Today is the book birthday of author Chelsea Lin Wallace’s newest book, THE BOO-BOOS OF BLUEBERRY ELEMENTARY, illustrated by Alison Farrell. And what better way to celebrate than a fantastic author interview! Let’s get started, shall we?
RGL: Welcome to Picture Book Builders, Chelsea! And HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY! What a fabulous concept for a picture book! I don’t think I can think of another that features the dedication and hard work of a school nurse. So, you get an A++ from me for originality! What gave you the idea for this story?
CLW: Oh! What kind words! I do love good grades, thank you. Like most of my ideas – it came to me as a collision of inspiration.
First, whenever I volunteered at my daughter’s school I took notice of the nurse’s office. It was always packed with children and one day I couldn’t contain my curiosity. I ended up chatting with Nurse A for a bit and she generously shared her experience. The range of ailments and emotions she tended to fascinated me – but it was when she told me how some of the kids who visit her aren’t hurt or sick but just want to be with her. That felt like the heart of something really profound.
Meanwhile, I had just sold ODE TO A BAD DAY and my 7yo daughter was obsessed and she started writing her own odes. She titled her story, Ode to a Pain in my Body. They were all about boo-boos and being sick. Like bumper cars at a carnival, my experience with Nurse A and my daughter’s odes collided into one another and I rushed to my computer and out poured A Trip to Miss Peatree (org title).
RGL: I love how this story addresses the fact that school nurses do so much more than care for students’ physical ailments. They also are there to help with all the feelings that often accompany them. What was the worst ailment (physical or otherwise) that you ever saw the school nurse for as a child and how did the school nurse help you through it?
CLW: Ha! Oh I have an answer to this. I was in 4th grade and was out on the yard when I saw my crush, Andy. I told my girl pals I was going to tell him I liked him. Off I went in a flurry of giggles right up to him and blurted, “Hi. I like like you,”…and then proceeded to run like the dickens. In my escape, I tripped on the metal knot of a grate and KERSPLAT! I gashed my knee wide open. They rushed me to the school nurse who not only bandaged up my knee, but she stitched up my heart, which was just as wide open and vulnerable in that moment. She told me she’d done the exact same thing when she was my age and we laughed uncontrollably. It was healing upon healing.
RGL: I am absolutely crazy about the “Visitor’s Log” that runs along the left side of every spread listing both the “ailment” and the “status” of each patient. Not only does it add humor to the story, but I think it will really help readers empathize with the characters’ situations and, maybe more importantly, gives them the words to describe big emotions. Brilliant! Was this detail included in your original submitted manuscript as an illustration note or did it come later?
CLW: I am so happy you asked this! Another collision! So, in my original manuscript I had headers before every kid stanza with the kid’s name, their ailment, and their emotional state. BUT – that was really just meant for me and my editor. Meaning – I made those headers so we could keep track of every kid and make sure the ailments were in the right (ascending in drama) order and that each kid was bringing a unique emotional beat to the scene. It was Alison who took those headers and turned them into the genius of the visitor’s log. Oh gosh – I genuinely freaked out when I saw what she’d come up with. It was beyond brilliant for all the reasons you mentioned and kids are already sharing how it’s their favorite part of the book.
RGL: As you know, I’m a rhymer myself and am always excited when other rhyming manuscripts make it out in the world, specifically because it helps dispel the incorrect rumor that editors, as a whole, “don’t like rhyme.” That said, of course it is true that rhyme isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea. Did you bump up against any challenges in finding the right editor for this story because of the rhyme?
CLW: This is an important question to ask! Ok. No I did not. But I will expand on the question.
My umbrella philosophy about writing to others tastes is don’t. I firmly believe that every writer should write what they are pulled to write and in the way they are pulled to write it. This includes rhyme. I don’t pay attention to market trends or wish lists as guides for my writing – however – we (my agent and I) do take notice of those things when we’re submitting to editors. Meaning – write whatever you want to write but when you’re submitting, be thoughtful. The submission process is where you need to keep editors tastes in mind.
I will add that if you are going to write in rhyme, learn how to write rhyme well. This includes whether or not the story is asking for a rhyming cadence at all. We know that rhyming is its own craft. It does take time and training to do it perfectly enough for editors to want to publish it.
