Ten years ago this month, my first picture book was published.
I sold SOPHIE’S SQUASH to Schwartz & Wade Books (now Anne Schwartz Books) after four years of persistent picture book writing and submitting on my part and 126 rejections on a wide variety of manuscripts.
But, after all that, the book was published with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf. And, then — against the odds for a debut book from an unknown author — SOPHIE’S SQUASH found an audience.
It received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It also won Golden Kite and Crystal Kite awards, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor.
That was all undeniably cool.
But, then … THEN … I started hearing from readers. How their child now had a squash friend to hold in their arms, bounce on their knee and love. How adults read the book to aging relatives with dementia who were able to relate to Sophie and her love for Bernice. How kids and adults had dressed up like Sophie for holidays and events. How people decorated pumpkins to look like Sophie.
The stories kept coming. Along with photos. So many photos.
I heard how teachers used the story in their classes and planted squash. How a squash became a mascot for a preschool class and even had its own yoga mat for yoga time. How a child in another country wrote a grocery list for her parents that included “three Bernices.”
How a mom read the story to her autistic son who’d fallen in love with a miniature pumpkin to help him understand that the object of his affection would not last forever. How another family must have read the book “at least 600 times.”
And that was AMAZING.
Now, the kids who initially met Sophie are older. Old enough to read the book to younger friends and family members. Old enough to talk to me about it if I meet them at school visits or book events.
Knowing that families think of my book whenever they see a pile of butternut squash at the grocery store or a farmers’ market makes me really happy. And, because the book is still in print — in hardcover and paperback — a whole new generation of children and families can get to know Sophie and Bernice.
Interestingly enough, when the manuscript was getting rejection letters from editors, one theme that came up frequently was that it was too quiet and might not have enough of a hook to lure readers into the story.
I think what those editors and I missed was that love was the story’s hook. Sophie loves Bernice. So much that she doesn’t care if people point and stare or if Bernice gets mushy and gross.
And Sophie’s parents love Sophie. Sure, they’re mildly concerned about her devotion to a piece of produce, but their love lets them offer some suggestions and then step back and trust that Sophie will figure it all out. Which, of course, she does.
When I sign copies of the book, I usually write, “Friends come in all shapes and sizes.” It’s a message that absolutely applies to Sophie and Bernice, but also to so many other people and situations in life. I hope SOPHIE’S SQUASH gets to keep sharing that message for generations to come.
If you’d like to see some of the amazing pictures of readers and their squash that I’ve received during the past 10 years, watch the video below.
If you’d like to hear about the actual, real-life events that inspired me to write SOPHIE’S SQUASH — and see pictures of my daughter who inspired the book — watch this brief video.
In honor of a decade of SOPHIE’S SQUASH, here’s a graphic (expertly designed by my friend Ian Chalgren) sharing key numbers from the book’s journey:
Do you need a copy of the book for yourself or a child in your life? Visit a library or contact:
Finally, if you want to share a squash-loving photo of your own, I’d love to see it. Use #SophiesSquash when you post on social media.