Describe your journey to becoming an author.
I had always loved children’s books and wanted to write them one day. And, I read picture books all the time in high school and college and my 20s and 30s. I wrote a picture book manuscript when I was 19 and sent it to one publisher. I got a form rejection, figured that was it, and I didn’t write another for 20 years.
When I was 39, I had an epiphany. I realized that no New York editor was ever going to call me on the phone and say, ‘Hey, Pat! We heard you wanted to write a picture book.” If I wanted to do this, I was going to have to, you know, DO IT. So I got serious about writing and researching and Describe learning
everything I could about picture books and publishing.
It took me four years and 126 rejections on a lot of really bad books before I sold SOPHIE’S SQUASH to Schwartz & Wade. It came out in 2013. Since then, I’ve sold 16 more books. I’m so glad I tried again and treated writing for kids like a serious career.
Where do you get ideas for your books?
Most of my ideas come from listening to people talk. People say funny stuff. I hear bits of conversations and think, “I can work with that.” Several of my books are inspired by my youngest daughter, Sonia. She was an adorable, and quirky, little kid. And her actions led directly to SOPHIE’S SQUASH and WIDE-AWAKE BEAR.
Some of my books also have come from reading a book by another author that I really liked and wondering, “Could I do something like that?”
Your book, BE KIND, made the New York Times bestseller picture book list, why do you think it was so well received?
If you read, watch or listen to the news, it seems to be full of examples of people behaving badly — being unkind to each other, assuming the worst, not listening and more. Although I didn’t write the book with this intention, I think BE KIND appealed to teachers and libraries and parents as a counter to that. As a reminder that small acts of kindness can end up making a big difference.
I also think the book has a situation that most people can relate to. Nearly everyone has felt like one of the characters — either being embarrassed and feeling self-conscious or trying to be kind and not having it go as you’d hoped it would.
Do you have any words of wisdom for moms to instill a love of writing and reading in their children?
Go to the library with your kids as much as you can, and let them get whatever they want. Don’t tell them that a book is too hard for them or too easy for them or that it’s “not a real book” because maybe it’s a magazine or a comic or a graphic novel or a picture book. Don’t tell them it’s a “girl book” if they’re a boy or that it’s a “boy book” if they’re a girl.
Life is long. Ideally, they’ll read lots of stuff, and letting them read whatever makes them happy now will make them better, more accepting, readers down the road.
And, if they
love a book, read it yourself. My oldest daughter, Gwen, read THE HUNGER GAMES and told me I should read it. I didn’t think I’d like it. She said, “Mom! I have to read tons of books I don’t like in school. You can deal with it.” She was right. So I read it. And I loved it. Lesson learned
What are your favorite books from childhood?
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. THE WESTING GAME. ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. The ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series. I also read a ton of books by Erma Bombeck when I was in middle school, and while I certainly wasn’t her intended audience, there’s no doubt she influenced my writing.
For more information on Pat Zietlow Miller and her books, check out her website.