Susanna Leonard Hill — Interview!
November 27, 2012
As I continue this week-long celebration of the first year of Perfect Picture Book Fridays (PPBF), I am happy to be able to share with you all an interview with the founder of PPBF, Susanna Leonard Hill. Besides having a blog in which she encourages writers and readers with features such as PPBF, Would You Read It Wednesdays, Short and Sweets, Oh Susanna!, etc., Susanna is also a prolific author who has written such delights as Not Yet, Rose, Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, Punxsutawney Phyllis and April Fool, Phyllis! among others.
I came to know Susanna through PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) 2011, and discovered her blog. When she suggested Perfect Picture Book Fridays, I eagerly became involved, and over the course of the past year, I have developed a treasured friendship with Susanna, as well as becoming part of a very special community in PPBF.
Susanna has provided us with a brief biography: Once upon a time I grew up in New York City with my parents, two brothers, one sister, and an average of 3 cats. I went to some very good schools and eventually earned graduate degrees in a field I ended up not pursuing for very long because what I really wanted to do was be a mom and a writer. I am very fortunate to have 5 amazing kids and 11 books to show for myself. 🙂
May I say that we are very fortunate to have those books, as well, Susanna! And now, to learn more about the person behind the books and the blog:
Beth: Congratulations, Susanna, on the first anniversary of Perfect Picture Book Fridays. It is such a joy to participate with you and the rest of the PPBF community every week, in bringing wonderful picture books to people’s attention.
You had already been writing for quite some time, and had several books published, before I got to know you. Could you tell us something of how you got your start in writing for kids, and the progression of your career to the point where most of us connected with you?
Susanna: I always loved to write. But I had to experiment with a number of genres before I discovered what I liked best. At age 7 I wrote The Girl And The Witch, which did not receive the acclaim I had hoped for from my 2nd grade teacher, but seems to be very popular now with first and second graders on school visits. In 4th -6th grade I added extensively to the Nancy Drew Mystery series but luckily those remained for my eyes only. 🙂 During 6th grade, I switched my focus to epic poetry long enough to compose The Gods And Goddesses Of Olympus, which I devoutly hope there are no surviving copies of 🙂 but this was a brief flirtation and I swiftly turned my attention to writing horse stories… lots and lots and lots of horse stories. 🙂 Then there was the romance period. Enough said. But when my oldest daughter was a baby, and I began reading picture books by the minivanful, I finally knew what I really wanted to write. I took a correspondence course from the Institute Of Children’s Literature (it was by snail mail when I took it, back in the last millennium, but I think it’s available online now 🙂 ) and learned as much as I could about writing for kids. I was very fortunate to meet my agent (too long a story to add in here!) and sell one of my first manuscripts to Little Simon. Somewhere along the way, it became clear that an online presence was desired and expected, so I started my blog and found that I loved it – and that’s how I got to know you! 🙂
Beth: Your blog as it is now is almost totally geared to creating experiences that will benefit other writers, and that writers can participate in. How long have you been blogging, and was your focus always on helping other writers?
Susanna: I began blogging on December 1, 2010, so my two year blogiversary is only a few days away! When I started, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I had learned that authors were expected to create a platform, be visible and accessible online, and do their best to help get their work known. I knew nothing about it and the whole idea made me desperately uncomfortable. I didn’t want to sound like some kind of door-to-door salesman peddling my books. I didn’t want to compete with the many, many excellent and well-established writing blogs that already existed – nor did I think I could! – and I didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in me or my life as a writer, so I stumbled around a bit in the beginning, trying to find a way to connect and provide something helpful and valuable. I have not had an overnight success story. After 2 years of blogging, in spite of a lot of hard work, I still have a relatively obscure little blog. But I have met a lot of wonderful people, have a lovely group of loyal followers whom I treasure, and have found a few things that seem to appeal to people – Would You Read It Wednesdays, Short & Sweets, the writing contests, author/illustrator interviews and book giveaways, and Perfect Picture Book Fridays. My goal is to host a fun, friendly blog where writers are comfortable coming to share their work and are hopefully inspired, by the activities provided and/or by each other, where people can learn a little about the publishing industry and feel free to ask questions and discuss, and also to help parents and teachers learn about and make use of the many wonderful picture books out there. I love the children’s book community and am grateful every day to be a part of it.
Beth: Where did the idea of Perfect Picture Book Fridays come from?
