Thanks for asking me, Carrie.
Five books. The idea still makes me a little weak in the knees.
For each of the Chickies books, I went on a small tour. I love doing storytimes and puppet shows at my local library, so I just took everything I do there on the road – readings, songs, action rhymes, musical instruments, and puppets!
It was a busy year!
I’ve been really fortunate to work with publishers this year who took a real interest in promoting my books. In addition to the book tours, I recorded each book as a song and also performed small puppet shows for promotional trailers.
Your most recent release, Mimi and the Bear in the Snow was something new for you after the Chickies rush. Can you tell us a little bit about starting a new series? How did you hope the Mimi series would differ from Chickies?
I actually wrote Mimi and Bear in the Snow before the chickies books; it just published later in the year due to the seasonal nature.
I think audience is the biggest difference between Mimi and the Chickies.
Chickies are bouncing off the wall toddlers learning how the world works. They are visiting each of those toddler milestones and doing it in true little-ball-of-energy toddler style.
Mimi has already learned those all important skills and is more about exploring the world with her beloved companion Bear. She is more independent than the Chickies.
Having roots in theatre and music, I love that you express yourself through puppeteering and singing. How did you get started?
The children’s librarian at my local library (who is a close friend) dragged me into puppeteering kicking and screaming. But it only took one try to get me hooked. I love hearing kids laugh. LOVE it. So I started out just volunteering at my library, but I liked it so much, I went to puppet bootcamp at Perdue University. No really. I’m not kidding. I learned how to make puppets there, so now I make my own puppets.
I love to sing and I play a little bit of autoharp, so I planned to incorporate both into my storytimes. I was having a brainstorming meeting with my editor and one of the above-mentioned marketing gurus when they asked me what one of my storytimes looked like. I told them I was working on a Chickies song and they had me sing it right then over the phone. They liked it and sent me to a recording studio, so now we include a song on the website for each book. The greatest thing is hearing moms and grandmothers tell me that their little chickies INSIST they sing the books now. LOVE that!
How has puppeteering affected your writing?
Storytime and puppeteering have influenced my writing in a HUGE way. There is nothing like live responses from your target audience. I see what makes them laugh. I see what makes them worry for the characters. I see what makes them clap their hands and interact with the story.
I’ve watched the difference between toddler storytimes and preschool storytimes. Toddlers need high-octane, energetic performances to keep their attention. Preschoolers are more prepared to connect with the characters and story.
You’ve made some truly age appropriate book trailers with your puppets that I am sure kids beg to watch again and again. Do you think your puppet book trailers gain more views than others that are without?
I love those book trailers. Every time I watch one, I’m back sitting on the floor behind a table at HarperCollins laughing as we filmed them. It still kind of cracks me up that I made a tiny toilet for a video.
The real magic happened later though when the marketing gurus put them together. I THOUGHT the puppet trailers might gain more views than the traditional, but judging from the views, they did not. The more traditional versions that just play the song and show snippets of the books have received more hits.
Your writing and illustrating appeals to the younger side of the 4-8 spectrum, and really, even younger, some in the 1-4 year old age range. What do you feel has been most helpful in appealing to this audience?
Again, I think it’s knowing your audience. Each age range has such different needs and readiness levels; knowing what those are really helps.
Chickies’ fans have something to look forward to in June, correct?
Oh, those grimy little Chickies are in for some bathtime fun in Bathtime for Chickies!
What else should we look forward to?
I’m also working on a 6th Chickies book, Big Chickie, Little Chickie – an opposites book as well as a new series about some bad little bunnies named Bunny and Clyde.
When is your next local puppet show and how can fans, like me, get involved?
My next puppet show is at a local daycare. I offer free storytime visits for local daycares and preschools. And the next appearance after that will be singing with my trio at a nursing home. See…I love the folks at both ends of the age spectrum.
She’s also recently acquired a 100+ year old building that is part studio and part music hall, so next time you’re in Texas, stop by for a jam.