Student Success Stories: Laurie Elmquist
I am so excited to be introducing all of you to Laurie Elmquist today. Laurie’s third board book, City Baby, released just a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll be giving away a copy at the end of this blog. If you’re interested in writing board books, keep reading, because Laurie shares all kinds of useful information throughout this post. She even made a Master Studies video on studying board book mentor texts, which you can watch now.
Myrna: What is your background?
Laurie: I am the author of five children’s books published by Orca Book Publishers, including the Silver Birch Express award-nominated title, Where’s Burgess? and a bestselling board book, Beach Baby. I teach creative writing at Camosun College and help others to tell their stories.
Myrna: What made you want to start writing children’s books?
Laurie: My friend wrote a beautiful lullaby and when I asked her to tell me more about it, she told me it was a board book. “What’s a board book?” I asked. She invited me to her home and showed me a basket full of books for babies. I remember looking specifically at Little You, written by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Julie Flett. I’d always written stories and poems, but I’d never tried to write for children. That day I was so inspired I went home and wrote Beach Baby. I wrote about all the things I loved about the beach, such as the purple starfish and the pelicans that zoom over the waves. I sent the manuscript to Orca Book Publishers, and they accepted it. Since that day, I’ve continued to write for children.
Myrna: You recently celebrated the publication of your third Board Book with Orca Book Publishers. Congratulations! What do you love about this book?
Laurie: City Baby is close to my heart. It was inspired by a walk I took with my daughter and grandson through San Luis Obispo, California. We did some of those things you see in the book, such as visiting a café and walking past a beautiful fountain. The final scene at the back where mom and baby are at a festival is also very personal for me because I wanted to honour my mother-in-law’s Mexican heritage. Okay, honestly I love everything about this book.
Myrna: It sounds wonderful! Did the publisher ask your input for the illustrations?
Laurie: For me, it’s a very hands-off approach in terms of the illustrations. I don’t provide any art notes except what is actually in the text. For example, the baby wears a beanie because it’s part of the story. At other times, the decisions are solely the illustrator’s, such as what type of mural to draw. In my mind, I was thinking something historical, but Ashley Barron chose monarch butterflies, which I love because the image is more kid-friendly and highlights a fragile species.
Myrna: What are the particular challenges of writing a board book?
Laurie: A board book has few words, only about four or five per page. It is a challenge to create a scene with so few words. I like the scene where mom and baby make funny faces in the window. It almost needs no words at all, but the writer still has to create the scene and figure out where it falls in the story. Although board books have a simple narrative, all the story elements are there, including a strong emotional tug.
Myrna: True. So, why did you start taking Storyteller Academy classes?
Laurie: I wanted to learn everything I could about creating picture books. Instructors at Storyteller Academy have introduced me to so many mentor texts. It’s like having a best friend who is super knowledgeable and just piles up your arms with good books. And I don’t just mean the books that have won awards. I mean the books that kids love. I’ve been experimenting with writing lots of different styles and stories. I love books with humour, and I gravitate toward the underdog. I create protagonists who have sensitivities to noise, or maybe they prefer sharks to people, but they also have a steely nerve that is going to get them through any of life’s difficulties.
I’m writing lots of manuscripts, so some of them can be terrible and never see the light of day. Among these terrible ones might be some manuscripts that have the “it factor” and find their way into publication.
Myrna: I love this! I definitely have written some manuscripts that haven’t made it past the first draft. What are you working on now?
Laurie: I’m really excited about a story I’ve written about a princess who won’t wear shoes. Her name is Princess Hazel, and she just refuses to wear those glass slippers that are all the rage.
Arree Chung, who teaches Crafting Picture Book Stories, talks about how kids are always being told what to do, and it’s really great if a writer can turn things around and have kids tell someone else what to do. Although Princess Hazel doesn’t boss anyone around, she does have a lot of agency and some very snappy comebacks to all the people in her life that tell her to put on her shoes.
I’m really happy about the ending of this picture book because I think it works both on a literal and metaphorical level. I’m hoping this manuscript might be one with the it factor. The it factor is something that we also talk about in Storyteller Academy, not in any kind of prescriptive way, but rather we look at the stories that delight us. We also talk about something called layering, which is a story that works on a few different levels.
Myrna: Do you have any advice for our readers, especially those who want to write board books?
Laurie: My advice to readers who want to write board books is to keep it simple. In City Baby, the focus is on a walk through the city. It’s one city. It’s one walk that starts close to home and ends in the city square. It’s the kind of book that is easy to put in a window display along with other books about summertime and kids getting outdoors. My advice is also to write what you love because if you love to take in a summer concert with your baby, your enthusiasm will come through.
Myrna: Thank you for that great advice. What’s next for you?
Laurie: I’d like to keep writing and making picture book dummies. I am also writing a middle grade book that I’m excited about. It’s about a boy named Max who sews and makes his own fashions, and has a big dream.
Myrna: That all sounds like fun! Where can we find you on the Internet?
Myrna: Where can we buy your books?
Laurie: You can find my books, including City Baby, by ordering them through your local bookstore and on Amazon.
Myrna: Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Laurie!
So, what have you learned from Laurie? Share something you’ve learned in a comment, and I’ll enter you to win a copy of Laurie’s newest board book, City Baby. This giveaway will close on June 12 at midnight, PDT. You can share this post on social media for extra entries. Just post a link (or let me know) in a comment below.
If you’d like to learn more about Master Studies, I wrote another post on Master Studies for picture books.
Thanks for reading!