BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG + a chat w/Elizabeth Bedia + a giveaway!

Happy autumn, everybody! I know I’m not alone in embracing this as my favorite time of year. Here in the midwest, it means oven-hot summer days have flown the coop, and we can enjoy more time OUTdoors, savoring and storing in our hearts every iconic (but fleeting) fall image and sensation we’re able prior to the arrival of the season-which-shall-not-be-named-because-just-the-thought-of-it-makes-me-cringe.

Feast your eyes, if you will, on this just-out beauty from author Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia and illustrator Katie Hickey (Page Street Kids)….

Illustration © Katie Hickey 2020

This book warmed my heart like a steamy cup ‘o cider. The text and art work together to perform a kind of magic — they make a reader feel cozy and safe. But then, Bess the Barn was built for that. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“Beam by beam and board by board, Bess the barn is built by able hands to keep the farm’s animals safe and sound. Through many seasons and celebrations, that’s just what she does, until she starts to sag … and creak … and slump. Then new everything comes along: a new farmer and a shiny new barn. A mean storm arrives not far behind, putting both barns to a dangerous test — can old Bess weather this threat to the farm?”

Well, of course Bess is up to the task — and her warm heart inspires a new beginning for her, too!

Author Liz is a long-time friend AND a 2020 debut author. She agreed to chat with me about BESS.

JE: Welcome, Liz! As always, I have to know what sparked the idea for BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG.

LB: My idea for BESS came from my love of old barns. I have many wonderful memories of being in and around barns. As a child, I loved visiting my grandpa’s cows, feeding the mama cat and her kittens in our neighbor’s hay loft, watching the mama pigs feed their young, and jumping in the piles and piles of hay. To me, barns were always a safe place to run to as the summer storms rolled in across the prairie. But what I remember most were the sounds the old barns made. With the rain pitter-pattering on their roofs and the wind humming through their boards – I was sure they were singing to me. It was comforting and felt like home. Many years later, there was an old barn that sat perched on a hill on a city street I drove up and down each day. It seemed out of place surrounded by all the new. But for me, it was like seeing an old friend – familiar and comforting – home. Years past and the barn sadly succumbed to the urban sprawl around it. When it did – my heart broke. It left me wondering what stories that barn could have told? What had it seen? Who had it sheltered? What if its story ended differently? And with that Bess’s story was born.

JE: Oh, geez. You’re already making me weepy, Liz, bringing to mind the HOURS my now-grown kids spent in our old barn, doing exactly those types of things.

Illustration © Katie Hickey 2020

Were there any challenges to writing this book?

LB: My biggest challenge was letting Bess be the main character. I know this seems like a strange statement knowing my love of barns. But initially it didn’t dawn on me to have the story from Bess’s perspective. I tried to write it from the farmer’s perspective. Nope. I tried one of the farm animal’s perspectives. Nope. I knew farm stories were perennial favorites in picture books, but could a barn be the main character? The answer. Yes! The moment I started to write Bess’s story from her perspective it all came together, because it was always her story to tell.

JE: Writing a story with an inanimate MC is TOUGH, Liz. I think it works so well here because you used third person POV. We readers get to feel her feels without the text veering into cutesy. Clearly, you were able to channel Bess in a deep way.

Illustration © Katie Hickey 2020

So did you encounter any bumps on the road to publication?

LB: My road to publication was definitely a winding one with some bumps. After working for many years in other professions, I returned to my love of creative writing while raising my children. I wrote my first picture book draft in 2007. It was horrible. I had no idea what it took to write for children, but I was determined to find out. I read and read and read books on craft, and picture books, middle grade, and YA. I attended writing conferences through SCBWI, I actively joined in the wonderful and supportive Kid Lit community, and of course, I continued to write.

When I submitted BESS to Page Street Kids in late September 2018, I had received my fair share of rejections. I was probably at my lowest point in my journey to publication. I was discouraged and frankly, I wanted to quit. I had been actively working on my writing and submitting for about six years. I started to question whether I was cut out for it. I truly believed in BESS and it had received favorable peer and professional critiques, but it wasn’t resonating with editors. That was until… Monday, October 15th, 2018. I was waiting for to-go order and my phone buzzed. It was an email from Page Street Kids. I sighed and thought, Might as well get this over with. I assumed it was a “thanks, but no thanks” email. Then, I opened it… “Dear Elizabeth, Thanks so much for sending your manuscript, CELEBRATION BESS, to Page Street Kids….Reading BESS felt like home to me…” It continued and was far from a “thanks, but no thanks” email. It was an offer to acquire and publish my story. I was so flabbergasted, I walked straight out of the restaurant without my lunch and didn’t realize it until I pulled out of the parking lot. ☺

Illustration © Katie Hickey 2020

JE: Hahaha! I can just picture your stunned look as you walked out of that restaurant. 🙂

Were there any revisions after an editor showed interest?

