Thursday, November 15, 2012

From the Archives: Banana Peelin' with Linda Boyden

Today we pull another Banana Peelin post from the archives. This week, we are celebrating author, illustrator, poet, Linda Boyden. There is actually a method to my madness, however.

Next week is Thanksgiving and festive picture books are floating around the universe to celebrate. Today's post will be followed TOMORROW by an extra special interview between Linda and myself where Linda describes her Native American heritage as well as some thoughts on  popular depictions of Native Americans in children's literature. Make sure to return tomorrow for a cornucopia of good information. I know. That was bad. I'm such a turkey. Okay. Now I can't stop. Gobble.

And now, a blast from the past!

Welcome to the 2nd official Banana Peel Thursday!

So excited you could join me. Eeek!

I don't know about you, but how many of us went straight to the library or bookstore last week after reading Susanna's stories to try and hold one of her books in our hands?

 I know I did!

There is something about learning the ins and outs of someone that makes me completely enamored with that person. Example, football. Eh. Take it or leave it for me. But as soon as I learn a player's story, I am hooked on their team and personal well being. LT, just one example. Aaron Rodgers, being from my town, makes him kind of interesting, another example.

With that said...I hope that all of us become hooked on these authors and choose to support them for having so graciously spilled their guts by checking out their books and by popping over to their website/blog to let them know how much we appreciate their work!

With that said...

Do you ever wonder where your words come from? In the age of free trade, and then thank goodness fair trade, we have become much more aware of the origins of our clothes, coffee and chocolate.

But what about our WORDS?

I received  Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas, as a gift from a classmate of mine at the end of a course that focused, so appropriately, on valuing the beauty of our nation's cultures and languages. It was the perfect gift. I was floored. Not only had I have never seen a more beautiful alphabet book in my life, but it came autographed by the author/illustrator, Linda Boyden.

Flash forward almost exactly one year later, this bloggin' fool discovers that she is in the same SCBWI region as Linda Boyden! (Executing ecstatic dance this very moment.) She is now even  her FACEBOOK FRIEND! (Delivering ecstatic dance one more time...whooo, I'm pooped!)

Not only is it beautiful, but this book is witty and the fact that it recognizes the often overlooked contributions of indigenous cultures and languages to our modern world gives it an A+ in my book!

THANK YOU Linda Boyden for choosing to participate in the second Banana Peel Thursday!


By Linda Boyden

            In the late 1990s when I was unpublished, my writing rules were simple: write everyday. Write about what you know. Fake the rest and write about that, too. Read. Read the genre in which you want to be published.
            The only issue: I wanted to be published in all of them, so I spent my days reading and writing and pretty much playing in a sandbox of words.
            When I had a number of picture book manuscripts ready--oh, the folly--I began the tedious process of sending them to editors. While waiting for two or three contracts, possibly more, to wing their way to my mailbox, I got serious about a middle grade novel.
            Did I know how to do this? Meh, so back I went to my local library to start reading. I attended SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) and Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers’ conferences, and listened and learned. Armed with all this knowledge, I considered the plot of my soon-to-be-best seller.
            If it’s true to write from your heart, then the choice for me was a no-brainer. As a child I devoured fairy tales. Loved the magic of them, the promises, the evil wickedness, the heroic rescues. Naturally, I didn’t want to do anything that had been done before so mine needed a twist. I imagined a middle grade, modern fairy tale complete with sassy fairy godmother sisters who needed to borrow a misfit eleven year old human boy to save their fanciful world.
             I had the most marvelous time creating that world, my own kind of magic with my own twist. When I finally had it pieced together enough to share with a writing friend, I suggested we meet at a local bookstore. She could read a section and I would pay her with coffee and muffin.
            When she finished, she smiled and beckoned me over to the children’s section.
            She pulled a book from the shelf and asked, “Have you read this yet?”
            I shrugged.
            “Maybe you should,” she said.
            The cover and topic had immediate appeal, plus I trusted my critique partner so I bought it. Later that evening, I fell into the most delicious modern fairy tale, about a boy named Harry, the boy who lived, albeit with a scar on his forehead….
            When I finished “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” I screamed for a long time.

