Thursday, May 10, 2012

Banana Peelin' with Ruth Vander Zee

I would like to begin today with the results from the 10,000 Hit Giveaway. Thank you all for your continued support. I have really loved getting to know this amazing community of writers here on the blog. Thanks for those of you who liked me over this last week. YOU REALLY LIKE ME!?! 

I am in the process of slowly making my writery page more writery and your likes got me over the 68 fan slump. Woo hoo! I would like to congratulate Verbenabeth and Susanna Leonard Hill as they are the winners of the autographed* copies of the book of their choice! Yay! Thank you ladies! 

(* Fine print disclaimer: Reminder that autographs are not valuable in any way shape or form as they are my own. Consider this an investment opportunity. Please do not place any large bets or begin to take out large loans, such as on your house or for children's college tuition based on the fact that you will soon possess this signature.)

We are so lucky today to have the talented Ruth Vander Zee, who I am pretty sure was destined to be an author with such a beautiful name. I used her book Mississippi Morning in my classroom after a professor of mine assigned it as recommended reading. You will learn below, if you don't already know, that traditionally Ruth writes about hard issues. I must say that the week of this post is serendipitous.  Just last night, I had to explain to my little four year old about the sudden death of my mom's dog, who she adored.  It was rough. =( Ruth's books are thoughtful and touch on important issues and events  that create great topics for discussion at home or as extensions for classroom curriculum. What is the best way to talk to kids about the Holocaust or racism? Whether it is death, prejudice, or natural disaster, children's literature serves as such a great resource for exploring sensitive topics.

Please welcome today's featured Banana Peel Thursday author, Ruth Vander Zee.

Dear Elizabeth,
Do I thank you for allowing me to tell you about my slips on banana peels because slippin’ and slidin’ ain’t fun?

Right now I feel like I have my own personal banana peel that’s right underfoot all the time and it just won’t go away.
Let me explain.  After writing four children’s books all which

·         were accepted almost immediately,

·          received awards

·         are published in foreign countries,

·         sold without an agent

I found that the kind of picture books I write are not highly marketable right now.  My books are picture books for older readers on topics such as the Holocaust, the KKK, and the Vietnam War.  I taught Middle School and had a 7th grader perched on my shoulder when I wrote.  I knew they loved picture books and I knew I could use picture books to get apathetic students caring about kids living in and through difficult social issues by reading picture books. And when they cared, they were ready to learn more.

So now – to my banana peel.  I am trying to appeal to a new market.  Trying to write for younger children.  And it isn’t easy for me.  The voice I naturally hear is older.  To peel away different layers to find a young child’s voice is making me lose potassium.

And so, because I love picture books, I keep bringing my manuscripts to my wonderful critique group.  And they say things like, “This needs work.  It’s cute but, it needs work.  It has potential.  But it needs work. ”

And that work isn’t all bad.  In fact, it’s good.  Really good because I have to go to different places in my head and heart than I’ve been before.  It’s surprising what turns up when I go there.  All this hard work, of peeling the banana, slipping and sliding on the peel, landing on my butt and getting back up  in my own heart might just result in a great story for a four-year-old.  


Ruth, thank you so very much for sharing your experiences! I appreciate the work you have done and wish you the best of luck with your young child's voice!


  1. I was so excited to see that RVZ was being featured here! I also love picture books designed for slightly older I am a bit sad to read that these books, even from an extremely talented and award-winning author are not highly marketable now.

    Please visit her terrific website: to read more about RVZ. And thank you Elizabeth for featuring one of my PB heroes!

  2. I also was so excited to see Ruth here and sad to hear that even someone as talented as she is having the same problems the rest of us are! Brilliant authors aren't supposed to have to struggle with the same trials and tribulations as us mere mortals! :)

    On a happier note, SQUEEEE! I won? I'm so excited! Mem Fox's book please for me, since I already have Anne Lamott's! (And I haven't actually seen Mem's signature, so you will be able to pull the wool over my eyes! :)) THANK YOU, Bananabeth :)

  3. 10,000 hits??!! Are you kidding me??!! Holy Moses and all things YOWZA, Batman! Congrats, love. I'm sooooooooooooo proud of you!!!!

    Ruth... You'll find that voice. Someone as talented and riveting as you? Paaaleease! Can't wait to read what you have in store for the younger kiddos. :)

  4. Ruth, I appreciate your willingness to share your banana peel moment with you. I see that you love picture books, but I'm curious, if the voice you hear is a 7th grader's, why not do middle grade nonfiction? I'm thinking of people like Marc Aronson and Deb Heligman, for example. I'm just curious, as I'm currently writing picture books (mostly science) for upper elementary students, and sometimes I struggle with the upper-grade picture book versus middle grade. Kirsten W. Larson