Watch out for thieving Squirrels in Fall 2020

The Squirrels Stole my Sister is the title of my forthcoming picture book

Good things come to those who wait.

Little girl in the 70s
Me as a squirrel-taming kid. (My sister cut my bangs.)

Years ago, I wrote a story about a clever squirrel who grew tired of waiting for a daily handout, so she decided to steal a whole bag of peanuts, along with the little girl carrying it.

I have a smidge more patience than that squirrel, and today it has been rewarded. I’ve just seen Sean Cassidy‘s first finished illustration for our picture book, The Squirrels Stole my Sister — coming out next fall with Fitzhenry & Whiteside — and it’s gorgeous.

My text for The Squirrels Stole my Sister was acquired by Fitzhenry and Whiteside back in 2013 (by their former Children’s Fiction Editor, Christie Harkin, who is now a consultant publisher and freelance editor). Its originally planned publication date was postponed when the book was orphaned. I wasn’t sure if it would ever be adopted again, as the text was over-long (almost 1000 words) and over-aged (better suited to fourth graders than kindergarteners), and I knew it would take a special eye to see the diamond in the rough.

So when Sharon Fitzhenry, the publisher, called me this August, I was expecting another delay. What a happy surprise to hear that the book is scheduled for publication next fall and  Sean Cassidy is illustrating it. But I needed to cut several hundred words in a hurry — so Sharon put me and Sean in touch and let the two of us work out the revision together.

That’s not usually how picture books are made. Usually, the text is finalized first, then the illustrator creates the artwork. We tried it differently. The story came first, in the form of my original text, but the artist’s vision came next. I wrote the final text — half the length of the original, and much sweeter and gentler and suited to a picture-book audience — with Sean’s vision (and his rough layouts and advice) to guide me. What a nice way to work!

It was so easy to cut the text while I had Sean’s layout of the story in hand. I could cut entire paragraphs that he’d told in pictures. What was a tongue-in-cheek tale for middle graders has become an adorable picture book for the very young.

So I’m thrilled that this book was so long in development. Good things came to one who waited.

That last paragraph makes it sound like the book is all done. Uh, no. My part is all done. Sean has months of work ahead to complete the finished art before winter ends. (He’ll be like a little squirrel, tucked in his nest with his store of paints.)

A montage of Sean Cassidy's illustrations
Some of Sean Cassidy’s illustrations featured on his website

But I know he’s up to the task. He’s a seasoned illustrator for Fitzhenry and Whiteside, with many award-winning books to his credit, most of them featuring adorable animals. The Squirrels Stole my Sister is well aligned with his specialties. I’m so happy to be working with him.

Check out Sean Cassidy’s website here. (It includes drawing lessons. For drawing animals, he says: “I always start with a circle. This is where the brain goes…”) And check out Sean’s roster of books at Fitzhenry and Whiteside here.

And that’s what’s new for me this Wednesday. Expect more updates on the picture book as next fall approaches, and hopefully a few squirrel posts and pictures in the meantime. I might have to start a “Squirrels on Sunday” category for this blog. (Possibly sub-headed “Not a recipe site.”)

Many thanks to Jorge Guillen for his lovely squirrel portrait on Pixabay, cropped in the banner above.

2 Comments on “Watch out for thieving Squirrels in Fall 2020

  1. Love the premise, and the story of the story’s evolution! I remember Christie was interested in a PB I had submitted to them back in the day – maybe it’ll emerge someday, too! Always exciting to see the art develop!

    • Thanks, Jan. I know you write for different ages, too. Picture books are special, aren’t they? It is such a gift to work with an artist, to hand off a few sheets of text and get back a work of art.

      Congratulations on your two new books out this year. (I love Dancing with Daisy — so gorgeous. I loved Sky Pig, too — I have a weakness for collage.)

      Thanks for stopping by.

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