What Goes Into Making A Good Children’s Book? – My Bibi Always Remembers

Some of the beautiful work done by Toni Buzzeo and artist Mike Wohnoutka
Some of the beautiful work done by Toni Buzzeo and artist Mike Wohnoutka

My Bibi Always Remembers is a beautiful book published by Disney-Hyperion, both in prose and art, and it celebrates the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild. With Grandparents’ Day coming up, I interviewed the author of this new release, Toni Buzzeo.  In our last post, I shared her responses to the book itself and her inspiration for writing it.  In this post, we talk to Toni a bit about what goes into writing a children’s book.  I think you’ll find her answers interesting.

Some people see the beautiful simplicity of children’s stories and think it must be easy to write. How would you respond to that? What are the challenges and joys of writing children’s books? What goes into it that perhaps the reader may not see?

Oh my goodness, yes! There’s so much work that doesn’t show in the final product—a beautifully illustrated children’s picture book like My Bibi Always Remembers! There are months and months of research, reading long books and complex articles, viewing many, many films, before any words are set to the page. And then, even with a deep understanding of the animal in its natural habitat, I need to find the individual characters and their stories.

In this case, I needed to understand what Tembo’s key character trait would be–his playful dawdling nature—and how that would affect him, his family, and his grandmother. Then, I needed to give the story a compelling backdrop. As you know, I chose a time of great drought on the savannah, when food and water was so scarce that the elephant family had to depend on Bibi’s very long memory of other droughts and where the precious water could be found.

That all takes a great deal of time and consideration, again, even before the story is written. Then, there are months of revision, working with other writers in my writing groups to improve the characterization, the plot, the story arc.

And even though all that is incredibly hard work, it also has its joy each step of the way. It’s such a triumph, for instance, to finally figure out what the conflict will be, or to realize that I’ve got the perfect detail amid my notes to enrich a scene. And then, the ultimate joy—when my editor says, “Yes! It’s fabulous and I’d like to publish this book!”

I loved your choice to include information about the elephants in the back of the book. I’ve always appreciated the few children’s books I’ve seen that do that. What inspired you to include that information?

Toni showcasing one of her previous books
Toni showcasing one of her previous books

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I am a professional school librarian as well as a children’s author. I was a teaching librarian for sixteen years in elementary schools here in Maine and was named the 1999 Maine School Library Media Specialist of the Year. I believe that even literary texts (the new term for fiction) have an important instructional role for young children. After all, My Bibi Always Remembers may be the first elephant book many young children read, and so they will gather many facts from this fictional story. For that reason, all of the animals in my animal stories behave true to their animal natures and I include an author’s note with additional information whenever possible.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions! I hope to see that book about bears out on the shelves soon!

LOL, Craig. I had lots of fun answering your interesting and meaty questions. Thanks for giving me the opportunity. ~ Toni

This full-sized hardcover children’s book is beautiful and can be ordered directly from online retailers like Amazon.com or from your local bookstore.  Be sure to pick up your copy in time for Grandparents’ Day this September 7th!

If you would like to read more of my interview with Toni Buzzeo  just click on this link for the full Q&A.  If you would like to download a fun “Happy Grandparents’ Day” card with art by Mike Wohnoutka from the book, just click here and follow the directions.

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