Catching Up with Molly Beth Griffin

When was the last time you took a moment to notice the beautiful things around you, even amidst big changes? That's the idea behind Molly Beth Griffin's new book, Ten Beautiful Things. We're thrilled to be hosting her for storytime later this month, but took some time ahead of the event to chat about her writing process and tips for young writers and educators alike...

What was the inspiration for your book?

This was originally a road trip story, inspired by many many years of driving through Iowa (first, when I was a kid and we’d drive from Minneapolis to Boulder, CO to visit family every summer and Christmas; later when I was in college in Iowa and driving back and forth between home and school; and then on treks as an adult to visit the spring Sandhill Crane migration in Nebraska). I wanted to write about learning to love a place that at first might not seem very lovable.

How can educators incorporate this story into their classroom?

A lot of educators are (rightly) concerned about how their students are coping with all the hard things that are going on in their lives right now, and are working to include more SEL (Social/Emotional Learning) into their curriculum. This book will be great for that. Talk to your students about what they do when they’re sad or worried—what those emotions feel like in their bodies, and what strategies they can use to help themselves cope. Finding small, beautiful things around us can help. Using our senses to connect us to the present moment can help. Breathing deeply can help. Gram and Lily give us lots of ideas in the book for how to handle change and hard times, and there are more in the Activity Kit/discussion guide.

How long does it take to write a picture book (from idea to published book)?

Every book is different! This book was a very long road from start to finish. I wrote the first draft in the spring of 2009, on a road trip to see the Sandhill Crane migration. The story was very different then, and went through lots of drastic changes before it became the version submitted by my agent in 2015 and then the version accepted by an editor in 2017. Then it went through more revisions before it went to the illustrator. The illustration process and then the design process took time too, and then the pub date was delayed by several months due to the pandemic. Some books take more like 4 years from start to finish, but this one took nearly 12!

How did you work with the illustrator?

The editor and publishing house find the illustrator for a picture book, matching the finished text to an artist they think will be a good fit for the project. My job at that point is mainly to stand back and let the illustrator do her job. I did get to see sketches before the art was final, and suggest small changes. The editor passes my suggestions on to the illustrator if she feels they are useful. For instance, I asked that the barn be MORE skeletal than what she originally drew, and she did a great job with that feedback. The text also changes as the art is made. We pulled out a LOT of text that was redundant once the visuals were there.

Do you have a favorite spread in the book?

That is such a hard question! I love so much of the art, especially the big dramatic spreads like the night scene, the sunrise, the windfarm, and the storm. But I also love little simple images like Lily breathing in the mud, and the hug under the umbrella. Maribel managed to capture the sweeping landscapes as well as those intimate moments. I am so grateful to have had a brilliant team working on this, from illustrator to editor to designers to marketing folks. Picture books are a collaborative effort, and watching this one come together has truly been a beautiful thing!

What advice do you have for aspiring picture book writers?

Read a lot of picture books, and not just classics that you feel nostalgic about. Read NEW picture books, of all kinds. Really look at all that this form can accomplish. And then write a ton. It’s very, very rare that you’ll publish your first story, and nobody publishes every story they write. We learn by doing! Each manuscript you write will be better than the last, and you never know which ones will make it out into the world. Keep creating and keep learning and keep moving forward.

Catch Molly Beth Griffin for storytime and a book chat with Second Star on February 27th! RSVP here.

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