Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT: An Editorial Love Story

Merry Christmas in September!
Today's the book birthday for A Christmas Goodnight!
Once upon a time, an author named Nola Buck wrote the text for a new Christmas picture book. It was so perfect that HarperCollins bought it right up, and then patiently waited to find the perfect illustrator to bring its warmth and wonder to life.

Once upon a time, an artist named Sarah Jane Wright had a dream, and a goal, and she was determined to get there.

And once upon a time, a newly-minted assistant editor (read: Yours Truly) told her then-boss that she thought perhaps there was lots of undiscovered illustrator talent to be found on a new-ish crafting website called Etsy. That boss had never heard of Etsy--it was only two years old back then, and it wasn't very well known yet--but she was a big fan of discovering talent in non-traditional places, so she was encouraging about the possibility. So the young editor spent lots of time paging through artwork on Etsy (and okay, if we're being totally honest here, also a fair bit of time getting distracted by pretty earrings in the process), but there was one artist whose work she kept coming back to, over and over, because it was clear that there were stories inside of the artwork, waiting to come alive. So one day in the fall of 2007, she sent that artist a note, asking if she'd ever thought about illustrating children's books. Happily, the artist replied that Yes! She had always wanted to illustrate children's books! A lot of emails followed. A lot of learning and growing happened, on both sides of the desk. Nearly two full years later, this delightful moment happened. And then, after a lot of work, this one. And then, finally, nearly four years to the day after that first email, today, finally, this moment arrived, full of joy, and thanks to all of you for sharing in it by reading this post. And kids' books aficionados, Sarah Jane Wright is an illustrator whose name you should remember, because she's just getting started, and our industry is lucky to have her in it! Each time Sarah Jane and I talk, she inspires me: with her strong sense of balance, with the faith and vision that guide her work and her growing, worldwide brand, and with the abiding joy she finds in the acts of creativity, mothering, and meaningful daily living--check out her blog and I know you'll enjoy "meeting" her, too.  

I could look at this illustration for hours and still not stop smiling!
(An important aside, especially to the still-aspiring: sometimes creative success stories tend to make it sound like everything happens magically, and overnight. It usually doesn't, as I think that the years between Sarah Jane's "discovery" and contract and now-finished book evidence: talent is most often simply a place of beginning, not an end unto itself.)

Adding Sarah Jane's debut artistic talent to a pitch-perfect text written by veteran author Nola Buck was a perfect bookmaking match, and that sort of established + beginner pairing is a long-standing practice in the children's book industry. From a marketing point of view, matching up a veteran and a newbie makes perfect sense: it brings an automatic audience to the beginner, since there are readers who will automatically seek out the established creator's next project, and, hopefully, it brings a new flair or style or dimension to the veteran's work, adding yet another layer to the appreciation that readers have for it. And one of the amazingly wonderful things about the kids' book world is how collaborative it is, and the way that nearly every author and illustrator, no matter how lauded, still remembers what it felt like to be just starting, and genuinely wants to help others succeed, so it's often the start of a friendship and sometimes a long-standing creative pairing, too.

For those of you who find publishing trivia interesting, Nola Buck is the pen name for long-time children's book editor Laura Godwin. (She also sometimes writes under her own name, too.) It's been both humbling and exciting to go through the bookmaking process alongside an author who has, herself, edited so many fantastic books into being. But before she ever wrote the text for A Christmas Goodnight, Laura/Nola was already the author of another perennial Christmas classic, Christmas in the Manger, a book that introduces the characters of the Nativity story in the simplest of ways, for the very youngest readers. Her text for A Christmas Goodnight is wonderful because it reintroduces the Christmas story for a slightly older reader (especially one who read/listened to Christmas in the Manger in previous years, but is now ready for a more advanced understanding of the holiday). The story has a wonderful circularity to it that you'll see reflected in Sarah's illustrations: it melds the familiar Nativity story with the holiday celebrations of a contemporary family, helping young readers see the connections between the long-ago Christmas story and their own lives. And it's such a sweet, memorable text (without being at all saccharine, which is a hard balance to achieve!) that for the past few years, I've found myself reciting it in my head all through the holiday season--over and over and over, which I think is perhaps one of the highest compliments I could pay to an author.

There's something about a picture book that makes the publishing process seem all the more profound and miraculous, maybe because picture books are the very first encounter that some readers will ever have with books and stories. Seeing this story emerge from the fingertips and keyboards and colored pencils of Laura and Sarah has been a treasure. In fact, it's hard to say which story I love more: the story-behind-the-story of this book's making, or the book itself! And I admit that I'm biased when I say that I think they've created a perfect  book that's just waiting to become a part of many families' holiday traditions, year after year, but hey--Publishers Weekly agrees! So if you're looking for a special Christmas gift to share with family and friends come December, put A Christmas Goodnight on your list to check out at your library or buy at your local bookstore. I think you'll find that it's the perfect holiday goodnight book for reading and sharing with those you love. (And don't worry, I'll remind you again when the holidays get closer, when there will be lots more Christmas Goodnight fun happening at Sarah's blog!)
Goodnight, goodnight to all!


  1. Wow - I love Christmas books and after that blog post I'm running out to buy it. (Okay, clicking over to Amazon...) It sounds like exactly the kind of book I love to read to my kids (and myself) throughout the season. And the story of discovering the illustrator is beautiful - thank you for sharing and deepening the meaning of the book.

  2. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing the magic!

  3. I could not be happier for you, Sara or Laura! What a gorgeous book and cannot wait to own it! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. :)

  4. Looks like a beautiful book. I'm gonna have to buy it!