Most of you know Autism awareness is a topic very near and dear to my heart. Today I’m very excited to introduce you to our guest, children’s book author Sherry Howard.
Welcome Sherry, I’m so excited to be interviewing you today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thanks so much for having me! Awareness and acceptance of all differences is an issue close to my heart! I received an award from Council for Exceptional Children and was recognized as a Kentucky Colonel for my advocacy for children. Autism is so misunderstood, and can be so hard for families. I’m hoping ROCK AND ROLL WOODS shines a little light on differences.
How did you come up with the idea for ROCK AND ROLL WOODS?
My granddaughter, Kamora, is acknowledged in the book for coming up with the idea for the character, and for naming him Kuda. I was ready to start a new draft for 12x12 in November 2016, and asked her what she wanted the next story to be about. She wanted a bear, named Kuda, after her bearded dragon. Kamora, and my daughter, and I did a lot of brainstorming for the story. In writing the book, I had the vision of one particular student in my heart. That student was the most lovable grump I’d ever worked with, and I think my love for that young person came through in the characterization of Kuda.
ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is one of the few picture books that poured out pretty quickly. I have others I’ve worked on for ten years that I’m still not satisfied with.
Why do you write for children?
I missed the children when I was injured, and had to leave my job as a principal early. It took a bit, but I found my way back to the schools as an author. It was probably my volunteer work at an elementary school, reading picture books to second graders, that tipped the scales, and gave the nudge to go all-in and learn the craft.
Where do you like to write?
I love to write at home, and often brainstorm with my family while writing. I’ve tried writing at places like Starbucks, and I get too distracted.
Do you prefer to use pen and paper or computer to get that first draft down?
I use whatever is handy! I have both physical and electronic notebooks full of first efforts! At first, I wrote everything by hand. (I started with novel length work.) Then, I realized how inefficient that was. I didn’t think I could make the switch to all electronic, but I do the majority of drafts on the iPad now. The exception to that is often picture books, and poetry, which seem to need my sensory involvement more.
Where is your favorite writing spot?
I have physical problems that keep me lying down a lot. A lot of writing is done on my couch. Except when I’m dummying a picture book, or deep in edits on a longer manuscript. Then my kitchen table is my spot. I experience huge guilt when I tie up the kitchen table for very long, so I’ve tried to develop a system. I have a gorgeous, huge desk set-up, but seldom use it.
How do you schedule your writing?
I don’t schedule my writing. I remember when I first began to consider myself a writer that people talked about a scheduled commitment making all of the difference. But, I feel such a strong urge to write that I basically write any time I’m not doing something else, until my brain tells me to replenish. When I see people who have the will-power to get up at 4:30 AM to write, I’m BLOWN AWAY. You will sometimes find me writing at 4:30 AM, but it means I haven’t gone to bed yet!
What are you working on now?
I’m always working on a lot of different projects at once. Projects I don’t have contracts for: I have two middle grades, a few chapter books, and more picture books than I can keep track of. For the manuscripts I have contracts for, it’s more about popping in when needed for edits. And, that includes the sequel to ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, and a chapter book with Spork.
I’m working on edits for a six-part series with an educational publisher. I can’t say much about it, other than it’s high interest/low reading level, a passion of mine.
What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
I don’t know that I can say one main thing—but if I have to, I’d say I want the take-away for a young reader to be fun. ROCK AND ROLL WOODS is written to be a fun read-aloud, and school visits have shown me it lives up to that. There are lots of other takeaways, too, though. I want kids to feel empathy for Kuda’s struggle, and be inspired to be brave and try new things. I want them to see what it’s like to be a good friend like Rabbit. I want them to love the language—BOOM WHAPPA WHAPPA.
For parents and teachers, I hope the book can help open discussions about embracing differences, and about how each of us “feels” the world in a different way.
Although this book doesn’t directly address autism, it does address sensory processing, which can be an area of struggle for children with autism. In that way, ROCK AND ROLL WOODS can help shed a little blue light of awareness on one possible point of struggle for children with autism. (The back matter has some details about this.)
What were some of the challenges you faced on the road to publication?
Maybe one of the biggest hurdles for me was physical. With a physical disability already, I got a spinal cord injury over twenty years ago that changed my life. I can’t sit, walk, or stand for very long, and I’m walker/wheelchair dependent. That made the physical act of writing challenging.
So, until I got my first iPad years ago, writing was hard physically. Now, I have several iPads, so one is always charged, and I have special pens that allow me to write lying down.
That injury has also made it difficult to be as active in real life as I’d love to be. If I were more mobile, I’d like to think I’d attend every conference and retreat available all over the country. Instead, I’m pretty selective about where I go.
I still face the challenge of finding an agent. I hope someday to be agented. That would require more active querying on my part!
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Meet Kuda and Rock and Roll Woods here.
Deep Sea Divers
Sherry Howard lives with her children and silly dogs in Middletown, Kentucky, a stone's throw from the beautiful horse farms Kentucky is always bragging about.
During her career in education, she served as a middle school principal in one of the largest metro school districts in the US. She was an award-winning educator, serving as teacher, consultant, and principal in one of the largest urban-suburban school districts in the US. Sherry specialized in working with children with special needs, and believes that all children face learning challenges and have their own unique gifts.
Sherry loves to read, write, cook, and sit in the sand watching the waves when she can. She credits her ability to write a complete sentence in English to her training in classical Latin. Sherry is the author of the picture book ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, which delves into Sensory Integration through a story relatable to kids. Her poems and stories have appeared in multiple journals and anthologies, and she writes for the educational market.
Sherry has graciously offered to give away a free copy of ROCK AND ROLL WOODS or (and this one is awesome for you kid lit writer's out there.) A free picturebook critique!
Just enter the rafflecopter below. Winner will be chosen at random.
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