LB: Such a great question! While the bones of BESS are the same as when I submitted it to Page Street Kids, there were revisions after my editor acquired it and the art for BESS began to come together. At the time, I freaked out like any good newbie author would do. I thought, These are huge revisions. But in reality, they were minor changes to enhance and help Bess’s story become more kid friendly. Some of the edits were geared at taking inferences and making them more relatable. For example, in the original text I wrote, “A little shy and uncertain, the cows warmed to Bess’s sweet song” with no reference to where the song came from. As the author, I knew in my mind where it came from… but would the reader and listener? While Bess is a personified barn, there still needed to be a concrete, relatable reason for why and how she sang. As writers, we always try to show and not tell, but when the showing doesn’t have concrete support – the story may become confusing especially to young readers. So, my solution was to add a brief explanation where the song came from. This is how the line reads now – “A little shy and uncertain, the cows warmed to Bess’s sweet song made by the breeze humming through her strong boards.” These types of revisions are common as the parts of the story – both text and art – come together. Every person who worked on BESS had a vested interest in it. As a team, we all wanted BESS to become the steadfast and loving barn we knew she could be.

JE: I remember your initial panic, Liz. And yes, that team approach is absolutely the right way to think of the sometimes-frightening revision process.

Katie Hickey’s artwork…oh, my. Phenomenal. The warm color palette and folksy feel (reminds me of P. Buckley Moss) are exactly right for this story. You must have been bowled over. Did you have any interaction while she was working on this project?

LB: Her artwork is gorgeous, isn’t it? Katie is so talented! I feel fortunate to have worked alongside someone that cared about BESS as much as I do. I still look at Katie’s illustrations and marvel at her “mind reading capabilities,” because her illustrations are what I envisioned for BESS – but ten times better. The irony is I didn’t have any interactions with Katie during the making of BESS. Our editor communicated back and forth with both of us separately throughout the project. So now you’re probably wondering, how could Katie know what I envisioned for BESS? The answer, I believe, lies in working with a fabulous team (editor, art director, design team, illustrator, and author) who all had a clear vision for BESS.

JE: Well, the team’s vision really came together beautifully for BESS, Liz. Tell us what’s next for you.

LB: My second picture book, ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON is coming out from Upside Down Books/Trigger Publishing (UK) next month! October 22nd is its publication date in the UK. It touches on mental health and parental depression from a child’s perspective. These topics are very dear to my heart. Arthur is a little boy who desperately wants a balloon, but in the end he finds there is something he wants more than a balloon and that is to see his papa smile again. And… there is some exciting news coming soon regarding the US/Canada edition of ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON, so please stay tuned!!

JE: Wish we could reveal that exciting news, friend, but guess we’ll just have to wait until it’s official. Fun knowing there WILL be a U.S. edition, though. Thanks, Liz, for visiting Picture Book Builders!

Okay, readers, if you’d like to win BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG, Liz is giving away TWO copies. Comment below, and you’re entered. GOOD LUCK!

You can learn more about Elizabeth Bedia by visiting her website, here.

103 Comments:

  1. I have always loved old barns too, and found them a fascinating part of a slowly vanishing Midwest landscape. I would love to win a copy of this book, but I will add it to my library either way. Congratulations!

    • You are so right, Rebecca! Barns are a fascinating part of the Midwest landscape. I am always surprised at how many people identify with them the same way I do. Hope you enjoy BESS! Thanks so much for your kindness!❤️

  2. I can’t wait to read both of these books! I have a soft spot for barns. I think my whole family does–my grandmother was an artist & she loved to paint them & now her paintings hang in my house. Thanks for sharing your story to publication.

  3. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Liz, you know how much I love barns. Congrats on the publication of your beautiful book! My copy came in last week and I love it so much. As your editor says, it FEELS like home to me, too.

  4. I have a close relationship with a couple of barns still standing on my Chicago suburban street, when I was a kid. I know they’re both gone now–so sad. I can’t wait to see your book, Liz.

  5. Jill and Elizabeth, thank you for a beautiful interview. I love how the writer’s journey mirrors the barn’s journey. What a great story of perseverance from concept to publication. Congratulations Elizabeth!!! I love old barns too and the book looks perfect.

