After featuring Circus Train on its debut day this week, I’m thrilled to introduce you to the author, Jennifer Cole Judd. Learn more about her work with poetry and kids:
What experiences, people, and/or books were influential in your life, leading you to write your own children’s books?
I’ve always written little rhymes and poetry since I was very young. (My mom has kept scraps of poems I wrote when I was around 5 or 6. Interestingly enough, one of those poems is actually about a train!) I LOVED reading. One of my favorite memories is coming home from school to find a new installment of the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club books my mom had ordered. I studied literature and creative writing in college, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own, and we spent our weekly library visits scouring the picture book aisles for new reads, that all those memories of reading, writing and childhood sort of blended together into a lovely little brew of ideas and excitement within me.
When did you begin writing children’s book manuscripts?
I would say I began the pursuit of writing for children back in 2004, when I first began writing poetry for children. Picture book manuscripts still seemed daunting to me, and I was in the midst of chasing kids, having kids, and I was tentatively exploring the world. Poems came naturally, and I began submitting some to magazines, while still trying to find my writer voice (I think I am still working on that voice! J).
What was the first book you got published and with which publishing agency?
My first book publication was actually an anthology of spooky middle grade poetry, titled An Eyeball in My Garden—And Other-Spine Tingling Poems, that I co-edited with my friend and fellow children’s poet, Laura Wynkoop. That was a really neat endeavor. It actually features 14 poets, and we were all critique buddies from the Poets’ Garage, an online critique group run by Bill Peery. It was published by Marshall Cavendish Books for Children (now Two Lions Publishing).
How many books have you written that are published?
Circus Train is my second book, debuting March 24th.
Which of your books is your favorite and why?
Well, since I don’t have a big repertoire yet to choose from, it is hard to say. I loved the collaborative experience, the editing experience, and the friendships that developed from creating Eyeball. That was such a unique opportunity and I love the variety of spooky poems from the various poets. But, I am also very excited to see Circus Train published—it, too, is a rhymer, and I think it captures the essence of the excitement and wonders of the circus, and honestly, it brings up a feeling of nostalgia for that childlike wonder in myself and in my own kids. So both books are favorites, for different reasons!
What was the inspiration for your main character of your book?
Circus Train is about the day a whole community gets to experience the excitement of the circus coming to town, so it is a concept/mood book, rather than a character-driven story. However, my inspiration for the excitement came from my third daughter, who was 5 when we went to the circus here in Dallas. Her expressions of awe (along with all of our experiences that day) kept running through my mind after we came home. I wanted to capture and bottle that feeling of wonder and joy.
Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Ideas are like trying to capture a butterfly on the wind! Sometimes something one of my kids will say will spark an idea, or just ordinary daily events, turned upside down in my zany brain. Being observant when I am outside. For poem ideas, I like to say I have to stand on my head to see the world from a different angle (and sometimes, I try that!).
How long did it take you to write, edit, and publish your first book?
Eyeball in My Garden was a labor of love that took many, many hours of collaborating, coordinating and editing to get to the submission process—we submitted it in 2007, it was acquired in 2008, and then published in 2010. Circus Train evolved from that first circus experience way back in 2006. I wrote it as a poem, put it through lots of critiquing, expanded it to picture book length, then shelved it for a long time after only submitting it to a couple of places. I didn’t pull it out again until 2012, and after that long period of time, I definitely had fresh eyes to look at it, at that point. I added the train into the story, revised it again, and sent it off to my editor. I was beyond thrilled when I heard back a couple of months later that they wanted to acquire it. And it is debuting this month! So, in short, the process is a long one!
What advice can you share with children reading your books?
I would encourage children to listen to rhythm, rhyme, and word choice. To think about how they would describe something like a day at the circus—what words would they use? I enjoy working with children and encouraging a love of poetry, so I hope that kids will take up a pen and try writing with intention to describe their worlds, using poetry, as well.
What advice can you give to those of us who are working to write and publish children’s books?
Just keep swimming! If you love it, keep at it. It is a long road of writing, revising, getting rejected, writing some more, but being able to interact with kids and share the joy of language and story (and creating both yourself!) is so worth it.
What are three hobbies/interests you have besides writing?
Yoga, reading, and my kids
Please leave us with a quote from one of your books!
“Scurry, feet! Find a seat.
Spotlights glow—let’s start the…SHOW!”
Check out Circus Train:
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I loved reading about your journey, Jen! Thanks for interviewing her, Angela!
Nice. I can’t wait to read it.