Alum Suzanne Slade & DAZZLIN’ DOLLY! + a giveaway!

I’m thrilled today to have Suzanne back in the house! And, boy, does she have a fun new book to share with us. It’s the durn near perfect story of superstar Dolly Parton.

There are so many superlative elements in this book that I wasn’t sure where to begin. Highlights: inspirational quotes from Dolly, down-home language that absolutely sings (appropriate!), just-right illustrations with real kid-appeal by Edwin Fotherinham, one determined little girl with a big dream, music at the heart of it all … the list goes on and on. I’m just going to chat with Suzanne and put in a few illustrations so you can get the feel of this gem for yourself.

JE: Wow, Suzanne. This is a stellar presentation. First of all, what made you want to write about Dolly’s life? I’m a fan, but it never occurred to me to write about her, even though her childhood is tailor-made for a picture book.

SS: As we all know, Dolly is absolutely fantastic for many reasons: her singing, incredible songwriting, business savvy, acting talent, kind heart, philanthropy work, sense of humor, style, genuine warmth, and more. One day, a very smart person suggested I write a book about her. Immediately, I knew it was the best idea ever and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it.

JE: Nice to have somebody put a bug in your ear that led to this beauty. (Could you send him/her my way?) Tell us about the research that went into this project.

SS: Research is such a vital, massive, yet unwieldy part of creating a book, so I always struggle to describe that process. The research for this book had several unexpected twists, plus some fun and not so fun surprises. Basically, I started by studying Dolly’s wonderful biography, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business, watching documentaries about her, reading recent articles about her performances, awards(!), philanthropic work, and business dealings, etc. Later, I corresponded with experts such as David Dotson, head of Dollywood and Dolly’s Imagination Library, and Dr. Lydia Hamessley, music professor and author of Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton.  

As I discovered new details about Dolly, one little-known fact shocked me: Dolly battled stage-fright as a girl. Since many children deal with the fear of speaking or performing in front of others, I thought sharing how Dolly dealt with it would be helpful to many readers. Plus, her story reminds us that people who are very successful and seem to have easy, charmed lives, face real struggles and challenges just like everyone else. 

JE: Stage fright: the perfect springboard! The dialect used throughout the story feels natural and completely Dolly-like. It adds immeasurably to the fun factor here. How did you decide how much to use? As a writer, I know it would be so easy to get carried away with it, but you have just enough to add flavor to the story and make it sound hill-sy, without it ever becoming annoying. Just wonderful!

SS: I gave a lot of thought to language and word choices. As you mention, finding an authentic-feeling, not-over-the-top “voice” for a story can be tricky. When I read Dolly’s autobiography and listened to her speak in interviews, I jotted down unique terms and objects specific to the area where she grew up. The goal of the list wasn’t to find phrases that Dolly used and include them in the book, but to create a think-tank where I could consider terminology to help convey the feeling and lifestyle in the “holler”, the place where she grew up, and Nashville, where Dolly lived after graduating from high school. 

JE: I know you like to stay busy, so … what’s up next for you?

SS: My upcoming book list includes a variety of topics. Next year: a picture book called, Behold, The Octopus, and a bio. about the incredible astronomer, Vera Rubin. After that, 2 books that will be “companions” to previous picture books (something I’ve never done before), a couple of space books, and a few other projects. 

JE: Oooh, companion books … sounds intriguing. Best of luck with all of your new projects, and THANK YOU for taking time to hang out with us, Suzanne!

As mentioned in the title above, Astra Books is ready to send some lucky winner their very own copy of DAZZLIN’ DOLLY! All you have to do is leave a comment below by September 30th. GOOD LUCK!!!


More personally, my next picture book (May ’23) officially has a cover, and I’ve been encouraged to share it. The official reveal (and backstory) will be next Tuesday on Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids blog, but, to give you a sneak peek…

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of more than 50 children's books. Recent picture books include JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection), HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She is also the author of a graphic early reader series, Thunder & Cluck (another Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). In addition, she has authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including several titles in the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF–– series. Next year brings her first humorous informational fiction pb, STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at


  1. How fun…love Dolly! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Congratulations, Suzanne! Who doesn’t love Dolly? What a great idea. I can’t wait to read your book. Thanks, Jill, and congrats to you, too. Another fun read from you!

  3. Dolly Parton ‘s perseverance is an inspirationfor kids and adults alike, and especially writers.

  4. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Looks like a fantastic book. Can’t wait to read it!

  5. What a great interview! I loved getting a sneak peek at some of the pages of your book, Suzanne. The voice is fantastic! Also, your new book looks stinkin’ adorable, Jill.

  6. I can just hear Dolly talking as I read this post! She’s a living legend! Congratulations, Suzanne! Can’t wait to read more about Dolly. And congrats to you, Jill! Stinkbird is adorable!

  7. This book looks great, think my twins will love it!
    Hope we win!

  8. What a fun and interesting interview. I enjoyed hearing about your research. This looks like a great book about Dolly! Congratulations!

  9. I look forward to reading all about dazzlin’ Dolly.

  10. I’m excited to learn more about Dolly–I’ve always been a fan of her singing as well as her activism.

  11. I just love that the book captures Dolly’s voice! It looks amazing! Congratulations Suzanne! And congratulations to you Jill on Stinkbird!

  12. I love Dolly. Great interview.

  13. Who does’t love Dolly? How wonderful to have a PB that shares the ups and downs of her journey into country music! Congrats, Suzanne!

    Jill – LOVE your new cover! Can’t wait to hear more details!

  14. Just ordered this for our patrons. Can’t wait to see it!

  15. I love Suzanne’s other books, so I’m excited to read this one. Congrats!

  16. I’ve admired Suzanne’s books for a long time. It’s great to “hear” her talk about her process.

  17. Oh my gosh! Finally a fab book about Dolly!…And, Jill, I can’t wait to meet Stinkbird!

  18. Suzanne–Love Dolly Parton–definitely look forward to reading your book! And, Jill, how awesome that your next one is with Bob Shea!

  19. What a wonderful biography about an extraordinary woman! Can’t wait to read and share Dazzlin’ Dolly!

  20. Lisa Frenkel Riddiough

    Who does not love Dolly? This book sounds delightful and inspiring – not to mention dazzlin’!!

  21. Dolly is an inspiration! I am so glad you decided to write this book Suzanne, my 5 year old granddaughter would love to win! She has enjoyed being a part of the Imagination Library too!

  22. Suzanne’s books are always amazing additions to any classroom library and Dazzlin Dolly looks likes no exception. Congrats Suzanne!

  23. This looks spectacular! A fan for nearly 50 years!!!
    Can’t wait to read this one.

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