Oh, readers. This book. Talk about a work of art.
Here at PBB, we like to talk about a book’s one outstanding element. But I’m really not sure where to begin with FINDING FAMILY – The Duckling Raised by Loons, the latest from Laura Purdie Salas and Alexandria Neonakis, because every element is superlative. Neonakis’s luminous art immediately puts you in mind of the best wildlife paintings, or even spectacular wildlife photography. Each page turn draws you so close that you can’t help but feel intimately connected to this loon pair and their mysterious duckling guest. Here’s a quick synopsis:
On a lake in northern Wisconsin in 2019, loon researchers were surprised to discover a mother and father loon caring for a mallard duckling. Normally loons and mallards live very different lives and do not get along. Follow along as the duckling grows and displays a mix of both loon behaviors and mallard behaviors. Intriguing verse and striking illustrations combine in this heartwarming tale of unexpected animal cooperation.
Nobody shines any brighter than Laura Purdie Salas at crafting evocative, lyrical language. There isn’t one word here that isn’t necessary, not one image that doesn’t make you feel something. Take notice of the text on the spreads shared here, and you’ll see what I mean.
I invited Laura to drop in for a chat. Welcome, Laura!
JE: I have to tell you, Laura, that after viewing the PDF of this book, I went ahead and ordered my own copy. My animal-loving heart felt an instant connection, and I couldn’t resist this sweet, beautifully told, TRUE tale of inter-species adoption.
LPS: Aw, thanks! I’m honored!
JE: So, I have questions. First of all, you mention in the back matter that Editor Carol Hinz approached you with this idea. Had you already heard of the loons/duckling saga? Were you at all hesitant?
LPS: I’m embarrassingly abysmal at keeping up with both news and pop culture. I had no clue what Carol was talking about when she brought up this whole ducking/loons situation!
I was hesitant, for several reasons. Here are just a few of them!
a. What if I spent a gazillion hours on the project and then Millbrook didn’t acquire it?
b. What if I couldn’t deliver something Carol loved?
c. What if I didn’t really know how to write an engaging narrative nonfiction book? Most of my other nonfiction picture books are expository books, showing examples of different concepts.
d. What if the duckling came to a sad end? (This was a concern before I started the research.)
e. What if Carol/Lerner no longer wanted the manuscript once they learned the true story left many questions unanswered? (This was a concern after I did some research and fell in love with the story.)
f. What about all of my own book ideas that I’d set aside if I wrote this manuscript?
So I can safely say that I had many hesitations. However, I’ve worked with Carol and the Lerner team on a number of projects, so I swallowed my doubts and dove in.
JE: (Note to readers #1: See? Folks with multiple published books have the same angst as newcomers!) (Note to readers #2: The PDF I received of this book showed single pages at a time, rather than entire spreads, so please ignore that white gap between pages. It doesn’t exist in the actual book.)
Let’s talk about the writing, Laura. Your experience shows on every page of this beauty. The text is so lyrical and pretty, without it sounding like you’re TRYING, if that makes sense. I know that “effortless” flow reflects a great deal of deep, thoughtful work and nit-picky revision. How do you know when a text is “there?”
LPS: Thank you so much, Jill. I’m thrilled if it sounds effortless! First, know that I tried many different approaches before deciding on the lyrical voice. And in this case, Carol gave me feedback on several versions along the way. But generally, I decide that a text is “there,” is ready to submit, when I feel like my revision efforts are making it different but not stronger.
JE: That’s a great rule of thumb.
LPS: I might try draft 7 and then realize draft 6 was stronger. If I get to draft 8 or 9 and keep feeling pulled back to draft 6, then that’s sort of when I feel like I’ve gotten the manuscript as strong as I can make it. So that’s the draft I’ll submit––always aware that more revisions will come after a manuscript is acquired, too.
Here’s a bit of how the opening evolved. In quotations and in yellow are excerpts from the notes to myself that I write as I start/finish each draft.
JE: You’re incredibly generous to share this and show your actual process, Laura. Don’t we writers love this kind of peek into someone else’s mind? Fascinating!
LPS: And that opening text stuck! It’s how the book opens. Many other bits kept changing and evolving for much longer, though.
JE: I don’t even know what to ask you about Alexandria Neonakis’s stunning art. I was only a few pages into the book when I felt very strongly that nobody else could have illustrated it as well.
LPS: I spent so many hours poring over photos and videos taken by Linda Greener, a volunteer with the Loon Project. So there was an awful lot for the art to live up to. I was excited and immensely relieved to see Alexandria’s art! She captures the relationships and Duckling’s personality in such a lively way! There’s quirkiness and humor in Duckling’s expressions, and yet Alexandria also nails the mysterious moments, the uncertain ones … I feel super lucky to have my words collaborating with Alexandria’s art in this book!
JE: Tell us about other books you have entering the world this year.
LPS: It’s a bountiful spring! Besides FINDING FAMILY, I have a rhyming nonfiction picture book called ZAP! CLAP! BOOM! THE STORY OF A THUNDERSTORM (Bloomsbury), gorgeously illustrated by Elly McKay. And I have my first ever board book! It’s called PUDDLE SONG (Creative Editions), and it’s a rhyming celebration of puddles and play, beautifully illustrated by Monique Felix. Whee!
JE: CONGRATULATIONS! Those multiple release seasons are few and far between! Tough to know which way to turn, when it comes to promotion. One more question, speaking of multiples: Do you have lots of projects going at one time, Laura, in various stages?
LPS: I do! Besides having several books making their way through the publishing process, I usually am actively working on at least three different projects. By actively, I mean that I work on it at least a few times over each month. I tend to spend my writing time on one project until I hit a wall.
JE: I can relate!
LPS: I might need more research, or I don’t know what to do next, or I need the manuscript to sit a while before I read it again with fresh eyes. Then I pull up one of my other works in progress and dive into it. I generally have several in rotation at any given time. The hope is always that by the time I go back to that first project, something will have shifted in my brain to help me climb whatever wall I had hit. If I were just working on one manuscript, I’d probably feel like I had writer’s block. But since I have multiple manuscripts going, I never feel blocked. I just feel like I’m shifting focus for a little while.
JE: I work in a similar way, as do lots of our readers, I’ll bet. Some manuscripts never do gel, but when anything gets close to a finished draft, I tend to get sucked in and race for the finish line. Thanks so much, Laura, for sharing so much of yourself with our readers. You are awesome!
Bio: Laura Purdie Salas was born and raised in Florida and never saw a loon until she moved to Minnesota. Laura has written more than 135 poetry, nonfiction, and fiction books, and she’s grateful for the nice honors and recognition her books have received. Laura visits schools, does professional development for teachers, and runs a membership Facebook Group for aspiring and working children’s writers. Visit Laura at https://laurasalas.com
Patreon Group: https://www.patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas
Readers, by leaving a comment, you’re automatically entered to win your own copy of FINDING FAMILY! Contest will remain open until April 21st. U.S. residents only, please.
See blog posts about the Loon Project: https://loonproject.org/recent-events/