I have known Michelle for a good decade, having bonded through our European/Francophone connection (Michelle is originally from the US, but has lived and studied in France and lived in Belgium over a decade-with dual French and American citizenship, where she raised her children.). And it is of course always a delight to see the publication of one’s friends’ stories. Teddy, Let’s Go! is out this fall, and I shall be reviewing this week on Perfect Picture Book Friday. Meanwhile, I invite you to sit back with a coffee or glass of wine and enjoy my chat with Michelle.
[JM] How does your international background influence your writing? (I personally love how different European picture books often are to American ones.)
[MN] I have always appreciated the “softer” and “quieter” style in many European stories for children. Considering my background in poetry (my first published works), I think this makes sense.
When my children were young, I read countless picture books in French and J’aime Lire magazines. It was also at this time that I started to seriously consider trying to publish picture books. I must have absorbed a bit of that style of writing because, for years, I was told by agents and editors in the U.S. that my manuscripts were “too quiet.”
Luckily, I found an agent who loves quiet, literary books… and this encourages me trust my heart and style.
[JM] I am so happy you connected with an editor who “got” this story. As a librarian, I know there are children who need the quieter stories. Who was your “Teddy” growing up? And did the inspiration for this story come from some real life experiences?
[MN] My Teddy growing up was the one my grandmother handmade me. I was born in December, and he was my first Christmas present. He has traveled all over the world with me, accompanied my own daughters during their young years. And now, he sits on a shelf in my office.
Although the story is not autobiographical, certain scenes from the book were influenced by mine or my daughters’ experiences. For example, the page where My and Teddy are eating mushy vegetables and need a bath refers to the day my youngest earned the nickname, “Miss Spinach.” Also, I was the one who packed Teddy in my bag for camp. That was a scary, to go away for the first time. In the end, I really enjoyed that week at camp, but having my trusted Teddy with me helped a lot.
[JM] How many revisions did Teddy, Let’s GO! need?
[MN] Going back into my files, I see at least a dozen versions and four different titles before it caught the attention of my agent, Essie White at Storm Literary Agency. Since Claudia Zoe Bedrick at Enchanted Lion acquired it, we’ve had a few more rounds of edits. First, it was just tweaking a few words or lines. But once Nahid Kazemi started on the illustrations, we had some more edits. This is understandable because we could start seeing what the illustrations could convey, and so some of the words were no longer necessary.
[JM] What advice would you give someone starting out as a children’s writer?
[MN] Read recent children’s books, to yourself and to children. What makes you stop and say, “Wow!”? What makes a child stop and say, “Wow!”? And what doesn’t?
Find a critique group where you can receive kind, constructive criticism. This business is hard and often discouraging. Having a critique group to help you grow as a writer in a supportive environment is essential.
Join SCBWI and Children’s Book Insider. They have been the most valuable resources for me. But also, I’ve attended incredible webinars and classes with 12×12, Highlights, The Writing Barn, Storyteller Academy, and The Children’s Book Academy.
[JM] Do you have a fun school visit anecdote for us?
[MN] One of my favorite school visit memories was in a first-grade class near Galveston, Texas the year my first book, an early reader called Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses, had published. Briefly, it’s about a boy having trouble at school, with his work and classmates. And in the end, through his imaginary frog, Hoppie, he finds a way to express his troubles. In the end, the reader learns that his reading difficulties were caused by an eyesight issue, not a learning challenge.
Well, the students were very cheerful and attentive the whole presentation and with the interactive game we played. Everything had gone perfectly. As I was packing up my materials and the children were lining up for lunch, I felt a tight squeeze around my legs … coming from a little girl in glasses. She looked up and said, “Thank you so much for writing that book.”
It was hard to walk out without crying.
Once Teddy Let’s Go! releases this fall, I look forward to getting back into classrooms for more fun and endearing moments like this one.
[JM] Do you have a writing routine?
[MN] Except if other obligations or events are planned, I first do a writing sprint of just a few minutes (sometimes longer) from a prompt I give myself. This could be an image, a word, a sound, anything that leads me to get some words on the page. This exercise may not grow into anything more, but it gets my brain going.
I’m a freelance editor as well and so, I like to work on client edits in the mornings. Likewise, I’ll write my picture book reviews for my blog in the mornings.
Then, I’m free in the afternoons (if not sooner) to work on my own projects.
I don’t feel as productive in the evenings, so I use that time to read mentor texts, poetry, or catch up on all the Publishers Weekly magazines that pile up more quickly than I can get to them.
[JM] Can you tell us briefly how you got together with your agent?
[MN] I came across Essie White’s name in a blog interview. I thought she sounded like someone who might like my writing and with whom I would like to work. So, I sent her one of two middle grade manuscripts I had finished. She replied asking if I also wrote picture books.
So, I re-opened the document Teddy, Let’s Go!, that had been closed for a while for being “too quiet,” read through it again and attached it to my reply. She really liked it, as we see, and found a great publishing home for it.
[JM] Can you give us any hints about your present project?
[MN] I have a few picture book biographies, written about artists and activists, written in verse and prose, that are on submission. I’m also revising a middle grade novel in verse. I will also be giving a webinar with SCBWI Benelux this fall. So, I’m preparing that as well. You can read more about that here: https://benelux.scbwi.org/events/webinar-social-emotional-learning-sel-in-childrens-books-with-michelle-nott/
Five Fun Ones to Finish
[JM] What’s your favorite national or local park (anywhere in the world?)
[MN] Le Domaine Solvay in La Hulpe, Belgium.
[JM] Now I am Nice-based, I need to do some more exploring in Belgium. What was your first paying job after high school?
[MN] Tennis coach.
[JM Please recommend a local café/restaurant for when I visit you.
[MN] Brakeman’s Coffee in downtown Matthews.
[JM] Thank you! Night owl or early bird?
[MN] Neither, to be honest. But I am much more productive in the mornings.
[JM] What’s your favorite European author or illustrator?
[MN] Of all time, I would say Astrid Lindgren. But for a recent author, this is a hard question to answer. Since returning to the U.S. in 2015, I haven’t read nearly as many French picture books. But I do listen to a wonderful podcast in French called L’âme à Lire that offers fabulous children’s book recommendations.
I can’t say I have a favorite illustrator. I appreciate so many artists and for so many reasons and at different times. I will say I’ve recently discovered the art of Helena Perez Garcia from Spain. I love how she illustrated Breaking Through the Clouds by Sandra Nickel.
[JM] Thank you for the podcast recommendation and sharing with us today. Bonne chance for all your new writing projects and I am sure Teddy is going to delight many children over the coming months .