      Not because of jealousy or envy, but because of the many coincidences that occurred between our two stories, things like my protagonist’s best friends were the Beasley family who were red-headed and rambunctious (uh, think Ron Weasley et al); my villain’s castle was surrounded by the Grindylow Sea and Rowling had grindylows (water demons) in her stuff. I mean, really, who else knew about GRINDYLOWS?
            I have never submitted that manuscript, though surely enough time has now elapsed that I might do so with honor. What I did discover after much thinking is the How of this experience, my personal Banana Peel: Rowling and I both had both done extensive research on Celtic mythology and used it.
            Lately, another idea has been tickling my brain and won’t leave me alone. I’ve been itching to get back to illustrating so while listening to a kiddie cd with my young granddaughter, I was intrigued to discover that the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star song we all know and love has a number of obscure verses.
So off I went researching and thinking. I decided to illustrate in fabric collage and was building up excitement and cleaning off the art area of my office when bam!

     This morning, January 11, 2012, I read how the celebrated author/illustrator, Jerry Pinkey’s latest
book, “Twinkle, Twinkle” is in the running for the Caldecott…and yes, it is a retelling of the song and of course, simply breathtaking.
           Seriously, I cannot be the only person stuff like this happens to…please? On one hand I feel I’m in good company or at least on the right track; on the other, I’m pretty sure I’ll smack every, single new idea with a sledge hammer from now on.
            When I do school visits and talk to kids about the writing process, I always answer their inevitable Where Do You Get Story Ideas From question with, “From the Cosmic Goo. It’s like a big, fat, imaginary vat of nothing where ideas are born and wait for artists to grab them.”
            Huh. It’s one of the better answers I’ve made up, and apparently quite true.

 Linda Boyden, author, storyteller, illustrator & poet

"The Blue Roses"  from Lee & Low Books 2002, winner New Voices Award, Paterson Prize and Wordcraft Circle's Book of the Year, 2003
My first illustrated book:   "Powwow's Coming" from the University of New Mexico Press, 2007
Newest book: "Giveaways, An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas", written & illustrated by Linda Boyden (University of New Mexico Press)

Check out for the GIVEAWAYS book trailer and Feathered Quill for a review.

"Giveaways", winner of three Finalist awards from the 2011 International Book Awards, two Finalist Awards from the 2011New Mexico Book Awards and included in 2012 California Collections form the CA. Reading Association. 
"Powwow's Coming" is included on Reading Is Fundamental's 2011 Multicultural Book List!  
Check out GIVEAWAYS' trailer.

"Poetry may not change the world, but its lack will."  Carol Willette Bachofner

Thank you so much Linda for sharing your slips with us!


  1. Linda, that's happened to me, too! Before I had read The Giver, I had a manuscript that was about a girl with fairy blood who lived under a curse. In order to explain it to her, the fairies shared the past with her by bringing her there through some kind of mind meld thing. I barely remember it, it was so long ago, but though the general story was completely different (as was the vibe) when I read The Giver, I was slammed by the similarities.

    Happened also with my MG novel (the above mentioned which, after 9 years, became The Curse of Addy McMahon and got published by HarperCollins). Wimpy Kid hadn't come out yet. My book was full of drawings by the MC...oh well.

    Happens to everyone!

  2. Linda, that has totally happened to me too! I wrote Chrysanthemum only to discover Kevin Henkes had beat me to it! Arrgghhh!!! :) For me it sprang from the fact that my Dad used to pretend he couldn't remember our names and he would call us Chrysanthemum as if that was it, but the story I wrote was almost word-for-word what Henkes wrote. Cosmic Goo indeed :) Thanks for sharing your wonderful story Linda, and thank you, Elizabeth for this great series - I love it!

  3. Ouch - I feel your pain. When it happens, I just take it as a positive sign that my idea, my concept, was indeed worthy of publication. And then move on...or not!

  4. Linda~Great post! I am not published yet, but have found it very funny that I think I have such an original idea that no one but me could EVER think of it....and yet, there it is...published, and on the shelves with illustrations!!!! Go figure! And,of course we have disclaimers all the time in our critique group about similar ideas. I enjoyed your banana peel.
    Elizabeth~This series is so helpful. The sharing is reassuring and encouraging. It is really nice to have experienced authors/illustrators tell of their "slips".

    1. I am so happy to hear you like it Penny and that it is helpful! =)

  5. I too am unpublished but have already had similar experiences. Who was it who said there are no new stories only different ways to tell them? Problem is - if someone else has beaten you to it and it's a best-seller, not likely yours is going to sell.

    Luckily, there are lots more where those came from... ;-)

  6. Yikes, I'm terrified of this! As a fairly new arrival on the PB scene, I am not yet as well-read in the genre as many of you. And since writing is often a torture for me, the idea that I might actually finish an MS that I love, and then find it's already done...NOOOOOOOOOO! Thanks for sharing - now I'm off to do more reconnaissance on my current idea...

