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When I was an Alligator released by UL Press.

Since I joined the local SCBWI, I’ve had the privilege of watching a few books go from idea to draft to published. I met Gayle Webre a few years ago as we were both attending our region’s critique meeting. We had the teaching of gifted students in common. But Gayle was hiding another talent, picture book writer. I remember the first time she read this manuscript aloud I loved it. Now when I have it in my hands, the charm of her imaginative story has grown with the addition of illustrations by Drew Beech.

Drew has taken Gayle’s idea and created an adorable Cajun girl who wears glasses and wonders what life would be like as different animals in the swamp. The wide round glasses appear on each animal to help our young readers understand that this Cajun girl was once an alligator, a heron, an opossum, and more.

I invited Gayle to answer some questions about herself and her writing process.

What was your path to becoming a writer?

As a student I was pretty good at writing. My teachers and professors encouraged me, yet I didn’t consider writing as a career. I stumbled into a career as a teacher and loved it. I wrote lesson plans, letters of recommendation, and grant proposals. I read lots of children’s literature. Still I did not consider writing for children. When I retired, I thought I might give it a try, and I had no idea where to begin. By “chance” I found our local SCBWI group who offered support, encouragement, and friendship.

What do you do with your time?

I read, host gatherings for family and friends (pre COVID), travel, visit my kids and grandkids in the New Orleans area, and ride my trike. And I try to write!

What inspires you?

People inspire me.  Their stories, their struggles, their personalities, their histories, their approaches to life…. 

What book would you recommend?

For adults?   I just read The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abe Dare. Set in Nigeria in 2014, it’s a beautifully told story of a young girl’s struggle to survive incredible hardships and get an education.  

Tell us about your journey from idea to published book.

When my 5th grade students and I met with scientists at the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette, I was impressed with the importance and fragility of our coastal wetlands.  We learned about the severity of coastal land loss and the work being done to mitigate it. (Nutria tracking was a favorite!)  A few years later, four-year old Sawyer walked into my house and spouted, “Aunt Gayle, when I was an alligator…”  A few years after that, the idea to write When I Was an Alligator surfaced.

SCBWI helped me with the polishing and submitting process. I sent the manuscript to publishers and got lots of rejections. Finally Devon Lord and the team at UL Press saw the potential, let me choose an artist, and now we have a book!

Why do you write? 

I enjoy the creative process; writing is fun and challenging. And I think I have some stories that need to be told.

Describe your writing habits.

I don’t think it could be called a habit.  When I get an idea, I jot it down and write a pretty bad first draft. (Ask the SCBWI critique group!)  My research for When I Was an Alligator took lots of time.  I can spend half an hour choosing one word.  I enjoy the whole process. 

What is your favorite spread of your book and why?

Drew did a great job on all the art, so it’s hard to pick one spread.  I especially like this one.  After all the curious Cajun kid has been through, she’s more than a little flustered, and she finds that she likes being herself!

How much, if any, communication did you have with the illustrator?

I met Drew at an SCBWI regional conference in New Orleans. Drew now lives in Chattanooga, so we’ve not met in person to work on the book, but we had lots of interaction through the whole process. In fact, we are still working together.  

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

The answer to that changes often. Today it’s: “O, small beloved person, it is not all up to you.”

What advice do you have for writers?

Make time to write, find some folks who support you, and join SCBWI if you are writing for children.

Finally, I have a teaching idea for you. With books like Gayle’s, students can find a pattern working throughout. A student can use this book as a mentor text to write their own imaginative book. What animals do you wish you could be? Using onomatopoeia to describe what it would be like to turn into that animal.

Page from When I was an Alligator by Gayle Webre
Leo, 22 months, is also a curious Cajun kid who loves crawfish and peanut butter. He says, “crawfish, yum!” and “Ba-butter” for peanut butter.

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Poetry Friday round-up is with Irene at Live Your Poem.

 

The time has come to let you all in on a very exciting adventure, my first poetry book for children, Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape.

This unique book that combines poetry, nonfiction text, photographs, and illustrations with invitations to write and draw will be published by UL Press on June 18, 2018.

This week I wrote an anticipatory poem prompted by Amy VanDerwater’s exercise in writing striking words.

Publication Day

I’m flabbergasted
by anticipation,
dizzy with expectation,
nauseous
with nervousness.


I’m sidestepping
assumption,
antsy for predictions,
impatient
for beliefpower
to hurtle into
my psyche.

 

I’m dancing
with my destiny
with heebie-jeebies
and butterflies
splitting me into
a hive of many bees.

The day of publication is near.

–Margaret Simon, (c) 2018

I am so pleased with my illustrator, Anna Cantrell.  She was a delight to work with.  She is young and enthusiastic.  Follow her on Instagram at jarofpencils.

I’ve received a few awesome blurbs.  Love this one from Ava Leavell Haymon, former Louisiana poet laureate.  It’s probably too long for the back cover, but I want to savor every word regardless.

A love-song to the Bayou Teche, this inviting book creates its own universe.  I suspect there are multiple paths for us to enter that universe, but I am drawn in immediately by Anna Cantrell’s luminous watercolor illustrations, a gift to us from her precise observation and quiet love for her subjects.  And then Henry Cancienne’s photographs add another layer of beauty and understanding.  Then I come to brief paragraphs of information, enough to arouse curiosity but press me with too many facts. Then — what a treasure box this little book is! — Margaret Simon’s poems, each one born of minute observation and winsome appreciation of this  Bayou universe.  And nestled into all of this are Simon’s suggestions for writing a poem of our own in the manner of the one we’ve just read, and a little space right there to do so.  Experienced teacher, she suggests with a light touch and offers inviting tricks to make our writing easy.

This is a generous, generative book that gives and gives and does not make demands.  My fingers were itching to hold a pencil, a canoe paddle, a watercolor set, a camera. I leave its universe a little sad to go, but refreshed in my love of the Louisiana bayous and with my own creativity restored.         Ava Leavell Haymon

If you would like to participate in a blog tour, please fill out the form below.  Select a date that works for you (between June 18-August 18) In the comments, let me know your ideas for your post as well as your snail mail address.  I will make a schedule and send you a pdf of the book.

 

 

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