  6. Congratulations, Liz! Both books look warm and beautiful with important messages. Can’t wait to read them!

  7. I LOVE barns! My family used say, “Not again, mom!” when I would see a barn and make us pull over so I could take photos. Can’t wait to read these books! Congrats!

  8. This is such a lovely book! Just the kind of comfort that kids (and the rest of us) need right now. Congratlations, Liz!

  9. Barns are so Americana! I love them and this book looks wonderful – congrats!

  10. Now you’ve reminded me of how I loved to play in our old barn! They are special buildings. I lived on a tree nursery so the barn was used to store tools, it was where I sat to do cuttings, and the loft was somehow magical.

  11. Oh, Liz and Jill, what a beautiful interview on a gorgeous book! I, too, grew up with friends who had barns. And every summer/fall we would spend time at Grandpa’s farm when Dad helped with the harvest. Those fabulous haylofts! Liz, your book strikes a chord within me. Thank you!

  12. I have many fond memories of our family barn. Thanks for the reminder to help readers understand what is obvious in our heads! Can’t wait to see Bess and Arthur!

    • Thanks so much, Josie! And, yes, I continue to work on asking myself would the reader understand this – as I write and revise my stories. Its become a constant mantra in my head. 😊 Thanks again and hope you enjoy them!❤️

  13. Hooray for happy emails! Congrats on such a lovely book, Liz. I have fond memory of playing in our neighbor’s old barn. It wasn’t home to creatures (at least creatures like cows), but there was a lot of old furniture and photographs. And then there’s the barn in my relative’s home in Italy that did have cows, and a lot of hay to play in! Looking forward to reading it!

    Thanks, Jill!

  14. Jill and Liz, thank you for this wonderful interview. Bess the Barn Stands Strong sounds like a warm and wonderful book. I’m glad you persisted, Liz. Can’t wait to read this!

  15. Book looks great, hope I can win a copy for my twins!

  16. I enjoyed learning about your path to pub and how you never gave up. Thank goodness you didn’t because BESS THE BARN STANDS STRONG looks amazing as does ARTHUR WANTS A BALLOON. Congrats, Liz!

  17. You know how much I love BESS, and it’s so wonderful to see her out in the world getting the recognition and accolades both you and her deserve. Congrats, my friend!

  18. What an inspiring post! I can’t wait to read this beautiful book!

  19. I also enjoy seeing barns in the countryside and also photographs. Thank you so much for walking us through your publication journey–someday I hope to have my own to tell. I can’t wait to read your beautiful book.

  20. Couldn’t be happier for you, Liz, and for BESS whose story deserved to be told! I grew up with a big red barn and can still smell the hay and horses and hear the pigeons that made it their home, too.

  21. What a creative idea for the barn to be the focus of this book. My childhood on the farm involved many hours of work and play in our big barn. Congratulations on your books!

  22. This is such a warm and cozy book. I have to meet Bess!

  23. I pass an old dilapidated barn on the way to the lake and I always wonder what stories it might tell. Congratulations on your book, Liz. I loved hearing about your publishing journey!

  24. I have so many wonderful memories of playing in the barn. Congratulations on your book, Liz!

  25. I grew up on a farm and spent many hours in the barn, snuggled in bales of hay with my cats. I would often read to them. I also recall tying a strand of binder twine to a beam, putting the end in my mouth, and jumping off a bale to imitate circus performers I’d seen hanging and spinning by their teeth. Luckily, my front tooth was loose. It popped out and I fell to the hay-covered ground, maybe only 9 or 10 feet. I couldn’t find my tooth, and the tooth fairy didn’t come. My no nonsense mother said that the tooth fairy disapproved of my actions.

    • Oh, Jillian! Your memories of you swinging with the twine in your mouth made me cringe and chuckle at the same time…and your no-nonsense mom. I used to feed the cats and kitties in the hay loft. The ladder was built into the side of the corn crib and one time, I lost my balance and slid all the way down the side of the corn crib. My first grade school picture wasn’t that pretty…I had a scab from my forehead to my chin right down the middle of my face. Ahhh, kids. 😊 Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful memory with me! I hope you enjoy BESS! ❤️

  26. So lovely. Barns are wonderful. Congratulations Liz and I can so relate to your journey. I’m looking forward to getting that email or phone to be published.

  27. From this Iowa farm girl, what can I say-MORE BARN STORIES ! Yay!

  28. I loved reading about your journey. Thanks for sharing some page spreads so we can see your beautiful lyrical writing and the gorgeous illustrations. I’m sure you’ve inspired many pre-published authors to hang in there. In this business it’s all about perseverance. Good luck!