  7. Iv'e been at this a year and already have written and unwritten manuscripts I then discover bear a formidable resemblance to some successful picture books.

    Though Linda, I do find the red-headed Beasley family almost uncanny!

    Loving the banana peels, Elizabeth!

  8. I sometimes think that not a single word that comes from my mouth or keyboard is original or fresh. I re-read stuff that I have written, and it all sounds stale, borrowed, and rehashed. But I keep writing anyway.

  9. Obviously you have a great mind to have written stories that have become bestsellers (but for someone else.) :) I'm sure you will have a marvelous idea completely all your own soon! I always worry about that, though. What if someone else gets their story done first and it resembles what I'm working on? I don't want my procrastination to cause me to miss out on a great opportunity. Writing seems to be so much about having an idea at the right place and at the right time.

  10. Man! I feel like this is MY life! That's why, despite all the advice I receive on a daily basis, I try NOT to read other books in my genre. I worry that my subconscious will steal ideas and convince my writer's brain that they were all my idea. Thank you, Linda! It's good to know it can happen to everyone. (Also, I'm glad we're in the same SCBWI region! Hopefully we can meet soon!)

    Elizabeth- I couldn't be more proud of you!! This is fantastic!!

  11. I, too have been there and done that. Still, I think that if one has a story that just won't let go, even if it might not be headed for publication, it is valid to write it. No story is completely original, and the way you tell it might be completely different than what was published. Just look at the two Mouse and Lion books that have come out one behind the other from two very well known illustrators. This sort of thing happens all the time.

  12. I worry about this too. I have read so many picture books to my kids and then I as I am rereading my work I think, "It feels like I have read something like this before." Almost like my favorite stories that I have read my children are bubbling up from my subconscious when I write.

  13. Thanks, all, for these very fine comments. And to Elizabeth for inventing Banana Peeling. It's good to know I am such fine company. I will disagree with Bethany a little though...I read in the genres in which I'd like to work to know my competition...think I have to. Keep on making words sing, everyone!

    1. Linda, thanks SO much for sharing. =) It sounds as though many people have had similar experiences. I myself, have not, oh except for this one idea I had about a talking spider and a pig...

      I love your writing! Each line seems so carefully written and beautiful. Can't wait to meet up with you at a SCBWI event some day!

  14. Scary stuff. Still, as long as we keep writing, hopefully something original pops out sooner or later!

  15. Now I know with confirmation that there's nothing "new" to write - and I think that's probably a good thing. The little chimes inside us all that sound on the same creative note are likely the way we recognize that universal truth which we all share. The creative ways in which we chime are all different - and a little the same.

    Elizabeth, thank you for bringing Linda to your forum! And Linda, thank you for your honesty and your truth. The highest compliment I know - I'll be seeking out your writing!

    Until next week, then!

    (Anonymously yours, Melissa K.)

  16. Great post. Thankyou Linda and thanks Elizabeth. It is a worry finding out your idea is similar as someone elses.... don't you think? ....mmm

  17. I think when the universe throws out an idea, many receptive brains pick it up simultaneously. We each give it our own spin, but still might hear an editor say, "It's too much like XXX that we've already done." It's happened to me more than once. Great post.
    Kathy Cannon Wiechman (Swagger Writers)

  18. Coincidences like this do happen. But we each have our own individual voices. Ideas are universal but how you tell your story is unique. My Twinkle Twinkle Little Star book(1994) is surely much different than your version, and equally different from Jerry Pinkney's. Don't worry about what's been done. There's always room for another retelling!

  19. Thanks for the post -I've had a similar experience (though not as spooky). When I had an idea for a picture book in May 2010 (a fortunately/unfortunately book), I immediately googled it to see if there were any picture books that might be too similar. There weren't. So I went ahead and wrote it. I sent it to my agent who immediately sent it out and I also sent it to my editor (who was shortly going to publish Don't Panic, Annika!). Just as I was getting interest from several publishers, I regoogled it. Michael Foreman had a book coming out that next week (called Fortunately, Unfortunately) that hadn't showed up four months before). So we had to leave it. Then at my launch, a lovely pb author who I'd never met before, but whose books I admired (Alan Durant), gate-crashed my launch as he had been downstairs signing copies of his latest book 'Unfortunately'. His book had come out within a couple of months of Michael Foreman's (and mine is very similar to Alan Durant's) and neither author nor their publishers had had any idea the other was coming out.
    Always keep googling -even if nothing comes up when you first look...

  20. Aargh! I HATE when that happens, but it happens. Twice already to me. Thanks for telling your story. I hate that it happened and I love that you shared it.