BEST IN RHYME TOP 10 – Linda Vander Heyden INTERVIEW BY Manju Howard

2018 Best in Rhyme Logo

Top 10 Best in Rhyme

Manju: I’m excited to present Linda Vander Heyden and her Best in Rhyme nominated picture books.

Linda: Thanks, Manju! I’m excited and honored to have my books be among those nominated!

Horse Cover

A Horse Named Jack is about a curious horse who loves children. One day, when the children don’t show up to play, Jack grows bored, Bored, BORED! He clip-clops through the barnyard and raids the neighbor’s garden. Soon Jack’s up to his ears in trouble!

Hannah Cover

Hannah’s Tall Order:  An Alphabet Sandwich is about a little girl with a big appetite. When Hannah stops by her favorite sandwich shop, Mr.McDougal will have to scramble (chop, grate, and peel) to keep up with her quest for the perfect sandwich!

In a previous interview (link: you shared that A Horse Named Jack is based on your own horse named Jack. He sounds like a clever escape artist. Who inspired Hannah’s Tall Order?

Linda: I wanted to write an alphabet story that would be silly and make kids giggle. Hannah is a character who just popped into my head one day. She’s precocious. A little girl with a big sense of adventure. With Hannah, nothing is impossible!

How do you create an emotional connection between your main characters and readers?

Linda: That’s a great question! It can be challenging to create a character that touches a child’s heart and captures his or her imagination. In A Horse Named Jack, I think kids connect with Jack’s child-like innocence. He is curious and easily bored. He gets into trouble, though it is never his intention. In Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs, Mr. McGinty, an older gentleman, has a child-like wonder of nature and wants to help save the butterflies. In Hannah’s Tall Order, I think kids can relate to Hannah’s sense of adventure. They wonder what’s going to happen as her sandwich grows taller and taller.

What aspect of writing rhyming picture books do you find the most challenging?

Linda: Writing in rhyme is fun for me. I love the rhythm and musicality of the words. My sisters and I grew up hearing nursery rhymes and listening to classical music. I think that helped us develop an ear for rhythm. (Thanks, Mom!) I think one of  the most challenging things about writing stories in rhyme is keeping a natural speaking voice and not “forcing” a rhyme. Also, writing in rhyme can feel a bit restrictive at times while trying to move a story forward.

Hannah illo.jpg 3

In addition to the challenges of writing in rhyme, Hannah’s Tall Order is an A to Z picture book. How did you make all the ingredients blend together?

Linda: This question makes me smile, because even though Hannah’s character just seemed to pop into my imagination, the story took a long time to write. I researched foods and tried out different ideas. Finding foods that began with the correct letter (and number of syllables) was challenging. (It’s not easy finding a plausible food that begins with “x!”) And the rhyme had to sound natural. I also tried to break things up a bit as Hannah goes down her list of ingredients. That’s where poor Mr. McDougal comes in. Hannah is oblivious to his over-the-top efforts to fill her order!

Describe your path to publication with your editor at Sleeping Bear Press. 

Linda: My path to publication was a long one! I studied the craft of writing picture books…attended workshops and conferences. I joined a critique group, took on-line courses, attended webinars, and sent manuscripts off for critiques by published authors. I took creative writing classes at our university, which included writing poetry. I learned about the importance of a natural speaking voice when using rhyme and about searching for that perfect word. And I’m very grateful to have been chosen for an SCBWI mentorship with an amazing picture book author!

Along the way, there were many times I felt discouraged. When I first started submitting my stories, publishers often requested a self-addressed, stamped envelope be included for their response. I always knew what to expect when I found that same envelope in my mailbox months later! But rejections are a part of the process. I began to look at them as opportunities for growth. I also came to understand how important it is that we not let the desire to be published overshadow our joy of writing!

I am thankful for my family and friends who encouraged me to keep trying. And I love that my stories found a home at Sleeping Bear Press!

Horse illo.jpg 4

Did you include art notes in your manuscripts? Did any of the illustrations surprise you?

Linda:  I try not to include many art notes in my manuscripts. I use them only if I think the text needs clarifying. I’m very grateful for a wonderful working relationship with my editor. If I have any concerns or questions about an illustration, she is open to hearing them. But those times have been few, and I trust her judgement. I truly love the illustrations in each and every book!

Member Michelle Donny Kennedy asked: Once you’ve edited and polished your story, how do you further cut the word count to fit submission guidelines?

Linda: Hi Michelle, great question! I try to focus on action that moves the story forward and eliminate descriptions that can be shown by an illustration. (A brief illustration note can be used, but only if absolutely needed to clarify what’s happening in a scene.) I ask myself whether a sentence moves the story forward, or can it be eliminated? Are there any unnecessary characters that can be taken out of the story? How about unnecessary words, like “that” and “quite?” Sometimes two sentences can be combined into one tighter one. Or a contraction can be used instead of two words (if it still sounds natural). Having another picture book author critique our stories to see if he/she can find unnecessary words or ways to trim word count can also be very helpful.

What advice would you give to those authors writing in rhyme?

Linda: I would encourage them to read many (many) picture books written in rhyme. And read beautiful poetry. Feel the rhythm and musicality of the words. Does the rhythm flow well? Does the author’s speaking voice sound natural? Does the rhyme work, or can you tell the author was perhaps struggling to find a word that would rhyme? I would also encourage authors to read their stories out loud. And listen while others read them. When we read our own stories, we tend to make the rhythm work, but when others read them, we’ll be able to hear if there are lines that may need some revision.

Where can people find you online?

Linda’s website:  http://WWW.LINDAVANDERHEYDEN.COM/

Linda Headshot

Bio: Linda Vander Heyden is the author of three picture books. She is drawn to stories with heart and humor. Her debut book, MR. MCGINTY’S MONARCHS was short-listed for the Next Generation’s Green Earth Book Award and is a Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing Award Honor Book. She is delighted to be sharing her two latest stories with children…A HORSE NAMED JACK and HANNAH’S TALL ORDER: AN ALPHABET SANDWICH (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018). She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, three cats, her border collie, and a horse named Jack!


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