My guest today is Jill Esbaum, who even though she lives in Iowa, has a new picture book about a Pacific Northwest native: BigFoot. This new title joins a long list of charming Jill-created picture books that all channel her inner child. . .but in animal form. (she has a very lively website here; check it out!) Welcome, Jill!
When I first tried writing for kids, all of my stories were about kids – or at least humans. I wrote about a girl who has a run-in with a skunk (Stink Soup), about a woman who has a bath time encounter with a curious mouse (Estelle Takes a Bath), and about a couple of boys who experience an early-1900s circus (To the Big Top). I wrote a historical picture book about how a steamboat’s arrival affected a small river town
(Ste-e-e-e-eamboat A-Comin’!) and dozens of others that ended up in my “close-but-no-cigar” drawer.
Talking animal stories? Nah. Oh, I adored them. But writing them, at least for me, was torture. No matter how I tried, my talking animals felt more taxidermic than realistic. I simply couldn’t get the voices right. No matter how I listened, no animal seemed to want to talk to me, let alone reveal his heart of hearts.
And then one morning, at the edge of a dream, one did. A dog. A poetry-writing dog. A poetry-writing dog who felt compelled to keep his love for poetry a secret, lest his two bully brothers make his life miserable. That was Stanza, and when his story was complete, it felt very much like something I plucked, fully formed, from the universe.
Thank you, universe. But obviously a fluke.
Then a grumpy cat checked in (Tom’s Tweet). And an enthusiastic baby killdeer (I Hatched!). And a braggy cow (I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!).
Once opened, the animal-to-writer conduit didn’t want to close again. Characters kept pouring through. Now, it’s hard for me to write kid characters…not that I’m complaining. Somehow, my talking animal characters feel more real to me than any human character I’ve ever dreamed up.
My newest picture book, Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdies Friends! features a bigfoot. I’m not sure whether he’s animal or humanoid, exactly, but he’s all heart.
Elwood is a lonely bigfoot who desperately longs to make befriend his neighborhood birdies. But how? Move his home into a tree? Check. Dress up like a birdie? Check. Have a housewarming party? Check. But, phooey, nothing works. Not even building a birdie theme park! What is he doing wrong?
Kids will know, but it takes Elwood awhile to connect the dots. Elwood Bigfoot stomped into stores September 1st. Hope you’ll give him a look!
Jill Esbaum is the author of many picture books. Her books have won a number of awards, the latest of which is a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite (I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!). In the publishing pipeline are Teeny Tiny Toady (Sterling, 2016), and If a T Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party (Sterling, 2016). She also enjoys writing nonfiction books for National Geographic. Her latest is Animal Groups, featuring the stunning photography of Frans Lanting. Jill lives on a farm in Iowa.