I was fortunate to connect with Taylor as she is poetry professional. She had recently bought another rhyming story of mine, ODE TO A BAD DAY, so she knew how to work with me revision-wise in rhyme. We have since created several more books in rhyme together.
RGL: The illustrations are so bright and fun (and also a little bloody! I used to have bloody noses all the time as a child, so I can absolutely relate!) I also absolutely LOVE the endpapers that Alison Farrell created and also all the hand lettering, which is so unique and adds a cool and different feel to the text. How involved were you in the illustrator selection for this project? And how much feedback did you get to give while the illustrations were being created?
CLW: I couldn’t agree with you more!!! I had to look back at some of the emails Taylor Norman (my editor) and I had going back and forth on Alison’s artwork and in every exchange we are speaking in all caps with a billion exclamations about how obsessed we were with Alison and what she created. She took this text and injected it with color and character, drama and dynamic, all with an enigmatic energy in every detail. I’m personally a huge fan of Greta (the booger kid) – her deadpan expression and body language against the goopy boogers kills me.
Taylor and I gushed over her text touches too. Her hand lettering is unique to each kid and if you saw she even painted color schemes for each child. Alison really went above and beyond for this book.
Taylor had worked with Alison on The Hike so she was the one who suggested Alison for BLUEBELL. I was a huge fan of The Hike and when I visited Alison’s website I saw more of the incredible range and depth she possessed. She is a gem.
Taylor is another gem. She is a collaborative editor with exquisite vision and she brought me into the artistic revision process. For the most part I soaked it all in without interjecting too much. I learned a great deal about storytelling and the bookmaking process just by witnessing the exchanges between Taylor and Alison. I certainly responded to any questions they had directly for me. Working closely as a team on this book is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in this career.
RGL: And lastly…my favorite question for my guests (if you’ve read my previous interviews, you may know what’s coming!)…. You have probably been answering the same questions over and over again for blog interviews. SO, what is one question no one has yet to ask you about the writing or making of this book that you are DYING to answer? (And what’s the answer? 🙂
CLW: FUN! Ok. SO…
**What was a key editorial change the story went through that you are most grateful for? **
As I mentioned before – Taylor is a gem of an editor. After she bought the story she sent me her notes and one of the suggestions she made leveled me up as an author. My original version had most of the kids clearly stating their problem to Miss Peatree. For example:
Fawna drew a face on me,
while we were painting peacefully.
She swirled a mustache, help me nurse!
Rubbing hard just makes it worse!
Taylor suggested I rewrite every verse so we don’t directly say what the child is ailing from. Genius.
So, this became:
Miss P, Miss P, just look at me!
My face is a catastrophe!
She swirled a splat and now I’m cursed.
Rubbing hard just makes it worse.
These changes gave Alison that much more room to paint (ha!) the picture of what was going on with each child. That space is critical for an artist to tell their story.
It also forced me to use a variety of sensory language, humor, onomatopoeia and other vehicles for storytelling each moment.
Lastly, it led me to a deeper understanding of who each child was – from their home life to the way they interact at school to how they respond to challenges. For example our first child Mabel is hungry but I never would have known she had lots of little brothers at home who ate her breakfast had I not been forced to tell her story a different way.
Watching this book evolve at every turn was expansive and inspiring. I am forever grateful for the incredibly talented Team Peatree – from Alison to Taylor to Chronicle to Jen to school nurses everywhere and the kids they mend.
RGL: Thank you so much for stopping by, Chelsea! And congrats again on this adorable book!
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!!
Chelsea has graciously offered to give away a 30-min Ask-Me-Anything Zoom call! To enter, just comment on this post! If you share this interview on social media, you’ll get an extra entry! Please tag me (@RebeccaGardynLevington on IG and @WriterRebeccaGL on Twitter) and Chelsea (@Chelseawallace on Twitter and @Chelsealinwallace on IG) so we know you did it! The winner will be announced at the end of my next post, scheduled for December 5th!
The WINNER of last month’s giveaway, winning copies of BOTH Tell Me About Space AND My Love For You from author Lisa Varchol Perron is….
Michael, please email me at RebeccaWrites4Kids.com and I’ll be sure to get your prize bundle to you!