Hello Readers and welcome to Kid Lit Village blog! Please join us Mondays for author and illustrator interviews on the blog. This week we have Anitra Rowe Schulte, author of DANCING WITH DADDY. The book is illustrated by Ziyue Chen and published by Two Lions. Release: December 2021.
Elsie can’t wait to go to her first father-daughter dance. She picked out the perfect dress and has been practicing swirling and swaying in her wheelchair. Elsie’s heart pirouettes as she prepares for her special night. With gestures, smiles, and words from a book filled with pictures, she shares her excitement with her family. But when a winter storm comes, she wonders if she’ll get the chance to spin and dance her way to a dream come true.
Hello Anitra, and welcome to the blog. We’re so glad you joined us on Kid Lit Village blog! It’s a pleasure to celebrate your success with you.
Q. Tell us about the inspiration for your book.
A. I’d love to! My debut picture book DANCING WITH DADDY, which publishes Dec. 1, 2021, is inspired by my family. I have three daughters and my oldest has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a deletion of the short arm of the fourth chromosome, or 4p-. WHS occurs in about one in 50,000 births, so it’s quite rare. When my girls were young, close family and friends asked if there were any picture books that I might recommend, which featured disabled children or children who communicate, eat and move like my daughter. I found that while picture books were increasingly including disabled children in the artwork, few featured disabled children as main characters.
When my husband was preparing to take all three of our girls to our local father-daughter dance, my mind started swirling, imagining what that evening might be like. It was one of the first ideas I jotted down for Tara Lazar’s Storystorm that January. When I sat down to write the manuscript, the story just flowed.
My eldest daughter, the inspiration for Elsie in this book, communicates in so many ways, and this story reflects that. When she wants something, she grabs it. When she comments on things and shares her feelings, she uses a PODD (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display) book. When she needs something, she gestures for it. When she loves you, she presses her forehead to yours. These different styles of communication are part of her everyday expression. I wanted to see a main character speaking in all of these ways.
Illustrator Ziyue Chen went to great lengths to ensure the accuracy of Elsie’s equipment – from her communication book and gestures, to her mealtime tools, orthotics and wheelchair. Ziyue’s detailed care, and Two Lions’ commitment to telling this story, blew me away. And, on top of that, every scene that Ziyue created bursts with color and family love. It makes me very emotional, seeing a family that is so much like mine in such a gorgeous book. (Thank you, Ziyue and Two Lions team!)
What part of being a writer do you love most?
Oh goodness, I love all of it. I really mean that. There is not one part of it that I love more than the next. I love reading picture books, and I think that’s a huge part of being a picture book writer. I read five to ten new picture books each week – not just to study the market (although I do enjoy that) but for the immersive experience of it. Picture books ignite so many feelings, and the stories have a way of staying with you forever, like a lived memory.
Once I get an idea, or the spark of a voice, I don’t do a lot of thinking, at least not that I’m aware of. My drafting process more like giving the idea a gentle tug, or a steady pull, like you would yarn from a ball or spool. I try to knit as I go, with what’s in my hands, remaining open to the idea and where it seems to want to go, looking back every now and then to see what is resulting from all the weaving.
Revision is where my mind is fully engaged, and I love this part, too. My background is in newspaper journalism, and I’m a huge fan of form. In journalism, that’s an inverted pyramid (most important info first) and an inch count (story length). In picture books, it’s the page turn and the goal of concision. Both ensure an economy of words and a propulsive narrative. Nothing clears the clutter, and puts a spotlight on the heart of your story, like paginating.
Do you have any tips for querying editors and agents?
I met my agent at a live pitching event about four years ago, kind of early in my picture book journey. At that time, I was writing a ton, going to conferences, engaging with the writing community, and developing my website, all simultaneously. Truthfully, not much has changed since then! It’s been my experience that having all four irons in the fire at once is a good thing. When I stall out with a story, I go to a conference. When I go to a conference, I learn about new writers and new books. When I read a new book, I review it on my website. Things don’t always go in that cycle. But what I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that there is always something you can be working on, and always ways in which you can be growing. Each area compliments the next, and your experience shows in your work and in your pitch.
When you query or write a pitch for a new submission (I always share a pitch with my agent), show that you know your story and where it fits into the world. Why did you write it? That’s incredibly important. Why do readers need it? What makes your book special and different? A lot of emphasis is placed on comps, but I think the why, the need, and the something-special are just as important, if not more so.
And don’t forget YOU! Position yourself like the pro that you are. Have an author bio that is clear, concise and demonstrates (when possible) how your background ties to the subject of your book. I try to bring as much to the table as possible, when my agent takes a story on submission. I keep my eye on the PW Rights Report for editors who I think might like my stories and share those with my agent when it’s time to sub. When I spot an #MSWL that aligns with a story, I let my agent know.
If your query and pitch show that you know yourself, as a creator, and where your story will fit in the kidlit landscape, an agent or editor will notice and know that you’ll be able to contribute to the tremendous (and exciting!) task of placing your story.
Anitra, It’s been so much fun hearing about your book and learning from your experience as a children’s book creator. There are a lot of aspiring children’s writers and illustrators out there who are happy to learn from experiences you’ve shared here. Good luck with this very special and unique book that is much needed in the world!
Did you know, I’ve written a couple of books too?
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