Thursday, April 19, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Amy Novesky

I am a huge picture book biography fan.  Mix this with my love for Frida Kahlo and you pretty much have me floating on cloud nine today. Today's featured author Amy Novesky, whose biographical picture books include Me, Frida and Georgia Goes to Hawaii,  has a real talent for capturing the beauty in the lesser known parts of her subject's lives. 

She has me thinking about everyone I know and how I could possibly turn different facets of their lives into children's books. If I know you, chances are I have already thought about what piece of your life would be inspirational and marketable to children. =) Guy that registers college kids to vote in his bike helmet, what's your story?

I am so honored today to host Amy Novesky's banana peel moments.


Slip. Slip. Shine.

By Amy Novesky

Writing and publishing picture books—and especially books about real people—is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been at it now for 12 years, actively writing and submitting my work, and while I have three beautiful books—Elephant Prince (2004); Me, Frida (2010); Georgia In Hawaii (2012)—it took a long while before I had something to show for all of my hard work. Along the way, I’ve had many banana peel moments. But if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am, and that feels good. Humility is an under-rated quality. You have to slip before you can shine.

 I started writing my Georgia book back in 2002. It started out as a very different book: a simple counting book, using Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings as art. It took months of research to refine the concept, to find paintings to fit the one to ten text. When I was finished, I sent the book to a publisher who made me my very first offer. The day after I received the offer, I received a letter from the artist’s estate rejecting my request for permission to reprint artwork for my book, which they called gimmicky. I had to go back to the publisher and tell them that we couldn’t do the book. Slip.

But then I took a trip to Hawaii, and at the Honolulu Arts Academy I discovered Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings, and I was inspired again. I decided to give it another try. No paintings, just illustrations this time. By 2004, I had a contract from another publisher (the first turned it down), but the book wasn’t scheduled to be published until 2009, due to the illustrator’s busy schedule, and was pushed back a few times to boot. The book finally arrived earlier this year, ten years after I started it. I have been talking about this book for so long, people probably thought I was delusional. But it was worth the wait. It’s a gorgeous book. A true collaboration between author, editor, and illustrator—we all worked really hard. Had the first book been published, I might not have written this one; this was the book I was meant to write all along.

 Believe it or not, it’s not the only time an offer has fallen through. The same publisher made an offer on another story only to rescind it the very next day. They had changed their mind. Slip. But, in the end, I’m glad they did. The story had a very delicate subject, and I think I might have regretted it.

 What these slips have taught me is that it’s really important to believe whole-heartedly in your work. You must love your story, because you will work on it for a long time. You will get tired of it. You will have to fight for it and even defend it. You might not want to ever read it again.

 I think we tend to focus on the prize of publishing; who doesn’t want to publish a book? But publishing a book is a huge responsibility. To make public, to put into print something with your name on it, something that kids will read and take seriously, it’s so important that you believe in it, love it, and that it is authentic and as good as can be.

 The hard work doesn’t end when the book is printed. You have to promote it, and that takes time and energy—time and energy away from writing. And if you are shy like me, performing (and it is) in front of a room full of people can be overwhelming and downright terrifying. Public speaking is about as opposite the act of solitary writing as you can get. But once you get the hang of it, once you can relax a bit and enjoy it, once you come to expect and not be flustered by the inevitable glitches—and there will be!—it’s incredibly rewarding to share your book. Shine.

Amy Novesky is the award-winning author of ELEPHANT PRINCE; ME, FRIDA; and GEORGIA IN HAWAII. IMOGEN, a picture book about photographer Imogen Cunningham, will be published this fall, and MISTER & LADY DAY, about Billie Holiday and her beloved dogs, will be published next year.

I don't know about you, but I am so incredibly excited for the release of Amy's next two books! 

 Thank you so much for your contribution to the series Amy and best of luck to you in the release of  your upcoming books.


  1. "You might not want to ever read it again."


    Amy, I hope that the rave reviews for "Georgia In Hawaii" mean that you will not feel that way about your gorgeous book!

    Elizabeth, is it OK if I recommend your readers pop over to read Amy's author chat at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup blog? More details about her lovely book:

    Great post - thanks Amy and Elizabeth!

  2. My favorite line: "You have to slip before you can shine." I love that!!! The entire post is wonderful, but another thing that stood out is how you said we have to take something we put in print seriously.
    Thanks, Elizabeth and Amy!

  3. Hi Amy,

    So good to see/read you on here. Wow! You have been really busy. I had no idea you had those two other books coming up. I'm looking forward to reading Georgia—the illustrations look beautiful! I guess it was well worth waiting for Yuyi Moralies?

  4. Wise words. We have to love our stories like our children, and never give up on them. Thanks Amy for sharing your slips with us.

  5. Hi Amy, I have been so looking forward to reading your Georgia O'Keefe book. I enjoyed a fabulous exhibit of her work at the Phillips Gallery in Washington, D.C. years ago. It's amazing to think that book might never have come to fruition had the estate agreed to let you publish your counting book. Thanks for showing us that the pros sometimes slip on those pesky banana peels as well.

  6. Wow, Amy! I admire your persistence with your Georgia O'Keefe book. I hope you had a big party to celebrate its release! What an accomplishment!

    Thank you for your stories and advice.

  7. Another amazing interview, Elizabeth! What a journey you have had, Amy! But well worth it, I would say :) Thanks for sharing!