To close out this crazy and unprecedented year, I wanted to take some time to highlight my fellow kidlit creators who are working their tails off to birth their beautiful book babies into the world. These interviews will cast a light on the wonderful work of these pre-published authors and author-illustrators who are destined to be stars!
Meet Rising Star
Welcome, Amanda! Thanks for joining me for the Rising Stars in KidLit Series. I can't wait to hear more about your work, your inspiration, and your projects!
AD: Let’s start with a speed round…
AD: Fellow tea drinkers unite!! And oh my--that clawfoot tub bath sounds dreamy :)
AD: Okay, now down to the serious stuff….
Please dish us the dirt on who you are and your journey into the fabulous world of children’s books.
AW: I’ve always loved picture books, and I still have many of the ones I grew up with. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and she used to bring me to a big kidlit festival they had at Keene State College in New Hampshire. I remember seeing Tomie DePaola speak there. Writing and illustrating my own book has been a goal of mine for a long time—since high school, actually. But, as you’ll see from my answer below, I have wandered around quite a bit in my life, with the connecting thread being that storytelling has always been a part of my life. Whether you’re a teacher or a graphic designer or a curator, you are, at the heart of it, telling a story (hopefully a good one that gets your students, viewers, or visitors hooked). I got serious about my own kidlit writing about four years ago. I was in my mid-30s at that point and I felt like, ok—if you’re going to try to do this, you’ve gotta get started! I started taking classes, joined SCBWI, and found a critique group. I’ve been slowly trying to immerse myself in the community.
AD: I love that idea of a storyteller at heart and totally relate. I've realized whether I'm teaching others to tell their stories through art education or exploring my own through art and writing, it's always been about the storytelling, and I've always loved learning other people's stories and thinking about how my own story and experiences have shaped me into the person I am today.
© 2020 Amanda Wastrom Art
AD: Did you always know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? Have you explored other paths or had/have other jobs?
AW: I have always been a bit of a wanderer. I was a serious athlete in college (you could say I majored in soccer). When I wasn’t playing sports, I was studying a mix of science and art. I was a curious learner—loved school—and had a really hard time deciding which direction to go. I pursued art and went to art school for graduate school. Not sure why I didn’t pursue illustration while I was there (I got my MFA in Studio Art). I’ve worked as a teacher (Visual Art and English), graphic designer, copywriter, exhibit designer, and curator.
Right now, I’m a museum curator as my day job. I love it as it puts all of my skills to use—researching, writing, working with artists, designing. Plus, I get to keep learning. Every time we take on a new exhibition project, I get to learn about something entirely new! And puttering around in our museum’s collection is like digging through the most amazing (and most organized) attic in the world. I would say that the downside is that my day job is demanding and sucks up a lot of my creative energy. I fit my personal work in when I can.
AD: How nice you've been able to find a job that weaves together so many of your passions and skills!
© 2020 Amanda Wastrom Art
AD: What topics or themes do you tend to focus on in your writing/art? Favorite genres you like to write in or favorite art materials/techniques?
AW: My writing tends toward the lyrical and sweet. I am earnest. That’s my gig. I learned all about that from my days as a high school teacher. I would regularly have to get up and speak in front of 800+ students and I learned pretty quickly that I am not funny. I am not quirky. But sincere and earnest? I can do that pretty well. I want to be the writer whose books make you go “awwww” at the end (maybe with a tear…or at the very least, a smile).
AD: Breaking into the publishing industry is not easy! What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far? What have you done to persevere?
AW: I started to get serious about my writing right about the same time I had children. Balancing parenting and a full-time job along with my own creative projects is definitely a challenge. I know there are a lot of people out there who are able to work after their kids go to sleep. I’m not one of those people. I’m often falling asleep alongside them. So, I struggle to find the time and the creative energy to keep my own projects going and to keep the house clean, the garden going, and exercise (yeah, I used to be sporty!). I have found that in the free time I have I can either a) make art or b) exercise. I haven’t figured out how to do both. Has anyone else figured this out? If so, please share your secret!
AD: Yes!! The struggle with balance is real! I haven't quite figured it out yet either...
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing/illustration journey?
AW: Right now, I have three PB manuscripts that feel pretty strong and polished and I think I’m ready to start querying. That may seem like a small victory but to me, I’ve been waiting and waiting until I could assemble enough strong work to take the next step. I feel like I’m ready. Some of the best (and simplest) advice I’ve gotten is to just make good work. You can’t do anything or get anywhere if the work isn’t strong to begin with. And you’ve got to spend a lot of time in the trenches to get it to a point where it is strong. To me, that’s a win.
AD: In a similar vein, what do you feel are your strengths as an author/illustrator? What makes your art/writing unique to you?
AW: I think I have a pretty strong, consistent voice. I love playing with words at the line level and crafting language that’s on the poetic end of the spectrum.
AD: What inspires your work?
AW: I live on Cape Cod, and I find that for me, place is a big inspiration. Many of my stories are memories from growing up here or about life on the ocean. Cape Cod has a rich history—it’s full of great stories about the people who have lived here, the architecture, the landscape, and the wildlife. Endlessly inspiring.
