Happy New Year to all my Kid Lit Village readers! I’m excited to share this picture book at the start of the year as it’s all about love, which is what we could use more of throughout the year. The book is called MIA AND NATTIE: One Great Team! by Marlene M. Bell with illustrations by Grace Sandford.
In a read aloud picture book for children who love animals, award-winning writer and sheep breeder, Marlene M. Bell presents Nattie the lamb’s true story. A charming book devoted to problem-solving, teamwork, and love.
A little girl dreams big to save her lamb and form a forever friendship ~
Mia rescues a newborn lamb from the cold and raises the orphan in the laundry room. She bottle-feeds tiny Nattie even though its fate on the farm is uncertain. Sheep must raise babies, but Nattie will never be big enough to have lambs of her own. When Mia’s grandmother demands that the inferior lamb be sold to a neighbor, Mia sets out to devise a plan to keep the lamb she loves on the farm.
Young readers will cheer Mia’s efforts and root for the tiny lamb to change its future.
Welcome to the Kid Lit Village blog, Marlene!
Q. Why I wrote Mia and Nattie: Natalie, the inspiration for my book
I didn’t set out to write a children’s book, having no experience in that genre. Writing novels is where my heart lies— and raising sheep. When we lost our Natalie the horned Dorset sheep after thirteen years, I felt so empty not seeing her among the oaks that surround our home. The idea to write a book for kids came to mind because little Nattie had taught us plenty about caring and kindness toward others. Many books for kids today are built solely for entertainment purposes. I wanted the Nattie book to share an old-fashioned belief system any child could carry with them into adulthood.
Natalie was tiny at birth. The only way she survived was round-the-clock care in an unorthodox place for livestock. In thirty years, no sheep had ever stepped foot inside the house. The plan was crazy but necessary because the freezing temperatures and her mother without the milk to feed her, gave us no choice. We had fed oodles of bottle lambs in the barn, but a three-pounder raised inside or outside would be a challenge. Our track record for saving premature lambs in below freezing weather wasn’t good, so while my husband slept, I brought the little lamb into our laundry room, gave her a warm bath to bring up her temperature and dried her off. To our surprise, she thrived.
Natalie eventually grew strong enough to walk the tile floor and wait for her warm bottle of milk while I made it at the kitchen sink. For eight weeks she stayed indoors, and finally transitioned outside as our sheep guardian for the rest of her life, from California to Texas, where we live now. She actually had a job on our ranch as caretaker for all of the new bottle lambs each season. Sheep like having other sheep around. What better way to keep an orphan lamb company than another sheep for warmth and companionship? Mia and Nattie is Natalie’s true story.
A. Marlene, I think readers will enjoy the fact that this is a true story.
Q. I’m curious to know if you found any different challenges when switching from novels to picture books?
Because I began with non-fiction, writing a children’s book like Mia and Nattie: One Great Team, came easily. Natalie lived with us for thirteen years from a newborn bottle lamb in the laundry room. Even though we don’t have children of our own, we have raised many, many lambs over the past forty years. Mothering all of them including the ewes and rams. Natalie was a help to us, providing company for the bottle lambs each season— her story as our Nattie is compelling. When you experience things first-hand, it’s unforgettable and easy to put to paper. I felt that children, parents, and grandparents alike would enjoy the subtle messages left in the text of Mia and Nattie— from Natalie’s lifetime on the ranch with us.
Q. How I build myself up in the face of rejection.
~My advice to novice writers ~
Every writer faces rejection. It’s how you deal with the rejection that determines whether you can survive and go on to become an author, independent or otherwise. Publishing houses are accepting so few books from non-personalities. Indie authors have honed their craft and are steadily gaining traction and a larger share of the reader market because they are excellent writers. Never give up on a dream.
Have I had my share of the dreaded rejection letters from agents and publishers? Yes, tons of them. The only way NOT to receive a manuscript rejection is to not pitch your book at all.
In the early days of my debut novel, I made a folder to print and keep letter correspondence. With a growing folder and my inbox filled with dreaded rejections, I came to the conclusion that saving them was a sad reminder of my failures. I later understood that receiving a response, any response, was a positive thing. Agencies receive so many manuscript submissions, they don’t have to respond at all. (Many are so bold they include a disclaimer on their website stating they only respond to those with work they’re interested in.) Be courteous in a return reply, and thankful they took the time to drop a note about your submission. Just because they didn’t like one storyline doesn’t mean they won’t like your next book. If writing a series and pitching book one, it’s best to wait for a future standalone before pitching again. If an agent turns down the first novel, that same agent won’t look at the next in the series.
Writing is subjective, just like editing. Pleasing all readers is nearly impossible to do, so stop trying! Authors have to write for themselves with the reader in mind. Understanding genres before you start your book will save you lots of rewrites and bad reviews. Before I began, I didn’t read other authors, which was a terrible mistake I made. That’s why it took me eight long years to polish and publish my first novel. Trust me when I say this; reviewers will let you know if you haven’t learned your genre, so prepare to get hammered if you haven’t done your genre homework.
Listen to your critics, especially if the complaints are repetitive. If you hear it once, pass it off as a personal preference for that reader. If the same criticism is heard twice or more, there’s work to do in that department. Critiques, editors, and reviewers will make you a better writer. Listen to them. As long as you surround yourself with professional editors, a solid formatter, and cover art that’s eye appealing and suitable for your genre, your book will get the jumpstart it needs— and many glowing reviews will follow.
Rejection is nothing more than a frame of mind. What doesn’t work for some agents may be perfect for another.
A. It’s true that whether you are an indie author or traditionally published, rejection is part of the business. As you say, the critiques, the editors, the reviewers can all make you a better writer if you listen.
Marlene, thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview. It was. pleasure to learn of this true story!
Connect with Marlene and learn more about her books! https://www.marlenembell.com
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Thanks for reading and have a happy and healthy new year!