  29. I grew up on a small farm in Wisconsin. When my dad died, when I was nine, we had to sell everything and move to town. This book brings back such good memories of my barn.

  30. We have an old barn! I’m looking forward to reading about Bess!

  31. Haha…. this city slicker didn’t know people named their barns. Do they?
    Beautiful finished product!

    • Haha! No, people typically do not name their barns, Shona. But for me and for so many people – barns are at the heart and soul our wonderful memories growing up in a rural area and they served a huge role the farms they were part of. So that’s where the naming of Bess came to be. Thanks so much for tuning in!❤️

  32. Elizabeth,
    Congratulations. Can’t wait to read both of your books.
    Sue

  33. Congrats Liz! I’m so glad you didn’t quit writing… And now you’ll have two books published in one year! Keep creating!

  34. Oh I so needed to read this today! Thank you for sharing!!! I cannot wait to read BESS!!!!

  35. Congratulations again, Liz!

  36. My mom had a thing for pictures of barns. I used to make up stories of being in the barn while looking at one painting that we had in our house. Barns have so many stories to tell us. This book looks amazing.

  37. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful memories, Loreli! Barns do, indeed, have stories to tell us. 😊 I hope you enjoy BESS! Thanks again for tuning in!❤️

  38. Seems amazing! Your journey is inspiring…

  39. This book looks beautiful. What a great idea. I see a lot of falling-down barns in rural areas and also wonder about them.

  40. Congratulations, Liz! Can’t wait to read both books!

  41. I live in Vermont, where big, old barns are still to be found on dusty, country roads. Some are being restored but so many are caving in and leaning low. All the hay is stored in rolls and so many small dairy farmers are struggling. How great to have a happy barn story.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Ashley! Yes! I love Vermont!! And, so true – many smaller, family-run farms are struggling here in the Midwest, too. Hopefully, BESS can bring a smile or two of happy childhood memories. Thanks again for reading!❤️

  42. I can’t wait to read this! My husband spent a lot of his childhood in his grandfather’s barn and I was blessed to spend time there, too, when we first dated and were married. And my daughter spent most of her childhood in our barn and continues working in a barn today as a therapeutic riding instructor. This book already warms my heart!

    • Oh, Dedra!!! I LOVE hearing all of these wonderful memories of beloved barns. And, so amazing that your daughter works as a therapeutic riding instructor. That is wonderful! Hope you enjoy BESS! Thanks so much for tuning in!❤️

  43. This book looks perfectly enchanting. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for an inspiring interview.

  44. Living in Wisconsin I see big, beautiful barns on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to reading Bess’s story! Congratulations!!

  45. I enjoyed the interview and learning more about where the idea came from and your writing journey. I got my copy and have enjoyed it very much! It’s beautifully written and so heartfelt. Congratulations!

  46. Yay, Liz!! And YAY for Bess the Barn!

  47. I grew up in San Diego so I have no barn experience. My husband grew up in Iowa and he told me he’s afraid of barns! Sounds like we need some BESS in our lives. Congrats on your debut, Liz. It’s beautiful!!

  48. Wow! With our current world troubles, Bess is such a comfort! As a second grade teacher, I am always trying to model writing from different perspectives. What a fabulous model Bess will be for young authors. This book also taps into the powers of empathy and compassion so needed in our communities right now. Congratulations on a true treasure!

  49. I grew up in Colorado and we had two barns. One very small and just for hay. The other was larger and more like Bess. My sisters and I loved those barns and spent many hours playing in and around both of them. The property is no longer ours but we still visit and the barns are still standing 😊.
    I loved hearing about your process. The book sounds very heartwarming and the illustrations shown in the post are perfection!!!
    Congratulations!!!

    • Oh, Penny! Thank you so much for sharing these happy memories with me! It is always so heartwarming to hear a shared love of barns. And, yes, aren’t Katie’s illustrations fantastic? Thank you again for reading!❤️

  50. This book looks wonderful and I can’t wait to read it. Growing up on a farm, I have a soft spot for old barns. It was the best “playground” to have during childhood. Even today, every time I drive past an old barn, I want to get out and explore it.

    • Oh, Stacy! You and I are of similar minds. 🙂 They were the perfect playground, weren’t they? My family humors me (sometimes through groans) when I often stop to look at barns that still dot our landscape here. Thanks so much for tuning in! I hope you enjoy BESS!❤️

  51. Congratulations on BOTH books. They look fantastic and I appreciate your candor in sharing your journey to publication.

  52. So glad you got that email and opened it right away. Such joy. I love barns. I can’t wait to purchase it.

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