A new book from Lisa Wheeler is always a treat. But when I saw the cover of The Christmas Boot, I knew it was something special. I asked Dial for a preview, and they were kind enough to send an f&g. Oh, people. Besides feeling like a folktale we should already know but can’t quite recognize, this entire book is a visual feast. Words and pictures, together? They’ll warm you to your toes.
Lisa consented to an interview, so here you go:
JE: This is a new version of your original 2006 book with Mitten Press, right? How did that come about? Were there any revisions between the two versions?
LW: The Christmas Boot has an interesting back story. It was originally published by a small Michigan-based house in 2006. That company went out of business, so the book went out of print. I asked for the rights back, and they happily obliged. My agent, who always loved this story, sent it to Lauri Hornik at Dial, and she made an offer. I, of course, was delighted that Jerry Pinkney, who is an amazing talented living legend in children’s books, was asked to illustrate. I felt like I won the picture book lottery! I had to do some minor revision between the two versions. Both are very similar to the manuscript that I originally wrote.
JE: This story is very different from your previous, well-loved stories, which are humorous and (mostly) in rhyme. Do you remember what sparked this idea? [photos of f&g by me]
LW: I actually wrote this story in December of 1998. My dear friend, Linda Smith, challenged me to write something out of my comfort zone. One evening that December, as I got into my car after work, I saw in my mind’s eye a solitary black boot lying in the snow. I actually opened the car door to check and make sure I hadn’t passed one in the parking lot, because the visual in my mind was so clear. On my drive home I began asking myself who that boot belonged to, and that was how it all started.
I sent the manuscript to Linda, as we often shared stories for critique. She loved it and encouraged me to send it to my agent. He loved it as well. The book went to acquisitions at two houses and was ultimately turned down by at least four houses – probably more, but it was so long ago that I cannot recall. I do recall someone saying that it “wasn’t a Lisa Wheeler book.” By that I assume they meant rhyming and bouncy and young. I tucked it away and tried to forget about it.
Then in 2005 I met an editor from Mitten Press at a book signing. A few days later she wrote me and said they would love to work with me. She said they liked books with “nature” and did I have anything that might work for their house. I immediately thought of The Christmas Boot and emailed it to her right away. They made an offer and it was published with art by Michael Glenn Monroe in 2006. Unfortunately, when the recession hit, Mitten Press became defunct. Once again, the book was tucked away.
In 2014, when my agent heard that Lauri Hornik was looking for a Christmas manuscript, he asked me to re-send him The Christmas Boot. The rights were once again mine and we were free to try and sell it. So we did!
It now has new life breathed into it thanks to Jerry Pinkney, Lauri Hornik, Dial Publishing, and my agent, Steven Malk.
JE: Wow. I can’t tell you how encouraging that is, to me and, I’m guessing, all writers reading this. I love the theme this story SHOWS so eloquently: the dichotomy between what we think will make us happy versus what we truly need to make us happy. Was that something you had in mind from the beginning, or was it something that presented itself as you crafted the story?
LW: My friend Linda Smith, who originally challenged me to write this story (and who the book is dedicated to), was very ill as I was working on it. Because of her illness, I think I was in the frame of mind that “things don’t matter.” Linda was not a materialistic woman, and I like to think Hannah Greyweather honors her spirit. Plus, the fact that Hannah gets a puppy in the end would mean more to Linda than any fancy house. She was a huge animal lover!
One more thing – at the time I wrote this book, I was working my sixth Christmas in a toy store. I saw lots of greed and commercialism and people who were completely stressed out over Christmas shopping. Maybe I was trying to say that Christmas would be more “Christmassy” if we focused on what really matters most. For me, that means being with the ones I love.
JE: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much, Lisa, for sharing with us today the story behind your gorgeous book.
With Thanksgiving approaching, those of you unfamiliar with Lisa’s not-to-be-missed Turk and Runt: A Thanksgiving Comedy … well, just go find it. You’ll be glad you did.
Edited to add: Lisa has graciously agreed to send a copy of The Christmas Boot to one lucky commenter. Hope it’s YOU!