I’m celebrating “Christmas in July” this month so I’ll be posting some upcoming releases you can expect this holiday season.
That said, Mindy Baker is my first guest, and she’s here give us a preview of her children’s book, Mouse’s Christmas Gift. Thanks for helping me celebrate “Christmas in July,” Mindy.
You’re welcome! I’m thrilled to be here, and I am very honored that you would highlight Mouse’s Christmas Gift on your website. Merry Christmas in July, everyone!
Your target audience is children. What can you share about the challenge of tailoring a book that will capture their attention?
When I first set out to “be a picture book writer,” I took a class from the Institute of Children’s Literature. The basics of plot (having a beginning, middle, and end) and character (developing one that will relate to children) are given. But there is much more to it than those two things. For example, the word count is very tight. You have to say a lot using very few words, yet your word choice should evoke a certain tone whether it is playful, dramatic, magical, etc. You don’t want excessive description, because 50% of the story should be told by the illustrations. I use www.rhymezone.com to help me with selecting words, and also a book called “Children’s Writer’s Word Book” that helps me to see the grade level of different words. I can literally spend several hours and delete only a few words or change the phrasing of a single sentence. Also, as a Christian author, I do have a purpose and a message. Yet, preachiness is a big turn-off to readers, and is a sure rejection by publishers. Finding that sweet spot where the story itself conveys the lesson without being preachy is a huge challenge.
As authors, we all know the importance of choosing words our words carefully, but to be hinged in by such tight constraints certainly puts a different light on writing for children. Now, let’s talk about your book. The cover is festively stunning. Who is the illustrator?
The illustrator is Dow Phumiruk. You can connect with her through her website at www.artbydow.com. A Twitter acquaintance commented that I “struck gold” when Zonderkidz selected Dow to be my illustrator, and I whole-heartedly agree. Everything Dow draws has a magical quality, and I love the warmth conveyed in the cover. It invites you to curl up and enjoy the story of Mouse. I am in awe of what she has done with the illustrations.
How difficult was it to convey which scenes you wanted to depict?
As a picture book writer, you have 32 pages, or 16 spreads. Several of these spreads will probably be used for front matter. You definitely want to think in these terms as you develop your story. Is what you are writing illustratable? Is there enough change of setting to make it interesting? How many words are on each spread? Do the words lead you to turn the page and discover something new?
When I am writing, I develop “blocks of text” that I think will be my page spreads. In addition, I develop “paper dummies,” where I actually take the text of my story and tape it onto little paper books to try and see where I could move things around to enhance the page turns. Since I am a very visual learner, this helps me to see where I could cut or add words and/or scenes. However, when I submit my manuscripts to my agent, we decide together if the story should be submitted with the page divisions (keeping in mind they will most likely be changed), or if it is best to leave it undivided. With Mouse’s Christmas Gift, I submitted it without the divisions.
It sounds a little like putting a puzzle together. Yikes! Please share what inspired this particular story?
I had originally seen a publisher’s wish list that included “books that explained the meaning of Christian holidays.” Although this was not the publisher that ended up buying my manuscript, it was what inspired me to begin shaping my story.
Also, I love Christmas, and I collect nativity sets and church ornaments. It is the running joke in my family that even though they have “banned” me from buying any more nativity sets, somehow the collection keeps growing!
Honestly, my stories seem to grow from idea seeds or mind pictures. With this story, there were several elements that kept swirling around in my brain.
--The Christmas Eve service at our home church has always been something special to me, and spiritually significant in my life.
--The element of family and community, like at a church pitch-in dinner, or get-together with family/friends when everyone brings a dish to share. I wanted to capture that feeling of “togetherness” or “connectedness.”
--The idea of light in a dark world, or being a light in a dark world, one person trying to make a difference. I wrestled with how to show this in the manuscript.
--I have always found stories including mice to be endearing and charming.
So...all of that…somehow became this story!
That’s an amazing process. You mentioned specific elements that inspired your thoughts, light, pitch-ins, etc. Can you share the underlying message you are hoping children will understand from this story?
There are several messages that I hope shine through. The most obvious message is that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Without his birth, there would be no Christmas. The second is that even someone small can make a big difference. Mouse never loses hope, and his acts of setting up the nativity set in the church and lighting a candle in the window set off a chain reaction in the village. A third lesson is that a Christmas celebration is not about how much money you spend. There is beauty in simplicity. I hope that readers uncover even more lessons as they read and connect with the story of Mouse.
Will we see mouse in another story?
I have been working on Mouse’s next adventure, but only time will tell if that manuscript will make its way into the world. I certainly hope it does!
I hope so, too! Thank you for sharing a behind the scenes look at Mouse’s Christmas Gift.
Thanks for having me, Penny! I really enjoyed it!
Let me remind everyone, Mouse’s Christmas Gift is available for pre-order, and the release date is October 2nd, which means it will make a great gift for the holidays!
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Mindy Baker was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and graduated from Taylor University. She has served alongside her husband in full-time Christian ministry for over twenty years. Mindy currently resides in Indiana with her husband and three children where she is a high school Spanish teacher. She is passionate about her faith, family, people, travel, books, and living life to the full.