The Making of a Bestselling Children's Book
In children's books there are those rare gems that come out of the gate like the literary equivalent of a coveted holiday toy, but unlike those talking Elmo's and Cabbage Patch dolls (for those of you old enough to remember) these books are also destined to stand the test of time. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is one such book. It came out in 2011 and was one of our Best Picture Books of the Year--it hasn't slowed down since. Today, the newest book from the same author and illustrator team comes out, Steam Train, Dream Train, and it is wonderfully different. In fact, Steam Train, Dream Train, our Best Picture Book of April, has, in my opinion, the potential become even bigger than it's predecessor. It's rhythmic, engaging, and beautiful.
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site was the first book by an author who was by profession a graphic designer, but also the mother of two young boys. We wondered what life has been like for her, winning such high acclaim and success with her first book. Sherri Duskey Rinker had this to say:
In 2009, I was a typical, exhausted working mom. I had a three year old and a seven year old; I was sleep-deprived and stretched too thin.
As a graphic designer for more than twenty years, I was SO over it: budgets, corporate politics, marketing speak, revisions, hot deadlines, late hours, disrupted weekends and vacations—all of it. What was once a lovely career was now drudgery (kids change everything, right?), and I was often grumpy and resentful about the whole thing. I sometimes prayed for a better option, but I often felt like my pleas just scattered to the breeze, unheard.
My boys were the bright spot in every day. I was awful about honoring bedtimes—evenings were the only time I really had to spend with them, uninterrupted. My husband scolded halfheartedly, but we laughed, played, talked, cuddled, and, finally—way later than we should— settled in to read before bed.
Still, I was exhausted. I felt like those dolls that close their eyes when you lay them down, as though only the distance to the nearest horizontal surface stood between me and unconsciousness. But my little one, especially, wanted to talk. About trucks. (Inspired by our reading, of course.) He thanked God for them (ALL of them, by name, each and every one), asked which was my favorite, and wondered how much each one could lift or carry. Remember that cool one we saw today? He’ll drive that when he gets big. How much longer ’til he’s big? Don’t forget about that new one he wants for his birthday. He needs to remind Grandpa he wants the yellow one not the red one. One is broken; Daddy will need to fix it. He needs another loader for a job he has tomorrow; he’s working overtime on a big project. Can we buy a new loader? Aren’t crane trucks super awesome? . . . And on, and on . . .
One night, after I’d fallen asleep in his bed and, hours later, stumbled across the hall into my own, I received a gift: It occurred to me that what we needed was a truck book melded with a goodnight book. The idea for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site hit me like a fastball (title and all), and I got a total adrenaline rush pondering it.
SO: I wrote it, I sent it, I signed a contract—and it sold. And sold BIG. (Really big.) Like, #1 New York Times bestseller big.
Now it’s 2013. It’s hard to express how much has changed. I visit schools to talk about my books and my life.
Teachers give me introductions that I’m sure must be meant for someone else. Little girls hug me on their way out, and little boys ask for my autograph and high fives. Kids make me thank-you cards out of construction paper and color pictures for me to take home and hang on my fridge.
AND, I get paid. Seriously: How can you beat that?
I see my name on bestseller lists with amazing, talented, legendary writers. No one has yet realized that I’ve infiltrated their group without credentials, so I’ll be acting like I belong (and excitedly e-mailing the lists to my dad) until I’m caught and exposed as a fraud.
I’m signing books NEXT TO LOIS EHLERT, author of the famous and fabulous Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (which, btw, was the first baby thing I bought when I found out I was pregnant). Okay, I’m sure she still has no idea who the heck I am, but that’s not the point.
I email one of my idols, Judy Schachner (writer/illustrator of the FAB SkippyJon Jones), AND SHE EMAILS ME BACK. Really — I kid you not.
Taye Diggs tweets that he and his son love my book (insert teenage-girl shriek here)!
A friend of my mother-in-law calls to tell her that she has just seen my book mentioned by an actress in an article in Good Housekeeping which creates quite the commotion, and elevates me to a B-level big shot among the suburban grandmother crowd.
Envision giant pain-in-the-ass client, the one that makes your stomach sink just seeing their name appear in your inbox: “Hi, Celia, thank you so much for your interest in utilizing my design service for your project, but I’ve been rapidly phasing out my graphic design business in order to focus more on my books/writing/appearances.”—And, in case you were wondering, it feels JUST AS FABULOUS to hit that “send” button as I always dreamed it would! Goodbye, Sunday Night Dreads!
My best friend calls to tell me that my book is a question on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” I’m pop culture?
A few splurges: an Hermes scarf . . . or two . . . or three (But, hey, still eBay . . . I’m still me.) an adorable (and arguably functional) little Louis Vuitton bag (again, eBay); afternoon tea with (surprise!) an overnight stay at the Ritz with my husband, both boys and both grandmas, including an amazing view, room service EVERYTHING, and my little guy’s first sighting of a bidet. (Which he now thinks is a household essential, and he cannot believe we will not get one.)
I’m heading out on a national promotional tour for my second book, Steam Train, Dream Train. (I just like to say that because I think it sounds cool.) This time, the creative process was far more collaborative between Tom and me, and I offered feedback on the sketches, as he did on the verse. And, beneath my calm façade, there are moments when I hear myself internally gush: “Tom Lichtenheld’s actually asking my opinion!”I still clean the house and pick up socks. I still spend half my life in a car driving the boys everywhere. I still help with homework, fret over what we’re having for dinner and make the calls that go, “Doctor, I need to bring him in. This rash does NOT look good.” We still laugh and cuddle past our bedtime, but it’s no longer because I haven’t seen them all day.
I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I’ve been amazingly blessed. I’m grateful every day for my wonderful family and an incredible new career. I’m just stunned and thrilled beyond belief to be standing here, and the only thing I know for sure is this: I can’t wait for the next chapter.
---Sherri Duskey Rinker