AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Annie Cronin Romano
This week on my blog I have a lovely U.S. author stopping by to chat about her debut picture book. Annie Cronin Romano has just published her first picture book with Page Street Kids, and it’s the perfect story to use to help children think about and notice all the wonderful things in their life, big and small, each day.
Welcome, Annie! Can you tell us a bit about your book, and the themes/issues it explore?
BEFORE YOU SLEEP: A BEDTIME BOOK OF GRATITUDE explores the theme of gratitude by encouraging children to reflect on all aspects of their day using their five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch.
What was the inspiration behind writing this particular story, and did it change much as you were writing it?
I worked for nearly 15 years as a speech-language pathologist. Many of my students struggled with expressive language and vocabulary. One exercise I would do with them involved describing items using the five senses as a jumping off point. (What does it smell like? What does it feel like? What colors do you see when you look at it?) One night I was having difficulty sleeping. The phrase “before you sleep, before you dream” popped up in my mind (probably because sleep was eluding me), and I wrote it down as a possible refrain for a story. The next day, I played around with it and eventually linked it with the five senses exercise I did with my students. It blossomed from there.
How do you hope readers will connect with the book, and what do you want them to take away from it?
I hope BEFORE YOU SLEEP will encourage children to pay extra attention to the little things in each day that make it special. Life is busy and we take so much for granted. It’s a bit cliché, but it’s those small things—the extra squeeze your mom gives your hand or the woodsy smell of the backyard—that’s the good stuff, and it’s all yours. I hope parents will read this book with their kids and then share a few things about their days with each other.
Biggest challenges in writing this story, or in getting it published?
The biggest challenge in getting BEFORE YOU SLEEP published was that I was nervous to query it to agents and editors. I thought it was too quiet for the current market, especially coming from an unpublished writer, so I hesitated to submit it. I had only subbed the manuscript five times before Kristen Nobles at Page Street Kids requested the manuscript via #PBPitch. When I received the offer from Kristen, I was stunned. It was the manuscript I had sent out the least. And I’d received over 300 rejections combined on my other picture book and middle grade manuscripts over the years.
Are there any tidbits from the publishing process of this book that you could share with regards to working with the publishers?
I would tell aspiring authors not to overlook the smaller, independent publishers when submitting their work. I’ve had an amazing experience working with Page Street Kids. I had a voice in who was chosen to illustrate—Ioana Hobai perfectly captured the essence of BEFORE YOU SLEEP!—and I was kept up to date on the progress of my manuscript every step of the way. I think that’s in part because they are a smaller press.
Also, regardless of what publisher you work with, do not be afraid to ask questions. As the author, you want to be well-versed in the process. Publishing my debut has been an education for me, and I’m still learning new things, but much of that learning has come from reaching out to my editor and publisher with questions.
Do you have any suggestions on ways parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers and readers can get more out of the book?
For early education classroom teachers, BEFORE YOU SLEEP lends itself well to lessons on the five senses. And activities for librarians and booksellers could include a 5-senses scavenger hunt (find something that’s soft, orange, etc.).
I’d encourage parents to follow up the story by sharing with their children a few things they are grateful for from their day and having their kids do the same. Use the theme of the story to build a heightened awareness of the little things that are often overlooked.
Can you let us in on any sneak peeks into your next books or other projects?
My next picture book, Night Train: A Journey from Dusk to Dawn, comes out in April 2019 with Page Street Kids. It’s a lyrical picture book that offers a glimpse into the scenes of a night train as it travels across the countryside. Ileana Soon has done a beautiful job with the illustrations, and I’m excited to see it on the shelves!
I recently finished a humorous picture book and a nonfiction picture book biography—my first nonfiction manuscript—and have started submitting those projects. And I’m working on a middle grade ghost story which I hope to be querying by the end of next summer.
Do you have a favourite children's book (or top three) that you can never get enough of? What about a favourite book character?
Oh, there are so many! My copy of Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic is well-loved. I love the rhythm of Bruce Degen’s Jamberry and read it with my kids so many times the binding fell apart. Skippyjon Jones, by Judy Schachner, always makes me laugh out loud. Can I add a few more? I recently read Sam & Eva, by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, and But the Bear Came Back, by Tammi Sauer, and I adored both! And Matt Tavares’ Red & Lulu is stunning.
As for my favorite book character, I think Lilly (from Kevin Henkes’ books, including Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse) is an absolute hoot!
What influences do you think shape your writing?
I am definitely influenced by my experiences raising my children. Many of their antics and observations have sparked story ideas for me. And as a child, I always enjoyed rhyming stories and poetry. I am drawn in by the rhythm and flow of a well-written lyrical story. That definitely has led me to write many of my stories in verse.
Where do you do your writing, and do you have any particular rituals in your creative process?
I used to write wherever I could find a quiet spot, but a few years ago we updated our living room, and I claimed the area between the windows and the fireplace for my workspace. I set up a big corner desk there. There’s no television in that room, so it tends to be the most peaceful room in the house. Though I only claimed one corner, my kids now refer to the living room as “mom’s office.” I’ll take it.
I don’t really have any rituals, although I make myself a cup of tea or coffee if I’m writing first thing in the morning. When I’m absorbed in my writing, my hands don’t leave the keyboard, and my drink goes cold. Eventually I’ll take a break, reheat my coffee, take a few sips, and start writing again. If after a few hours I still have the same cup of coffee I started with, that’s a good sign. I’ve been focused and in my creative zone. But if I finish drinking my coffee in 15 minutes, that means the words aren’t flowing and I’m stumped. It’s weird, but it’s how I work.
What got you into creating books?
My love of reading definitely drove my love of writing. My father always had a stack of books by his chair, and my mom loves reading, too. As a kid, trips to the library or bookstore were frequent. I viewed reading as a way of escaping or experiencing life from different perspectives. You get to go on adventures, solve mysteries, fight wizards, speak with animals! I loved disappearing into those worlds as a reader, and eventually I wanted to create them. As challenging as it is, I adore the writing process. I couldn’t not be a writer.
Do you have some tips for other creatives?
Be true to yourself when you write. Write what you love. Write both what’s difficult to put on paper and what flows easily. That will change from day to day, but keep writing. Don’t get caught up in what’s trendy or change your story to fit a specific niche idea an agent or editor may be looking for. If your writing is genuine, the reader will know it. Your writing will shine, and your manuscript will find a home.
What about a favourite word or quote?
“…before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. One thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” This quote, said by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, really struck me the first time I read it. It reminds me to be true to myself regardless of what others think.
Can you tell us something not a lot of people know about you?
I don’t watch a lot of television as a whole, but I do watch way too many Law & Order reruns. I tell myself I’m studying the dialogue from a writer’s perspective, but in reality I love courtroom drama.
To learn more about Annie Cronin Romano’s work, visit her website at www.anniecroninromano.com or follow her on Twitter at @AnnieCRomano or Facebook at www.facebook.com/anniewriter/.