Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, The First Woman To Cycle Around the World + Interview with the author, Vivian Kirkfield! + GIVEAWAY!

I’m very excited to welcome to Picture Book Builders one of the most generous and kind-hearted people in the KidLit Community!

Vivian Kirkfield has supported me and so many others on our journeys, whether it be by hosting cover reveals or book birthdays on her amazing blog, offering inspiration and encouragement with her #50PreciousWords Contest, or by offering help and advice on webinars and forums and pretty much everywhere, whenever she can. As my people say, Vivian is a true mensch!

I am SO honored to have the opportunity to spread the word about her newest masterpiece, PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman To Cycle Around the World, illustrated by Alison Jay and published by Calkins Creek. Let’s hear what Vivian has to say about the making of this fabulous biography, shall we?!

RGL: I am always in awe of authors who manage to dig up stories of incredible people that no one has ever heard of! How in the world did you come across Ms. Londonderry’s story?

VK: Writing the stories for FROM HERE TO THERE led me to do research on the history of bicycles. And then that editor asked for a story about women and how bikes helped them gain more independence. Delving deeper into the topic of bikes revealed this fascinating event that happened back in 1894…a woman cycled around the world – which sounded to me like a perfect topic for a picture book. And fortunately, her great-grandnephew, Peter Zhuetlin, had written a fabulous book about the trip: Around the World on Two Wheels. That book for adults served as a wonderful resource for me…and Peter has been extremely helpful.

RGL: I love how you include some kid-friendly and humorous details in this book. My favorite is when you describe how Ms. Londonderry left on her journey “with only one extra pair of underwear stuffed in her pocket…” I’m sure kids will find that line hilarious (and parents will find it worrisome!) When writing biographies or other stories from a time period that a child might consider as “long ago,” what are some other things you do to be sure they resonate with today’s audiences? 

VK: One of the keys for any book’s success is to create a connection between the reader and the main character. At the start of the book, Annie is busy cooking and cleaning and caring for her young children. Kids can relate to that…most live in a home where parents do that for them. Also, Annie decides to ride a bike around the world – but she’s never ridden a bike before and has to learn – kids can relate to that, too. Throughout the story, there are thrills and chills and lots of action – and that resonates with today’s audiences as well.

RGL: Alison Jay’s illustrations are quirky and fun and the color palette is so perfect for depicting this time period in an interesting way. How much say did you have in choosing the illustrator and in how the illustrations developed along the way?

VK: Totally agree! Alison Jay’s illustrations are phenomenal. When the editor acquired the manuscript, she asked me for illustrator recommendations. However, she had specific parameters in mind and, in the end, she chose the illustrator…Jana Christy. But then Covid happened and at some point, Jana needed to step back from the project and they signed Alison on. Jana would have done a fabulous job…but Alison’s art seems perfectly aligned wth PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER. The best thing is that the editor sent me early sketches…and asked for my feedback all along the process.

RGL: Vivian, you are such an amazing woman in your own right. Other than not having a bike growing up (as you share in your Author’s Note), what similarities do you share with Ms. Londonderry?

VK: Annie was extremely tenacious…there must have been so many times she was tempted to give up…but she kept on going. Similarly, my mantra is: Nothing is impossible if you can imagine it – and the words Never Give Up are engraved on my heart. 

And just like Annie, I took a trip around the world. In 2019, to celebrate the launch of my debut books (amazingly there were three of them!), I traveled to Sydney to speak at an SCBWI conference, to NZ where I spent three glorious weeks with a critique buddy of mime, then to Geneva where I stayed with another kid-lit friend, on to London for a weekend, and finally to the Bologna Book Fair in Italy. I traveled by plane, train, automobile, boat, and bus…but no bike!! This truly gave me an appreciation for Annie’s extraordinary accomplishment because it was a challenge to plan a trip such as that even in the 21st Century, with modern transportation and cell phones and the ability to make reservations online. Plus, I didn’t have to earn money along the way…and a woman traveling alone these days is not an oddity. That ride Annie took was one of the events that paved the way for women to move forward in their battle for equality. Hats off to Annie – what an inspiration for all of us!

