Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to.Kristen Schroeder
Kristen Schroeder writes for children from her home in Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and children. She and her family are dual American Australian citizens and consider Melbourne their second home. Some of Kristen’s best childhood memories involve discovering a new favorite book or author at her local library. Books introduced her to other countries and worlds. Kristen loves to travel. She began writing for children in 2014 in between running a business and raising her kids. Her latest release, Freddy the Not-Teddy, is a heart-warming picture book about friendship, inclusion and staying true to yourself.
What is about writing picture books that draws you to work in that genre? I love the picture book art form. The interplay between words and pictures is unique and making it work is a bit like putting a puzzle together. Picture books are not at all easy to write, like some people wrongly assume! There is also something magical about writing stories for children because they are like little sponges soaking up information and knowledge.
Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? For my first two published picture books, my inspiration came from my own children. In the case of FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, my son had a stuffy named Freddy and just like the main character Jonah, Freddy was my son’s favourite. We weren’t sure if he was a funny looking chicken, duck or bird. One night before bedtime, I called him “Freddy the not-Teddy” and it sparked the idea for this story. I have also participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge, which I highly recommend for picture book writers. The idea is to generate at least thirty ideas over thirty days during the month of January. It’s free and the daily blog content is amazing! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/
Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Many times, I start with a title (for example both FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY and my debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO started with titles). After letting things roll around my brain for a while, I open up a new Word document and start typing. I definitely don’t plot out any of my stories in advance. Sometimes the story comes easily and sometimes it does not. My creative process is fluid in that regard. Once I have a draft that I think is semi-decent, I share it with my critique partners. This is such a valuable part of the process for most writers, and I am no exception. Eventually, I send my new story to my agent and her assistant agent for their feedback. They usually have some revision suggestions, which I really appreciate. Our joint goal is to polish each manuscript so it’s submission-ready and can be sent out to editors.
How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? My mother was an English teacher who loved to read and passed along that love to me. I dedicated FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY to her, in fact. As a child, I pored over our collection of picture books and loved noticing all the little details in the illustrations. Our local library was one of my favourite places to visit!
How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book Freddy the Not-Teddy? From the early stages of writing this manuscript, I knew one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process would be seeing how the illustrator imagined Freddy. I was invited to give feedback on Hilary’s initial sketches of Freddy, but he is 100% her brainchild. I am thrilled with how he looks! In fact, I’m having a custom stuffed animal made in his likeness.
Are they what you envisioned for this story? I didn’t envision what Freddy would look like because I knew that would be the illustrator’s job. As a picture book author, it’s important to trust your publisher and illustrator. And as stated above, I am really pleased with the finished product. Hilary is such a talented illustrator and was a perfect choice for this book.
What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I don’t usually approach writing my stories with a pre-conceived notion of messaging. I know some authors do, however I usually think of a concept, or even a title, and then see where the story takes me. My ultimate goal is to entertain and engage the reader, so hopefully they want to read the story again (and again!) and pore over all of the details like I did as a child.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are times when I definitely get stuck whilst writing a particular story. It can happen during the early drafting stage for an idea that I like, but don’t know how to approach yet. Or sometimes, I get feedback from my critique partners or my agent telling me part of the story isn’t working for them. Even if I agree with their feedback, I may not know how to make the revisions right away. Setting the story aside, instead of forcing it, helps me. Ideally, my subconscious works away on it as I go about other activities and sometimes a solution becomes clear. I also ask for help from critique partners.
What are you working on at the moment? I recently completed a revision on a picture book about a child who wants a giant as a best friend. I also completed a new picture book about a Zamboni machine, which is an ice resurfacer used at ice rinks. This one is influenced by the long Minnesota winters in my home state.
What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Utilising the creative part of my brain makes me a happier person in general. I enjoy having a project percolating at all times.
—the worst? Being a results-oriented person, it is hard for me to create just for the sake of creating. I always hope each manuscript will get published, but that’s not realistic.
How important is social media to you as an author? I started using Twitter when I first started writing for children, and I really enjoy interacting with the writing community on that platform. It’s also a great place to engage with agents and editors, as well as participating in Twitter pitch events.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was lucky enough to attend a Picture Book Boot Camp retreat at the Highlights Foundation in late 2019 run by prolific children’s author Jane Yolen and her author daughter Heidi Stemple. Jane’s mantra is, “Butt in chair, heart on the page.” The only way to write is to sit down and do it. Considering she’s published over 400 children’s books, I’d say it’s working for her!
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, heartfelt, quirky.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Beverly Cleary. She passed away last year at the age of 104. I devoured her books as a child and would have liked to meet her just because. I don’t think I’d even ask about her writing except I’d like to know where she got the idea for the mouse on the motorcycle!
Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Oprah. Firstly, I would feel confident that I would not be stuck in that lift forever because Oprah’s people would move heaven and earth to get her out safely. Secondly, after sharing a few semi-perilous hours together, we would be bonded by the experience and besties for life, obviously.
Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.
Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!
Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?
Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!
Buy the book here. (Teacher notes are available).