Susanna: The idea for PPBF came, indirectly, from a conversation I had with my sister about finding good books for my nephew. He had actually grown beyond picture books, so we were discussing middle grade titles, but I got to thinking about how many books were out there, and how, if you hadn’t grown up reading lots of picture books, and if you didn’t work in a career that exposed you to them, how would you know what was good and what wasn’t? How could you easily find titles that were appropriate for your particular child – for their interests, or needs? As a busy, overworked teacher, daycare provider or homeschooler, how could you easily find books that would fit with what you were teaching? Of course you can always ask your local librarians, but we seem to be moving more and more into a world where people expect things to be available at the touch of their keyboards, so I thought it would be interesting, fun, and hopefully helpful to parents, teachers, homeschoolers, daycare providers, grandparents etc. to have a great resource that would help them locate just the right kind of books for the children in their lives.
As the face of publishing is changing, though, I also wanted to encourage people to continue to value picture books for the wonderful, unique, enriching experience they are.
Beth: What did you originally expect from PPBF? Has it met your expectations?
Susanna: I’m not sure what I expected. I wasn’t even sure the idea would appeal to people or take off. 🙂 But what I hoped was that I’d find other bloggers as passionate about picture books as I am who wanted to share their favorite books, and that word would spread and parents, teachers, homeschoolers, etc. would learn about PPBF and make use of it. I have certainly found the former – a group of amazing, dedicated bloggers who post fantastic books and resources almost every week if not every week – with you right at the top of the list, Beth – I don’t think you’ve missed a week yet. 🙂 I don’t really know how much use is made of it. The PPB tab on my blog has only had 6316 views to date, and I assume most of those are from PPBF bloggers checking to see if titles have already been covered, and though I don’t actually know, either way, it’s not like it’s had 2 million hits. 🙂
Beth: What has been the best part of PPBF for you?
Susanna: The best part, hands down, has been the enthusiastic participation of my fellow bloggers who have entered into the spirit of PPBF so wholeheartedly. I also love being introduced to tons of new picture books every week that I’ve never heard of or haven’t read yet – it’s like opening presents every Friday. 🙂
Beth: Are there things you would do differently for PPBF if starting it today?
Susanna: The only thing I can think of that I would do differently is the presentation/organization of the list itself. It is a BEAST to update – terribly unwieldy and very time-consuming. And I don’t have enough time, so I’m always behind. I wish there was a way to make it easier, but I haven’t thought it up yet. If anyone has any bright ideas, please let me know immediately!!! 🙂
Beth: What are your hopes for the second year of PPBF?
Susanna: I hope it will continue as it has, with lots of wonderful new entries each week, increasing everyone’s collective knowledge of the world of picture books and all the things they have to offer. But I do really hope that word will spread and that more people will make use of this resource we’ve all worked so hard to put together.
Beth: A question that must be asked – with all the wonderful things you do on your blog, how do you find time to write?
Susanna: There’s no beating around the bush on the answer to that, Beth. It’s very hard to find time for everything and I never seem to have enough. I overwork my kitchen timer 🙂 – setting it repeatedly so I make sure to get at least some of everything done each day. I work a lot and I probably don’t sleep as much as I should 🙂 and I confess that there are days I wouldn’t mind if the internet took a vacation and I could just write! I feel like it’s an issue I’m going to have to address as the new year approaches and it’s time for a little reflection. I would love to find a better way! But I do make sure to fit the writing in. After all, that’s what everything else springs from.
Beth: Is there anything you would like to add? Teasers for what might be coming next on your blog? Reminders of weekly or extraordinary events?
Susanna: Let’s see… I already mentioned most of my features. I do have a Holiday Writing Contest coming up for which the top five prizes will be picture book manuscript critiques from some great published writers, and I hope lots of people will want to try their hand at that. 🙂 And I also have a little something else up my sleeve that I’ve been working on for months – since early June actually. I’m hoping to announce it soon, but that’s all I’m going to say for now, except that (alas!) it’s not a new book!
Beth: Where can we find you online?
Susanna: Please visit me anytime at my blog (http://susannahill.blogspot.com), or my website (http://www.susannahill.com). If you’d like to follow me on twitter, you can find me at https://twitter.com/SusannaLHill and I’d love it if you want to “like” my Face Book page at http://www.facebook.com/SusannaLeonardHill
Beth: Thanks so much for this interview, Susanna! All the best of success and joy to you!
Susanna: Thank you so very much for having me, Beth! I really appreciate the opportunity to be on your wonderful blog, as well as all the support you have shown me and my crazy hair-brained blogging schemes. 🙂