Monday, September 30, 2019

Pick a Picture Book Author

Fall is off to a great start because we have an interview with Patricia Toht, author of many irresistible picture books. Read on to find out when she started writing, why she does it, and what the future holds for her. We’ve also included a Book Bite for PICK A PUMPKIN, her latest book, which just happens to be perfect for this time of year!

1. How long have you been an author?
My path has been a long one! When I meet with students, I like to tell them that I started writing before the turn of the century, then I laugh as their mouths drop open. Shortly after I graduated from college, I had a brief go at writing for children (around 1986), but I didn’t try in earnest until 1995, when I stopped working full-time for awhile to stay at home with my four children.

2. What made you want to become an author?
I fell in love with children’s books as a bookseller first. I opened a children’s bookstore in the Chicago suburbs in 1988. Seven years later, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Super Crown bookstores all moved in a few miles away and siphoned off enough sales to sink us. But my love of selling books eventually grew into a love of writing books.

3. Tell us about your most recent book, PICK A PUMPKIN. Where did you get this idea?
I took a poetry class with Illinois poet Heidi Roemer, which reawakened an affinity for poetry. PICK A PUMPKIN began as a shorter poem about selecting the perfect pumpkin, and it eventually grew into carving a jack-o’-lantern, too. Researching picture books about pumpkins, I couldn’t find any that focused on that process, and I hoped there was a need in the market for a book like that. I soon wrote PICK A PINE TREE, too, and submitted them as companion books.

4. Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
Believe me, I don’t always take rejection well! But I read a book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art, and this quote has always stayed with me:
“So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”
I try to remind myself of this. And I’ve also grown to know that writing can be a numbers game. The more you write (and submit), the greater your chance that something will resonate with an editor.

5. You’ve already written PICK A PINETREE and PICK A PUMPKIN. Will there be another PICK A ___ book in the future?
I have a few ideas, but that editor is not interested right now. She wants me to diversify my writing a bit, so I’m working on different things.

6. What’s the hardest part about writing picture books? What’s the easiest?
The easiest for me is coming up with ideas, although I throw out a lot of ideas before I find a really great one. The hardest is the first round of editing with my editor because I’ve worked so hard to make the manuscript the best (I think) it can be before I submit. I can be a crabby re-writer for a few days after my first editorial letter!

7. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I have two more books that are in the illustration process. TAXI, GO follows a taxi through the stops and starts of its day, and will be illustrated by Maria Karipidou. TOGETHER WITH YOU is a celebration of grandparents and grandchildren, and pairs me up with Jarvis again!

8. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a library associate in a big, busy middle school. I love it! But I do miss my days working at the public library where I led family storytimes. For me, there’s nothing like a room of “littles” to make my heart happy!

9. What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author? 
It’s not new advice – READ, READ, READ! Because I owned a bookstore, I read hundreds of picture books each season to discern which ones to purchase. I eventually developed an internal sense of picture book rhythm and length, and learned about certain elements like page turns and the “rule of three.” I still check out loads of picture books from my local library. Also, I know that I always have more to learn, so I read craft books, attend conferences, and work with critique partners to improve my writing. (I write for the GROG blog. To learn more about page turns, the rule of three, and how to make a “dummy” of your picture book, check out my posts.)

Bio: Patricia Toht is a poet, picture book author, and school library associate. She once owned a children's bookshop before turning a love of books into a love of writing. She is the author of four picture books - ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS, illustrated by Sam Usher, DRESS LIKE A GIRL, illustrated by Lorian Tu, and PICK A PINE TREE and PICK A PUMPKIN, illustrated by Jarvis. Find her online at, on Twitter as @PatriciaToht, and Instagram as patricia.toht. She is represented by Julia Churchill at A.M. Heath (London).

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