Interview with Children’s Book Author Jane Schoenberg!

    Happy August 6th, y’all. Because I have been receiving dozens of requests over the last year to do this, I am launching another facet to Mira’s List—interviews and opportunities for children’s book authors and illustrators. Since I have written many children’s books myself, it does seem silly to not have been offering more in this area, so my apologies to all of you emerging kid’s book peeps.

    To start the ball rolling, today I invited children’s book author and lyricist
    Jane Schoenberg to talk with us today. You might remember an earlier interview I did with her husband, composer and pianist Steven Schoenberg. Well....welcome to the other half of Steven’s brain. First, a little about Jane...
    Jane Schoenberg is an award-winning author and songwriter for children. Her songs have been featured on National Public Radio and kids’ music programs across the country. The first book of her new series for young readers,
    The One and Only Stuey Lewis: Stories from the Second Grade, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, just came out in July. Other books include My Bodyworks, (Interlink Books) and The Baby Hustle, (Simon & Schuster). Jane was an educator and social-curriculum consultant for many years before turning to writing full time.

    1. Jane, thanks so much for joining us. I know you have a new book for children that just came out so why don’t we start there? Tell us a little about your book and its main character, Stuey Lewis. And by the way, I recently read a review copy and loved that little guy. Rumor has it you have a sequel in the works?

    Thanks, Mira, I’m excited to be here with you. The name of the book is The One and Only Stuey Lewis, and I have to say, I’m really happy you love this kid, because I’m looking for somebody to be vice president of his fan club. Perks include unlimited cappuccino, cocoa, and chocolate chip cookies.. Interested?

    Always Jane. I live for chocolate.

    Anyway, Stuey Lewis is a smart little guy with a big imagination, who eventually manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat every time, but only after he initially wigs out over something. The book is told in Stuey’s voice so we’re privy to all of his thoughts. From the very first sentence, “I wake up and decide to have a stomachache that’s so bad I have to stay in bed” we know he’s a bit of a worry-wart. He’s more than a little anxious about entering second grade, because the reading light bulb has yet to turn on for him; even though everyone else knows how, and his best friend has been devouring books since pre-school...Anxieties aside, Stuey’s capable of pulling off some daring schemes, including a Halloween caper that scores him enough candy to get through Christmas.

    Once he makes up his mind, Stuey can survive practically anything–even his nemesis, Lilly Stanley, “Queen of Obnoxious,” whose sole mission in life is to be right about everything. The book is comprised of four very funny linked short stories that follow him through his entire second grade year at school. I think it’s a fun read that young kids will definitely relate to, even ageless kids like you!

    And, yes...the rumor mill is alive and well. The sequel, Stuey Lewis Against All Odds, comes out in July, 2012. We get to watch Stuey negotiate his way through the third grade, where he’s far less anxious, but still pulling off some great schemes. And I’ve just finished a spin-off of these two books, told in the voice of the infamous Lilly, titled, Who Else but Lilly Stanley.

    2. I loved Lilly as a character. She is so full of herself that you just can’t stop reading about her. Anyway, you come from a very creative family—your husband Steven is a composer, your son Adam is too, and your daughter Sarah Kate Jackson is an actress. I know that you also collaborate with your husband Steven from time to time. How is your creative process different when you work on projects alone, such as your children’s books that don’t involve an accompanying CD?

    Yes, all of the members in our immediate family are in the arts, including our son-in-law, who is an actor, and our daughter-in-law to be, who is a playwright. We’re very lucky that we can support each other’s creative endeavors and visions from a place of really knowing what it’s all about. Besides emotional support, we all rely on each other for advice, as well as constructive criticism. My husband Steven has always been my main critic and reader, and I’ve been his. I now also rely on my children for their feedback, particularly for marketing, promotion and social media advice, and my daughter Sarah has always been a very astute reader.

    So, how is my process different, when I’m working on my own projects and not collaborating? Hm, I’m not sure that it is all that different. Steven and I work at the same rhythm—intense and fast until something is complete and feels one hundred percent right. I like to work that way on my own projects too and can be very compulsive until I’m finished with something.

    I think I’m really in my zone when that happens. When I’m crafting a lyric, which I tend to do before it’s set to music, I have to adhere to a far stricter writing code that involves rhyme, meter, accents, and form, which is more confining than when I’m writing a book. Of course, each genre has a story to tell, and if the song is part of a musical it also has dialogue. I think both of these processes feed the other. Because I write for young kids, I’ve learned to tell a story in a limited number of words, which is just what a successful lyric needs to do. Collaborating also affords you a partner who can kick you in the butt when you need it... when you’re writing on your own, you have to do that for yourself.

