THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN: Interview with Christina Soontornvat (+Giveaway)

Christina Soontornvat, a two-time Newbery Honor-winning author, is here to tell us about the creation of THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN! Written by Christina and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, this sweet picture book received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Horn Book, and School Library Journal.

From School Library Journal:

“No need to ‘proper up’ anything about this winning title. Soontornvat and Castillo have produced a charming tale of ‘ramble shamble’ delightfulness. . . . Castillo’s illustrations, done with ink drawings digitally combined with Gelli monoprints, radiate light, warmth, and coziness. The story elements are perfectly balanced and the sense of community and family makes this a very satisfying book to share. Children love the idea of living on their own independent of adults and this book celebrates that desire with a masterful blend of illustration and story.”

Let’s hear from Christina!

What was your main inspiration for writing THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN? 

The main inspiration for this story came from my eldest daughter. When she was a toddler, she hated riding in the car to school and day care and so I would tell her stories to keep her chilled out in the back seat. She went through this phase where she wanted me to tell her stories “with no grownups”, so I would make up these scenarios where she lived in a house in the woods with her cousins. She was entranced, even though nothing intense ever really happened in these stories – the kids would have to bake a birthday cake, or repair a leaking roof, or one time they adopted an owlet. The fun was in learning how the kids would approach the problems, make their own mistakes, and then ultimately figure things out for themselves. 

The Ramble Shamble Children was also heavily influenced by my brother-in-law’s five children. They live on a small farm in Tennessee, and their parents have taught them how to be very independent. They all have important jobs around their home, like feeding the animals, helping in the garden, and cooking. They’ve proven to me that kids are very tough and very capable when we equip them to be, and when we believe in them. 

I love that so much – that your daughter was entranced and that the kids on the farm are so independent. Tell us about your writing process for this book. 

I have become a real outliner with my novels and chapter books, but with picture books I typically just sit down and let the story flow. I had been reading a lot of older, lyrical picture books during that period, such as The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney. I think those books really seeped into my writing. It’s one of the reasons that people often remark that The Ramble Shamble Children has a “classic” or old-fashioned feel to it.  

The Ramble Shamble Children was one of the few books I have worked on that didn’t change that much in overall structure from the first to final draft. The opening lines and the closing lines remained the same, which is super rare for me! I think that beginnings and endings are so difficult with picture books (because they are so vital) and so I usually mess with them a lot. Once I had a good draft, I brought it to a picture book workshop/class I was taking with Liz Garton Scanlon, and the class critiqued it. I got such great feedback from the group and from Liz (who is truly a master of her craft). 

She certainly is!

People often ask me where I got the names for the kids. Locky is the name of my brother in-law’s old rooster. Roozle is an old nickname he gave to his son, Eoin. I don’t remember where Jory came from. I don’t think it was from Jory John, but I love his books, so okay we can go with that! And Merra and Finn just seemed to fit with the others. They sounded like the names of older siblings – kids who could take care of themselves. Coming up with names is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction!  

What was it like working with your illustrator? 

This is the first book I worked on where I actually knew and communicated with my illustrator during the book-making process. Lauren Castillo and I met up at the Texas Book Festival shortly after we signed the contract for Ramble Shamble Children. Because she had so many other projects lined up ahead of ours, we corresponded for several years before she ever started working on the book. And we developed a great friendship, which has been one of the most special parts of this project. Once she started her illustrations, I tried to keep my distance and give her the space she needed to create. But one awesome thing about Lauren is that she posts her sketches and early paintings on social media. So I couldn’t help myself from commenting about how much I loved everything I was seeing! There were tiny little things in her first round of sketches that I communicated through my editor, the wonderful Nancy Paulsen, but really there wasn’t much. Lauren is such an amazing artist, and I knew that every single spread was going to be gorgeous (I was right, of course). From the very beginning, she captured the spirit of the children and the look and feel of this slightly fairytale-like story. 