RGL: Lastly, 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?)   

VK: Well, the previous question was a new one for me. But perhaps, because this manuscript needed so many revisions, I’d love to share how/why I never give up. How/why even after the original editor passed on my first attempt, I completely rewrote the manuscript for her. And how/why after she passed on that manuscript, I agreed with my agent to submit it further. I think some of us retreat when we receive rejection. For me, it’s like a battle cry…a challenge of sorts – and I become even more determined to succeed!

When the second editor replied with a request for an R&R (Revise and Resubmit), I didn’t hesitate. But after the second R&R was returned, I knew my tactics needed to change. And so, I researched the editor, discovered recent books she had worked on, and studied those as mentor texts. My efforts paid off – and she acquired the manuscript on that third round. 

Which is why I am always willing to revise. Our revisions work to make the best story for our young readers – and isn’t that what we all want to do.

RGL: Vivian, Thank you so much for stopping by Picture Book Builders and huge CONGRATS on this wonderful biography!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Vivian has generously offered to do a GIVEAWAY for our readers of a 30-Minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom call! (What a prize, right?!?) To enter, just comment on this post! Winner will be announced in my next blog post (March 22nd!)

AND ALSO!!!! The winner of last month’s GIVEAWAY of either a signed copy of AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? (by me!) OR a 30-min Ask-Me-Anything Zoom call (with me!) is….

***DANIELLE HAMMELEF!!!***

Danielle, please email me at [email protected] for your prize!

Vivian’s Bio:

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, walking under the ocean, and going around the world in less than 80 days. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, Best STEM Book K-12, Bank Street College of Education Best Book of 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection.  

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: www.viviankirkfield.com
Facebook www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield
Twitter: www.twitter.com/viviankirkfield
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/viviankirkfield
Instagram: www.instagram.com/viviankirkfield
Blue Sky: https://bsky.app/profile/viviankirkfield.bsky.social

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW, and AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure, with six additional rhyming picture books forthcoming, including LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic, 2024), WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW! (Capstone, 2025), I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2025), and FINDING FORGIVENESS: A Rosh Hashanah Story (FSG/Macmillan, 2025). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in Summit, New Jersey with her family. Find out more about Rebecca and sign up for her monthly newsletter where she answers subscriber questions and shares tips learned throughout her writing journey at www.RebeccaGardynLevington.com.

58 Comments:

  1. This looks like another amazing book, Vivian! I love bios and will be adding this one to my list to read!

  2. Go, Vivian! Three rounds of R & R is amazing.

  3. I first learned about Annie’s incredible journey several years ago and am glad there’s a children’s book about it.

  4. Wonderful! You are a force of nature! Congratulations.

  5. I look forward to reading this inspiring tale! I love the parallel “don’t give up” journey of both main character and manscript. Congrats to Vivian and Alison!

  6. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Vivian is such an amazing resource for our KidLit Community and this book seems absolutely incredible. Can’ wait to read it! And her journey to this book is incredible, too. Thanks for a great post!

  7. So glad to add to my *Vivian* book shelf! Congratulations!

  8. Rebecca and Vivian, thank you for a wonderful and inspiring interview. And what a terrific PB bio! And behind the story! Never give up!!! I learned to ride a bicycle as an adult, in my 30s. I still have trouble steering and cannot imagine the courage it took Annie to bike around the world. I look forward to reading your book. It is beautiful. Congratulations!!!

  9. Congratulations, Vivian! I look forward to reading your book. And I agree with Rebecca, you are such a generous person! Great interview, you two!