© 2020 Amanda Wastrom Art
AD: Tell us about your creative process and what you do to keep ideas flowing or what you do when feeling stuck?
AW: There are artists out there who are the 9 to 5 working artists. They show up every day, put in the hours, and cultivate their creative tools that way. I was never one of those artists—either with my art or my writing. I’m the kind that keeps things open, keeps exercising my creative muscles in other ways and is ready when inspiration does strike. I remember reading Louisa May Alcott’s diary, and she wrote about how she would let her stories percolate in her head. She’d be thinking about them as she was doing her chores around the house. I felt inspired (and validated) by that. The reality is, my own creative time isn’t always there. I try not to beat myself up about that. If I don’t write every day or if I don’t have a chance to make my own work, that’s ok. But if there’s a night when my schedule is free and the kids are asleep, and I’m still awake (like tonight!), I seize on that chance and dive in.
Having multiple projects going certainly helps keep the ideas flowing cause if it’s been a while, I can always pick up a manuscript and start revising. That’s a pretty low bar to enter on. I don’t even have to write anything new!
AD: What sorts of things have been most integral in your growth as an author-illustrator?
AW: I would say that single biggest thing for me was finding a solid critique group of like-minded, equally committed writers. From my days in art school, where critiquing is a part of your everyday life, I know how valuable it is. I can’t evaluate my own work. Every artist knows that. You need community to bounce off of. It took me a while to find one but my crit group is amazing. They have helped me push my writing and my stories further. And just having a deadline to hit keeps me accountable.
AD: Community and critique groups are key for accountability and growth. I'm so grateful for my critique group who have been integral towards my development and more importantly, my sanity, ha!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
AW: I’ve been thinking about how my most meaningful work that I’ve done so far has also been my most personal. The stories that are really about who I am, what I love and what I’ve learned from my life. People say it all the time but if you follow what you love, good things happen. I have always found that to be true. Oh, and the make great work thing. That’s key too. The work has to be great. That’s the first step.
AD: Yes! I totally relate to this! I think my best stories come from my personal experiences. They tend to be my strongest and the ones I'm most passionate about. When writing them, they also allow me a space to reflect on these portions of my life and feel good knowing that telling my story may help a child connect, feel inspired, or cope with something similar.
Amanda is also a very talented photographer whose scenes from Cape Cod are just GORGEOUS!! You can check out more of her work at the links below.
© 2020 Amanda Wastrom Art
Amanda, thank you so much for sharing a bit about yourself and contributing to the Rising Stars in Kidlit series! We can’t wait to read your stories and see your work in the hands of young readers! Best of luck as you continue your journey! Feel free to drop a comment below to support Amanda and her work.
Stay tuned on Monday where we get to meet another Rising Star in Kidlit, and be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don't miss out, and follow along on Twitter at #RisingStarsinKidlit.
If you are interested in being featured in the Rising Stars in KidLit series, please complete the following Getting to Know You form to be considered. Thank you!
10th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest (for children's writers)!
Kailei Pew is a wife, mother, and picture book author represented by the amazing Emily Forney
of Bookends Literary. She is an active member of SCBWI, a 2019 Write Mentor Mentee, and a finalist in Susanna Leonard Hill's 2019 Holiday Writing Contest.
She loves writing picture books that help kids see they can do anything they set their minds to.
Kailei can't wait to get her stories into your hands.
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Kimberly is an experienced Speech Language Pathologist who spends her days giving kids a voice. She began creating stories for the students she worked with while completing her M.A. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduation, she continued creating stories for the preschool and elementary students on her caseload.
These early stories turned into the Freddie the Fly series published by Boys Town Press. Freddie the Fly is a social series that uses humor and established strategies to help children have fun while improving their communication.
Kim is currently seeking agent representation and working towards getting her picture stories traditionally published.
AD: As creators (and humans), we tend to focus on the flaws of our creations or areas for improvement. This helps us grow and develop, but we need not forget the many things we are doing well. With this in mind, what has been your biggest accomplishment or something you are most proud of thus far on your writing journey?
KD: I’m very proud of my Freddie the Fly series, The newest book just won a Purple Dragon Fly Award. It can be hard to self-market and get the word out about books that are not in trade publishing.
AD: Woohoo! Congrats on that wonderful accomplishment, Kim!
AD: What advice do you have for fellow kidlit creatives?
KD: Don’t give up! I know it feels like it will never happen but it never will if you stop. When you get a rejection it just means it wasn’t right for that person not that it’s not right for the world.
Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. Amanda is the author of the award-winning picture book, 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag, Moonlight Memories (summer, 2023) and a yet to be announced forthcoming title. She also has poetry and illustrations featured in The Writers’ Loft Anthology: Friends & Anemones: Ocean Poems for Children. Amanda has over ten years of experience as a classroom teacher and was selected as Massachusetts Secondary Art Educator of the Year. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her family and her rescue pup, Cora. You can learn more about Amanda at www.amandadavisart.com and on Twitter @amandadavisart and Instagram @amandadavis_art.