked out from the library.


That sounds both daunting and exciting! Pat, as a solo picture book author, how different is it to write in collaboration?


PAT – It’s very different. Because it’s not just you hanging out in your head and coming up with a story. When you collaborate, there’s someone else rattling around in there with additional thoughts and questions and priorities.


So, you have to listen to that other person. And respond. And argue. And compromise. It’s like a tennis match, and you’re volleying story versions back and forth. How about this? What about that?


And, eventually, hopefully, those two voices come together to make something really cool that neither one could have made alone.

What a great way to describe your process. e.E. as a YA/MG solo author, how different has it been to write picture books as a collaborating author?


e.E. - I think Pat would agree that writing on your own affords you a lot of control. When you’re co-writing, control and ego have no place in the creative space. Collaboration is about trust. It’s about knowing that the other person wants to create the best possible story for all young people. It’s about feeling like you can be heard. While there’s a big word count difference between writing novels and picture books, it’s still really about being specific. You’re still tapping into universality, conflict, resolution – loss, love, and wonder. When done right, picture books are these beautiful, complex, inspiring forms of art that remind us the world is bigger than just us.


Oh, you have been snared by picture books! I love your encapsulation of picture books. What was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for A Girl Can Build Anything?

PAT – This inspiration came from e., initially. So, I’ll let them share that story below. My inspiration, after hearing e. describe the idea, was that I am not a handy person. When I successfully change a light bulb, I feel like there ought to be a parade. I want to save other kids from my fate by encouraging them to try building and fixing all the things.

e.E. – A sponsored article hit my Facebook feed from Architectural Digest. It was about a group of woodworking girls living in Marfa, Texas (population 1,750) known as Lumber Club Marfa (ages 7 – 12). They were operating drills, saws, sanders, and actively building. There was an instantaneous rush of inspiration reading about these young women who didn’t see the limitations often put on girls and women in construction. And I thought, “a girl can build anything.”


I started typing in my cell’s Notepad app what would be the skeleton of the picture book. And in classic e.E. form, I called Pat and said, “I have an idea!”


Is there something you want your readers to know about A Girl Can Build Anything?


PAT – When we started working on this book, someone asked e. and me if this book was really necessary, because surely we’d come far enough that girls knew they could build things. But, the numbers don’t really show that we have.


Women occupy only 11 percent of the construction industry. And, if you look at the hands-on jobs – like carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and masonry – they are only about 4 percent of the workforce.


Overall, there’s a shortage of skilled trade workers. And construction is noted for paying a strong living wage and compensates women almost equally to men. So the opportunity is there. But girls need to see women in those roles to imagine themselves in them.


e.E. – I absolutely agree with Pat. One of the ways we improve those stats is to normalize women in construction. A Girl Can Build Anything shows girls from a young age that their ideas and efforts to build are possible and valued. It also shows boys that girls have something significant to contribute, and they can work in tandem to build a birdhouse, a bookcase, a bridge . . . maybe even a better world.



I totally agree with you both and I hope that this reaches many, many children. What did you find most challenging about writing A Girl Can Build Anything? How long did it take from the idea to publication?


PAT – This book is more lyrical than plot-driven. So creating it was more about the emotions and the language and the structure. The challenge was keeping the text simple while still making for a good read-aloud and making the readers feel something after they reached the last page of the book. We wanted our readers to be inspired to make and create – without any limitations from themselves or society.


e.E. – What Pat said.


Just a small task then. 😊 Can you explain your process of collaboration (Who starts the ideas? How do divide up the work? Etc.)


PAT – For this book, e. came up with the initial idea and some key thoughts and phrases. After we talked a bit, I made the first attempt at a draft. Then, we volleyed the manuscript back and forth, with each of us adding and deleting and tweaking and polishing.


We didn’t disagree on too much. There was one line I fought a bit for, that I recall. But we were largely in agreement.


e.E. – Our first four collaborations started with an idea I’ve come up with (though that’s about to change). For A Girl Can Build Anything, I think our shared love for lyrical language and empowerment of young readers made for a pretty organic collaboration. I remember working on the phrases, “Failure isn’t final. It’s where new ideas are made” and I thought yes! We need to say it’s okay to make mistakes – that not everything is a success first time out. That there are things to glean from mistakes on the path to growing.


You seem to work well together and I am looking forward to seeing what you create next. When you each saw Keisha Morris’ illustrations for A Girl Can Build Anything did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Pat Zietlow Miller & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 2023.

Image © Kiesha Morris, 2023.


PAT – I loved the kids Keisha created. They seem very true to life. And I love how she incorporated tape measures and graph paper into her illustrations. My favorite spread is the one showing all the kids’ hands on the various types of tools.

Text © Pat Zietlow Miller & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 2023.

Image © Kiesha Morris, 2023.


e.E.- Her use of collage added so much texture and depth to the spreads. It felt like I was watching the story almost being physically built up and out from one spread to the next. My favorite spread is of the girls arm-in-arm, eyes shut, regrouping after failing. There’s something so honest and hopeful about the spread. Seeing many kinds of young women coming together, supporting each other. #MoreOfThat


Wow, those are stunning spreads. Are there any new projects you are working on now, individually or collaboratively, that you can share a tidbit with us?