  10. Vivian, it’s always a delight to read your interviews! Such a fun book! Yay!!!

  11. I’ve been excited about this book since I stumbled on Annie’s story doing some different research on another woman during the 1890s. I’m VERY excited to read it! And thank you for your never-ending positivity. Sometimes it feels hard to keep going!

  12. I love picture book biographies! So excited for this one. Kuddos to you, Vivian!

  13. Yay, Vivian!! You are inspiring to all of us! And it’s so perfect – and necessary – to think of rejections /passes as a battle cry!

  14. This book sounds amazing! I also live by the phrase “nothing is impossible if you can imagine it.” It definitely keeps me going through all the rejections. You are an inspiration to us all! Thanks Vivian! ❤️

  15. This is a brilliant book that I am so looking forward to reading. Thank you, Vivian and Rebecca, for this fascinating interview.

  16. Love your story of persistence Vivian! Bravo! And your new book looks lovely. (Fyi, I recently moved to NH and am enjoying your gorgeous state.)

    • Oh Suzanne…that’s so cool! Maybe we can do a book event together one day. Where in NH are you? My book launch is at G. Willikers in Portsmouth on Saturday, March 9 at 1:30 to 3pm…if you are free and don’t live too far, I’d be thrilled to see you there!

  17. Bikes for women! And I love the illustrations. And I love that photo of the red phone booth. Thank you, Rebecca and Vivian.

    • Ah, the red phone booth…that was in London during my around-the-world trip in 2019 when I was visiting Julie Abery in Switzerland and we fly to London for a weekend – my first time there and it was so much fun!

  18. What a great interview! Thanks for sharing the journey of what sounds like an amazing book!

  19. Jennifer Raudenbush

    Congratulations! And I love the photo next to the photo booth 🙂

  20. Vivian, I am so excited for you and for this book! I loved reading about it, and reading more about incredible you. Rebecca, thanks for the great interview.

  21. Good for you for never giving up! To pedal around the world is an amazing feat!

  22. Oh, Dear Vivian!! This is wonderful news! Congratulations to you on another beautiful and inspiring book! Best wishes to you,

    Elizabeth McBride

  23. What an amazing person and what an amazing story! So glad you didn’t give up and made this one happen. Congrats, Vivian on another terrific book. And thanks, Rebecca, for a fun interview.

    • Me, too, Marty, and many thanks…but I know how hard it is to keep going when there isn’t a lot of positive news. I’m grateful the many revisions resulted in the editor saying yes…but I’ve got a pile of manuscripts that still haven’t found a home.

  24. Vivian, you are an inspiration. Your answers were so encouraging. Love how your researched what books the editor published to discover how best to write/present your book. Looks like a wonderful read~can’t wait!

  25. Such a wonderful journey you took with your creative process for this book, Vivian! I was honored to have Alison Jay illustrate my very first picture book, and her distinctive style fits many stories – I love the perspective she achieves on that 10-11 spread! And thank you for sharing advice about rejection, reminding writers that we must persevere, just like Annie did on her journey! Congratulations and best of luck with this beautiful book.

  26. I love the different kinds of “do over” advice – there are many ways to revise and reapproach and it’s helpful to remember none of these need to stop us – just keep going!

  27. Love reading anything Vivian shares!

  28. I submitted a story to 50 Precious Words today. When I had difficulty with the submission i emailed Vivian asking for help. She responded within minutes and even posted the manuscript for me. I am looking forward to reading her latest book especially since I am working on a PB about a woman scientist. It would be wonderful to win this book. Thanks Vivian

    • Hurray for submitting a story to #50PreciousWords, dear Mary. That takes courage…and I’m always happy to help! I hope you get to read the book – if you don’t win a copy, please ask your local library to add it to their collection if they don’t already have it.

  29. I enjoyed the interview! Thanks, Rebecca and Vivian. Love this, Vivian … “For me, it’s like a battle cry…a challenge of sorts – and I become even more determined to succeed!”
    Congratulations!!

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