    3. We recently met up at the NESCBWI (New England Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference this past May. I remember you saying afterward that it was an eye opening experience for you. What did you learn at the conference that you didn’t know before about the world of children’s book publishing? And did you learn anything new about yourself, or something you needed to work on in your career?

    That was a great conference. I had been a member of SCBWI for a number of years, but had never attended a conference. I really missed out. This particular conference offered lots of business and marketing workshops, which was perfect timing , given the release date of my new book. That was invaluable information for me. Like all of publishing, the children’s book industry is in flux right now, given the impact of technology, and this was addressed in many of the presentations given by publishers, marketers, and writers. So much of the marketing is left up to the author, and there is such a small window to try and get the word out on your book. I took an intensive workshop, called, “I hate Twitter” (and other things to stop saying). I still don’t tweet, but since the conference I’ve got my toes wet on facebook, put out a book trailer, taken advantage of all the great ways Goodreads promotes authors, and—look who is interviewing me on her incredibly cool and famous blog. Need I say more?

    4. :-) Well Jane...that takes a bit of bravery to join the ranks of all the other social media-saavy authors and illustrators out there. As far as the conference went, I also had an eye-opening experience. I hadn’t gone to one in a while and I was really struck by how much has changed in the children’s book industry.

    In your opinion, why should children’s book authors and illustrators, published or non-published, go to regional events like this conference, or some of the larger ones sponsored by SCBWI?

    To be a part of a community. And there is an incredible community of people who make up SCBWI. Published or not, everyone seems open, generous, and down to earth. Highly respected and successful authors and illustrators, like Jane Yolen, and Tomie dePaola give inspiring and entertaining keynotes, and there are a whole cast of people far more experienced than you are, offering resources, information and practical advice. And the networking potential is amazing. You never know who you are going to meet and what may come out of that meeting.

    5. Jane Yolen is by far one of my favorite people. She has such a gift for championing and inspiring writers and artists, including myself. What a gift to the world she is!

    So Jane, what are some of the biggest challenges for you right now, coming into the children’s book world as a more, shall we say, ‘mature’ writer, i.e. someone over 45? Do you think there might be an advantage to being a little bit seasoned in life?

    I don’t know how mature I am, but I didn’t get published until after I was 45. I think you bring whoever you are to whatever it is you do. I guess what I’ve brought with me to the children’s book world is a profound respect and appreciation of children. I was an educator and a parent for many years before becoming a writer. I always remained very open in both of these roles, acknowledging that I was learning as much about myself and the world from kids, as I was hoping they were learning from themselves, each other, and from me.

    I also was a voracious reader my entire life, and children’s books were always at the top of my list. I guess I’m looking at the same obstacles that any writer, who is less seasoned, faces in today’s challenging market. I’m trying to stay on top of all the changes in the industry, promote and market my material, and keep a pulse on what’s selling well and why. But in the end, I can only write what I know, and hope that it resonates with my readers.

    6. Describe your perfect writing day for me.

    I wake up and the voice inside my head telling her (or his) story is clear and ready to roll. I pay no attention to chores, even immediate ones that need to get done, like shoveling the walkways after a snowstorm. I pay no attention to my favorite distractions, like communing with the hummers in my flower beds early in the morning. A hot cappuccino with a thick crema, and maybe a fresh poached egg, on a great piece of multi-grained toast is brought up to me in my studio, when Steven figures out I haven’t fed myself, and it’s going on eleven. I don’t have to work hard to listen, I’ve stepped away from myself, and I’m totally in the zone.

    Do you think you could convince Steven to pop over in the morning and bring me breakfast too? :-) Jane, thanks so much for visiting my site today. I wish you all the best with Stuey and the rest of your book tour!

    I heartily encourage everyone to go out and get a copy of Jane’s book right now and please try to get it from your local independent bookstore. Without your support, more and more of these wonderful places will bite the dust. You can find where your closest indie bookstore is by going to IndieBound. You can also visit Jane and watch her book trailer for Stuey Lewis at

    And for all of those readers out there who would like to know more about the ins and outs of writing and illustrating for children and young adults, I HIGHLY suggest visiting these two websites, which are the best ones in the biz. All your questions will be answered at:, which is an amazing site developed by former editor Harold Underdown and the other great site is the SCBWI site: And there are dozens of local chapters for SCBWI if you are looking for a local children’s book writing or illustrating critique group.

    Thanks for joining us today. Cheers!

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