Gorgeous! What are your top 3 tips for writing picture books? 

1. See your story through a child’s eye. Never teach, preach, or talk down to your readers. Number one rule is that the kid is king (or queen!). 

2. Read out loud to kids whenever possible. Kids are the best, best coaches for how to tell a great story. They will let you know right away if the story is funny, boring, confusing, or enthralling. 

3. Consume ten times more art than you create (ten is sort of an arbitrary number, but it sounds more professional than just saying “a lot”). Art is part of a balanced diet for the human brain, whether that is music, poetry, literature, film, etc. And artists need more because they are also producing their own stuff. The more you nourish your artist brain, the better your performance will be. 

What’s new and exciting? 

I am so excited about my next picture book, TO CHANGE A PLANET, which is illustrated so beautifully by Rahele Jomepour Belle. This book is an honest look at what climate change is, what the impacts are on our world, and how humans can work together to address it. It is also very spare, just 150 words, and I hope that makes it a good candidate for reading out loud in homes and classrooms. It is coming from Scholastic in Spring 2022. 

I can’t wait!

Christina Soontornvat’s website & Twitter

Lauren Castillo’s website & Twitter


For a chance to win a copy of THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN, please leave a comment by July 23, 2021. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner in my next post.

Congratulations to Joyce Uglow for winning a copy of THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH from my last post.

Thanks for reading & see you next time!


Michelle Meadows

Michelle Meadows is the author of many acclaimed books for children. She loves dreaming up new projects and telling stories with heart. Connection, compassion, and family are common themes in her work. Michelle's books include FLYING HIGH: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles and BRAVE BALLERINA: The Story of Janet Collins. Michelle also contributed to BLACK BALLERINAS: My Journey to Our Legacy by Misty Copeland. Michelle graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and literature. Michelle is represented by literary agent Rosemary Stimola of the Stimola Literary Studio. Michelle grew up in Washington, D.C. and now lives near the beach in Delaware with her husband. To learn more about Michelle's books, visit her website:


  1. Love hearing the back story of this beautiful book!

  2. I love this book so much! Thanks for such a fun interview, Michelle and Christina!

  3. Thank you for sharing the story of this book. The story sounds delightful and the illustrations are wonderful! Can’t wait to read it!

  4. Congratulations, Christina! I’ve read this story to my little ones, and we all loved it. Looking forward to TO CHANGE A PLANET.

  5. “Consume ten times more art than you make…” I like that thought. Beautiful book.

  6. Love this book and the unique title is unforgettable!

  7. I agree with Quinette – that is a fabulous quote!

  8. Christina’s books are just delightful, so I can’t wait to read this picture book!

  9. Thanks for sharing your toddler inspiration! The kids are queens and kings.

  10. How fun! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Congratulations, Christina! I can’t wait to read this book. It reminds me of the Box Car Children books, which I loved. Growing up on a farm, the oldest of five, gives me a real connection to your book.

  12. “See your story through a child’s eye.”
    This is a powerful piece of advice for all administrators and educators.
    This author/illustrator team is pure magic! It was hard to wait for this collaboration! Looking forward to sharing this story with our elementary students in the Fall. We must get a copy (or copies!) for our library!

  13. Danielle Hammelef

    Thank you for the interview! I enjoyed hearing where the inspiration for this book came from and have it high on my TBR. And thank you for the writer’s advice.

  14. Oh! I just love the premise of this book!

  15. I love all the tips given here—thank you! This book looks beautiful and reminds me of Pippi Longstocking!

  16. Michelle and Christina, thank you for a wonderful interview. What a delightful book! And story behind the book! I used to feel guilty for secretly dreaming of being an orphan and having adventures. So when my daughter wanted to run away once, I packed a sandwich for her. Oh to have a ramble-shamble childhood! Congratulations!!!

