Oh, people. Grab your favorite beverage, settle into your coziest chair, and soak up the brilliance of the one and only Frances Gilbert! Not only is Frances a gifted editor and my favorite Canadian, she is an author as well. SHE’S ONE OF US!
This, by the way, is what Kirkus had to say about Go, Girls, Go!, her book with illustrator Allison Black.
“A hit for girls who identify strongly with girlhood and love things that go.”
And Booklist shared the following:
“This rousing call to girl power….puts girls in the driver’s seat of all kinds of vehicles, in which they haul things around, steer into port, fly through the air, and save people—making a lot of noise as they work….Active verbs abound, the rhyming text is propulsive, and Black’s illustrations are blasting with color and movement. A satisfying ending moves the text from what girls can do to “What about you? Give it a try! Go, girl, go!”
Frances, welcome to Picture Book Builders.
Tell us about Go, Girls, Go! What was the inspiration behind this action-packed, girl-power book?
It started with a conversation at Random House, where I work, about gender biases in picture books. I mentioned it later that evening to a friend, who asked a great question: What would a book about cars and trucks for girls look like? I wanted to know too, so I wrote it. It was more of an academic exercise, never with the idea of having it published. But then I got hooked on the theme. Around that time, I went to Iceland and the plane had an all-female crew, which was so exciting. I started to think about how we limit girls for life if we don’t give them opportunities to see themselves in the driver’s seat, to be in charge of their lives, to go wherever they want to go, figuratively and literally. At that point, it became a mission.
I love that you incorporated lots of onomatopoeia as well as a repeating line in this book. Those things are story time gold! Do you keep your future readers in mind as you write?
I keep in mind the kids and the adults who are reading to them because adults often need a bit of help at story time. They’re tired, they’ve had a long day, they still have laundry to do. I wanted to load my book up with lots of fun sound words, like “Honk!” and “Zoom!” so adults can have fun reading it aloud and kids can easily join in by hollering along. And I wrote the refrain “Go, girls, go!” because I wanted the book to feel like a call to action, with girls cheering for themselves from start to finish. I wanted a loud book–and I got one!
Have you ever experience rejection as a writer? If so, how do you handle it? Brownies? Binge-watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Cuddling with your ridiculously adorable cats?
Ha! I don’t need an excuse to eat a tray of brownies with my cats and Mrs. Maisel, but the truth is I LOVED getting rejected when I sent out this manuscript! I shared it with a small circle of editors. It went to an acquisitions meeting at each house, which was exciting, as I know how rare that is.
**ATTENTION DEAREST READER: THIS IS VERY, VERY RARE.**
Regardless of what happens at acquisitions, it means the editor likes your work. Then I got a couple of rejections, which, interestingly enough, both said the opposite thing, proving that this really is subjective. When I got those rejections, I celebrated! I was in the game! Woo-hoo! And then I got a hard “maybe” from one house and a “Yes!” from the wonderful Andrea Welch at Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster and when I opened the email I literally sprinted around my apartment at midnight, screaming. I can’t count the number of book offers I’ve made to authors over the years, and yet being on the receiving end felt like I was on another planet.
You’ve been a children’s book editor for 25 years. How did it feel to be a first-time picture book author?
Nerve-wracking! It’s been fascinating to see what it’s like on the other side of the desk. You and I have worked on six books together, Tammi, and now I know how I’ve tortured you: The anticipation of who will be the illustrator (luckily, Andrea and my art director Lauren Rille chose the amazing Allison Black); the endless waiting for your book to come out (as an editor, I get it; as an author, it’s excruciating); and working hard to get the word out about your book (I’m @GoGirlsGoBooks on Twitter). It’s made me a much more empathetic editor.
A few months ago, you were working on a new manuscript. You posted a wonderful thread on Twitter about how, when you edit your own manuscripts, you use the same principles that you apply when editing at work. Would you please share those ten principles that you used with the Picture Book Builders crowd?
Happy to share!
- Does every word count? I literally stop and examine every single word, over and over. Is each one needed? Am I sure? Can I convey the idea in fewer words? Cut, cut, cut. Pause. Reread. Cut again. Then again.
- Does my story start with a line and a scene that grabs my readers hard and makes them want to turn the page?
- Is there something new visually on each page?
- Can I cut a line and let the illustrator convey that detail instead? (I did this a LOT and the story got funnier, more wry the less I said.)
- Is the pacing working? Is any one page too long or draggy? (Answer: Yes. I split up a scene and re-paginated and it got tighter.)
- Am I milking each page turn? Is every opportunity for dramatic or humorous effect being used?
- Is there a theme or thread or line or joke that I can come around to and pick up again later in the story for a fun refrain? (I didn’t see this at first and then found one that I included on my last page.)
- If there’s a “message,” is it super-duper subtle and not trying too hard to teach a lesson?
- Are my characters’ voices strong and distinct and do they remain consistent?
- Is my last line a satisfying ending, but also one that might make a kid want to start from the beginning again?
Scoop time! What’s next for you?
I have a gift book that’s a tribute to The Velveteen Rabbit called I Will Always Be Your Bunny (with adorable art by Julianna Swaney) coming in December from Random House and my third Step Into Reading easy reader, I Love My Grandma!, coming in March. I can’t wait to do more. I love being a writer.
Thanks so much for joining us, Frances!
Readers, if you want more Frances, you are in luck! Check out this interview between Frances and author/illustrator Mike Boldt.
FRANCES GILBERT started her career in children’s books when she was still a child, working in the children’s department of her town library throughout high school. Her first job in publishing was as a Book Club Editor at Scholastic Canada in Toronto. She moved to New York in 2000 to set up the children’s editorial division at Sterling Publishing, where she stayed till 2012. Frances then moved to Random House Children’s Books, where she is Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers. Titles she has acquired and edited include the following: The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain, Philip Stead, and Erin Stead; I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt; Wordy Birdy by Tammi Sauer and Dave Mottram; Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro and Tatjana Mai-Wyss; and the Hello, World! board book series by Jill McDonald.
In addition to editing children’s books, Frances also writes them. She is the author of Go, Girls, Go! (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster); I Love Pink! and I Love My Tutu! (Step Into Reading); an abridgment of The Secret Garden (Little Golden Books); and the forthcoming titles I Love My Grandma! (Step Into Reading); and I Will Always Be Your Bunny (Doubleday). She lives in New York City with her fuzzy cats Jack and Teddy.
You can follow Frances on Twitter at @GoGirlsGoBooks, where she posts about children’s writing, editing, and girl-centric picture books.
For a chance to win a copy of Go, Girls, Go!, leave a comment and/or share this post on Twitter. Please be sure to tag Frances @GoGirlsGoBooks and Tammi @SauerTammi. Winner must live in the continental United States.
Congratulations, Lynn Alpert! You won a copy of Chicken Break!