I’m really excited to welcome author, Michelle Nott to Story Snug. We first met at an SCBWI conference in Paris and have kept in touch ever since. Michelle is the author of two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie, and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames, and her debut picture book, Teddy, let’s Go!, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, will be published in December.
The Story: Grandma lovingly sews a teddy bear for new baby, My. Teddy narrates all of their adventures as they experience several of My’s childhood milestones. But just after My’s seventh birthday another new adventure is waiting for Teddy…
Teddy, let’s Go is like a warm comforting hug in a book. Teddy is the perfect narrator, a character that children will easily identify with. This gentle story, beautifully illustrated in pastel colours, provides a wonderful stimulus for discussion about a child’s favourite soft toy and all the experiences that they have had together as the child has grown up.
This heartwarming story has such a beautiful ending as Teddy meets another important person.
Thank you for visiting Story Snug, Michelle and congratulations on the publication of Teddy, let’s Go! Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey so far?
Thank you for inviting me onto Story Snug, Catherine. I still remember sitting in a café with you in Paris as you were telling me about your vision for Story Snug. It’s done so well!! What a true pleasure and honor to be here.
I had a very early draft of Teddy Let’s Go! (by a different title) with me that weekend we met. It has since been through countless revisions. When I felt like there was really nothing more I could possibly do to improve it, I started to query it. After reading the same type of message, “It’s nice but too quiet,” I put it away. I worked on other manuscripts and eventually received contracts for two of my early readers.
In 2016, I queried a middle grade manuscript to an agent. She responded the same day to say she was intrigued by the synopsis. By the end of the week, she’d read the first three chapters and asked for the full and if I also wrote picture books. To summarize the following few months of correspondence, I sent her Teddy Let’s Go! She loved it and offered representation.
While Essie White at Storm Literary Agency was submitting Teddy’s story, I continued to write and revise all of my manuscripts that I thought she would like. Since 2018 when Enchanted Lion Books acquired Teddy Let’s Go!, I’ve written several picture book biographies on female activists and artists, and I just finished revising a middle grade novel in verse set in the 1980s.
It’s really interesting to hear how long it took for Teddy, let’s Go! to become a published book.
We love the way that the relationship develops between Teddy and his owner in Teddy, let’s Go! How and where did you get the inspiration for the story?
The idea of writing a story from the point of view of a teddy bear came from the teddy bear that my grandmother handmade me when I was born. I’ve kept him close all these years, through school, travel, motherhood, and he now sits on a bookshelf in my office.
To write the story, I reflected on the childhood milestones my children were experiencing at the time and the ones to come. For a child, there is so much growth — physically, emotionally, and mentally — in such a short amount of time. Having a true friend (real or imaginary) close by can be extremely comforting.
Having a special childhood friend is a situation that most children will identify with, it’s such a universal experience that crosses countries and cultures.
What are the main themes of the story? Is there a message you want to convey to readers?
Love. Family. Friendship.
There is a message, one that I shared with Nahid before she started the illustrations, and I think it comes across beautifully. But I believe that life, art, and books offer multiple interpretations. So I will leave readers to take what they need from this story.
Nahid Kazimi’s soft pastel coloured illustrations are beautiful and perfect for this gentle story. We love the illustration with Teddy and baby practising touching their toes.
I love that spread, too!
Was there a lot of collaboration between you and Nahid before the book was published?
Nahid and I corresponded quite early on. She shared a few early ideas of how Teddy might look and continued to show me images throughout the process. She is so talented. Everything she proposed was endearing.
Do you have a favourite illustration?
That is such a tough question! They are all wonderful. I also love the one with Teddy and My practising touching toes. In addition to that spread, I think I would have to say the page where the grandmother is holding Teddy and the baby together. The text reads, “Sometimes, soft arms lifted us both high and held us tight.” It’s such a tender moment.
This is such a heartwarming illustration.
How has being a member of SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) helped with your journey to publication?
It has been an essential part of my journey! Not only for learning the beginning basics like querying agents, but also in ordert to improve my craft with countless webinars, master classes, and critique opportunities. Most of all, SCBWI offers a supportive community that is invaluable during the sometimes challenging path to publication. It’s beyond “networking,” it’s true friendship.