PAT – I’ve got a couple new projects I’m working on that are, as of today, waiting to find the perfect home. One is about light and the role it plays in many holidays and celebrations across cultures. Another is about how we all know our own daily lives and routines, but we may not realize how they fit into the bigger picture of the world.

e.E. – I have two solo nonfiction picture books I’m excited about, and a sports-related fiction picture book with Pat. I just wrapped copy edits for a short fiction story titled “La Concha” for The Collectors anthology edited by the Michael A. Printz winner A.S. King (Dutton, Fall 2023). And the rest is kind of hush at the moment.


We have a lot to look out for! Congrats to both of you. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

PAT – I might be cheating a bit here, but I really enjoyed my visit to Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. where Abraham Lincoln was shot. It’s not a park per se, but it’s managed by the National Park Service, and a uniformed park ranger led the tour and provided lots of interesting facts and background. So, I’m going with that.

e.E. – I’m terrible with picking a favorite. A top three would be City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana (beignets for days), Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona (red dirt and big sun), and Dolores Park in San Francisco, CA (views and paletas).


Thank you Pat & e.E. for coming back to talk about your newest picture book collaboration.


To find out more about Pat Zietlow Miller, or to contact her:


To find out more about, or contact, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo:


Review of A Girl Can Build Anything


My grandfather loves wood working and enjoyed spending time with any grandchild interested in spending time in his workshop. I got to build wooden marionette puppets and a roll-top bread box for my mom. Having been discouraged in high school from pursuing a career in architecture or engineering - by a teacher who told me - "I drew pretty good, for a girl" - I immediately fell in love with this book and hope tons of girls, and boys, take this book to heart and believe they can do & build anything.

A Girl Can Build Anything


Authors: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Pat Zietlow Miller


Illustrator: Keisha Morris


Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (2023)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Girl power, creativity, resilience, building things, empowering, and team work.


Synopsis:

A brilliant, inclusive ode to self-expression, girl power, and the many things readers can create.


Have you ever dreamed of building something? Maybe something little—like a birdhouse? Or something big—like a skyscraper? If you can envision it, you can build it! A Girl Can Build Anything is a playful celebration of all the different ways girls can make things—from tinkering to tool wielding, from ideas on paper to big, lived-out dreams that require brick and mortar. This fun and empowering ode to self expression will inspire readers to jump up and immediately start to build. Because they can. They can do anything!


Opening Lines:

It starts with a vision.

A sketch.

And a plan.

To create what you’ve only imagined.


What I LOVED about this book:

As lyrically beautiful as this opening is, pairing it with the illustration creates magic. I love the kitty companion and the child's box of tools. The glow of the lantern and the swirls, shapes, and sparkles of the child's dreams.

Text © Pat Zietlow Miller & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 2023.

Image © Kiesha Morris, 2023.


The next morning, two young girls join a friend and a female adult to become the "busy builders," using wood, a hammer, and a saw to turn a wagon full of wood into a bird house and a bookcase. Then they begin dreaming about fixing up a broken playground.

Text © Pat Zietlow Miller & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 2023.

Image © Kiesha Morris, 2023.


and we discover the wonderful refrain which weaves through the book - "A girl can build many things/ A girl can build anything." Keisha Morris' lively, colorful collage illustrations are so fun. She finds many imaginative ways to insert a ruler (as the top of swing set or the trunk of a tree) or measuring tape. I also enjoyed her use of graph paper as the ground of the playground. Both the text and illustrations introduce a number of tools and building supplies.


As they start to work, an increasingly diverse group of girls, adults, and boys join the crew to help build a trellis, benches, and a tree house. Inspiring more kids to become empowered to build, dream, and experiment. But as every inventor, architect, or technician knows, sometimes . . .

Text © Pat Zietlow Miller & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 2023.

Image © Kiesha Morris, 2023.


just when you think you’ve

done it, your creations might:

Lean.

Wobble.


Crash.

Or collapse.


Oh those faces! But the text offers a wonderful individual and teambuilding suggestion to pause, breathe, and start again. Since "failure isn’t final. It’s where new ideas are made." And the illustration (highlighted in the interview above by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo) is such a powerful moment of support as the kids circle up and support each other.


Employing an ingenious passage of time, we see these kids fifteen years later still working to perfect their dreams for the park. And the refrain shifts to "A girl can build anything. A girl can build everything." This is a wonderful ode to ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, friendship and teamwork. It's an inclusive, empowering, and entertaining celebration of tinkering, building, and dreaming.


Resources:

- try building a couple of these 50 projects.


- make your own bird feeder.


- how would you design a playground? Draw a picture or diagram, create a diorama, or write a description of what features would be in your park.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Follow Me

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • 1473394675_goodreads
  • Pinterest

Archive

Categories

bottom of page