I have always liked books and reading. And I have always loved art. But I wasn’t quite aware of how much I would love being surrounded by picture books until I became an elementary school Library Media Teacher. For three years, I was devoted to making my library a place where kids would want to hang out. I really loved sharing picture books with young students. I looked for every opportunity to read, recommend, or share insights about the stories and art that my library contained. A variety of circumstances took me away from the library, but my newly found admiration for picture books took me in an unexpected direction.
I became unemployed almost three years ago. Along with looking for work, I decided to pursue some personal interests while I had the chance (thank goodness for unemployment insurance). I set out to make a picture book. I knew my skills as an artist were superior to many who were being published. I had a story in mind - one from my childhood memories. I had the skills to design it and get it printed. Why not?
The result was “Over in the Valley”. I had already been thinking about it. The text is based on a song that my mother sang to us a children. I wanted a way to pass on the song to my daughter, and her cousins. Since we have always lived in the San Joaquin Valley, I thought it would be interesting to feature the animals that are native to the area. I researched. I sketched. I thought about it as a teaching tool. It took about six months to finalize the manuscript, create the art and design the pages. With the recent proliferation of on-line sources for printing and binding, it was relatively easy to get my book produced. I was very excited to open that first package with the finished product.
After showing my book to a number of people -- teachers, librarians, parents -- I felt even more encouraged about the quality of my work. Then I sent it to a “real” book publisher. While they politely declined, they also said that my work was lovely. But, too regional. Not what's being published right now.
Somewhat belatedly, I decided to take a class on book writing and illustration (from Mira Reisberg, http://mirareisberg.blogspot.com/). I suppose I was looking for someone to say, yes, you can be a children’s book illustrator. And maybe even make a living at it. Ha ha. That is not exactly what I learned. But, I learned a lot of other things from Mira. I know more about the process of creating a really good story. I know what a good portfolio should look like. I am now aware of what IS being published in the industry. I now know what editors are looking for. I know what is being sold at major retailers. And I know that my heartfelt, regional project will not likely get published by anyone other than myself.
As communication quickens, and everyone’s interests are interwoven, its not enough to just be happy in your own small neighborhood. Conversely, I think it is more important than ever to know where you come from, and what you and your little piece of the world has to offer. Because I believe children should know where they come from, I have come up with more than a handful of good ideas for picture books that will be regionally focused. I am stubbornly convinced that I can sell what I envision.
I am already an artist, a librarian, a teacher, and a parent. Now, I will have to be an entrepreneur. My plan to this year is to make my books with the knowledge that despite what publishers are pressured to print, there IS a market. It may be a small one. But its there. Here, in the San Joaquin Valley, where my home and my heart is.