That’s very true! I have made so many wonderful writing friends through SCBWI.
You have written both picture books and early readers. Does your writing process differ when writing in different genres?
Yes. When I write early readers, I have a set vocabulary that I try not to stray too far from. I determine that by grade level and reading level. Also, the illustrations in an early reader support more literally the story than they do in a picture book. This is also intentional so that readers can find clues in the pictures to be able to guess words in the text. For example, it’s ok that the text reads, “[Freddy] grabbed Hoppie and ran by the cherry tree” and that there is a cherry tree in the picture. (From Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses)
When I’m writing picture books, I feel my vocabulary can be much more free. By nature, these books are read with someone older. And so, a “bigger“ word that is above age or reading level can easily be explained by the older reader if it’s unclear from the context. Nevertheless, I have the Children’s Writer’s Word Book always within arm’s reach while I write. This is a great resource to make sure that words fall into a certain age or school year range. I also lean more heavily on poetic devices when writing picture books, whether fiction or non-fiction.
Is there any advice that you would give to aspiring #kidlit writers?
Believe in the story you have in your heart. Learn as much as you can about the craft of writing for children. Read in your genre as much as possible. The advice goes that you need to read 100 books in your genre. Once you read 100, keep reading.
Be open to critiques. Learn from others’ experiences and expertise. But don’t feel like you have to take everyone’s advice, either. It’s your story. Consider all the informed advice you receive and see how it works for the vision you hold for your story. Trust your heart; that’s where your passion started.
This should go without saying, but pay attention to the children in your life: What are their interests? What are their fears? What are their dreams? How do they interact? We may be writing the books that we wanted to read as a child (and that’s great!), but don’t forget the children who in this day will read your book. Make it relevant.
Do you have a favourite location or environment to write in?
My favourite place to write is at this farm table (where I’m sitting actually) that we moved with us from Belgium. It’s made from thick, dark wood, and is quite long. So, I can spread out lots of books, papers, and folders around my laptop.
Otherwise, I do like to escape to a café occasionally and have the voices and energy of other people around me. I haven’t done this since before the pandemic, but I’m hopeful it will be safer again soon.
I hope so too!
Which authors have influenced your writing? Authors that you may have read as a child as well as current authors.
Honestly, I think that everything I have ever read has influenced my writing. It’s hard to pinpoint specific authors. I also think that reading a variety of children’s books from other cultures and in their native languages whenever possible, in my case in French, has been extremely valauble and has offered many rich stories and narrative structures.
We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Which recent children’s books have you particularly enjoyed?
All The Places We Call Home by Patrice Gopo and Jenn Mohammed
The Legend of the Storm Goose by Fiona Halliday
Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story by Shirin Shamsi and Manal Mirza
Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Tiffany Rose
The Longest LetsGoBoy by Derick Wilder and Catia Chien
A Penny’s Worth by Kim Wilson and Mark Hoffmann
Picture book biographies by Emma Bland Smith, Megan Hoyt, and Sandra Nickel
Novels in verse by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison, Eric Gansworth, Elizabeth Acevedo, Mahogany L. Brown.
Are you able to tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re currently working on?
While I have a picture book and a few PB biographies on submission with my agent, I’m currently working on a middle grade novel in verse.
I’m also preparing a webinar on Understanding Social-Emotional Learning and How to Enhance Your Creative Work to Support this Curriculum for SCBWI Benelux this fall.
Good luck with all your submissions Michelle and thank you for answering all our questions
Michelle Nott is a former educator (pre-K to 12, French and Creative Writing), and currently a freelance editor, published poet, and children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction, in prose and verse. She has authored two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames. Her debut picture book, Teddy Let’s Go! is coming in December from Enchanted Lion Books.
Michelle grew up in the U.S. and has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. She holds American and French citizenship and is bilingual, English and French. Her extensive travel around the U.S., Europe, and Africa fuels her imagination and appreciation for story, art, and world cultures. She now lives in North Carolina, USA with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog.
You can read more about Teddy, let’s Go! on the other stops on Michelle’s blogtour;