  17. I enjoyed reading your interview and learning about how this wonderful story came to be. Congratulations!

  18. Christina, I LOVE your comment about nourishing the artist’s brain. It is so very important. Looking forward to sharing THE RAMBLE SCRAMBLE CHILDREN and TO CHANGE THE PLANET with my preschool students! Congratulations!

  19. Completely agree with how difficult and vital it is to get the first and last lines right. I’m eager to see what you came up with!

  20. Great interview Michelle. I am excited to read this book. The old-time feel really fascinates me.

  21. Your work continues to be a highlight in the children’s literature world. Thank you!

  22. What a lovely book; can’t wait to read it!

  23. Claire W Bobrow

    Can’t wait to read this one! It sounds wonderful. And that title – perfection!

  24. Thank you for this wonderful interview. I love the stories behind the book and the suggestions for authors and illustrators. This book does have a classic feel. I raised my 4 children in the country and let them have a free-range childhood. They would have loved this book! I think I’ll get them each a copy.

  25. Love this author and illustrator. I can not wait to read the book.

  26. It’s always great to learn the inspiration behind the final product, as well as the process. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Angie Quantrell

    So much fun! I love how these stories came to be, telling your daughter stories inspired by her ideas. Congratulations!

  28. This is a wonderful entry on so many different levels. The backstory, the naming, and tips to name just a few. Than you!

  29. Congratulations on all the lovely reviews! I can’t wait to get my hands on this book!

  30. Thanks for the inside story. The book looks and sounds terrific!

  31. I have been hearing wonderful things about this book and the sneak peeks in this post only heighten my anticipation to read it! Thanks for sharing about the process!

  32. Heather Stigall

    This sounds adorable! I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for the insider view on how your story came to life.

  33. Christina, thank you for this terrific interview! I particularly liked your 3 tips–especially “Art is part of a balanced diet for the human brain.” I couldn’t agree more!

  34. What a great interview. The book looks awfully cute. I love the Ramble Shamble Children as stars of this book. It is so fun to say. The illustrations are beautiful. Thanks for the great post.

  35. I loved learning about the process of creating this book, and I look forward to reading it.

  36. I loved hearing about the inspiration for this book! I can’t wait to read it and sent a link to a critique partner to use as a comp and mentor text.

  37. Cynthia Wyszynski

    Congratulations! Can’t wait to read it & loved the presentation you did for Nonfiction Kidlt Confab!

  38. I love that your children and family Inspired this story! And can’t imagine that you had to wait YEARS! YOU!! Gives me hope!

  39. Thank you so much to everyone for all the kind words! I love to hear that pieces of this are resonating with you all. I feel so grateful to be a part of the picture book community – so positive and supportive. Thank you, Michelle, for giving us a space to do this together!

  40. Great interview, Michelle and Christina! I love THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN and enjoyed learning the inspiration behind the story, plus the illustrations are gorgeous! Worth the wait!!

  41. Thank you for sharing the inspiration for THE RAMBLE SHAMBLE CHILDREN . It does have an old-fashioned look and feel to it which gives it a unique quality. I’m really looking forward to reading this book!

  42. I can’t wait to read this book! I love the vintage feel of the illustrations and hearing the story behind the story.

  43. My twins would love this book, looks so fun!

  44. Oh my gosh! These illustrations glow. What a lovely story for children to experience the thrill of independence.

  45. I requested our library to purchase this book some time ago and today I was able to pick it up! It’s such a lovely story and I’ve been a fan of Lauren’s work since ‘Nana in the City’. The story is really unique and I love how the children live together, go through changes, then go back to their natural ways. Congratulations Christina and Lauren!

  46. Thank you for your awesome blog and I really enjoyed the interview. We own this book at our library and I just put it on hold.

  47. Wakako Rollinger

    Thank you, Michelle, for the topic and interview! Christina’s advice at NFFest was very helpful and “Consume ten times more art than you create” is catchy to register in my brain. Looking forward to reading the book.

  48. My classroom kids would enjoy this book a lot!

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