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What goes into writing a children's book? Five local authors explain their process [Q&A]

North Museum book

To the untrained eye, a children’s book may look simple: an entertaining, comforting story accompanied by colorful artwork. But the skilled children’s book author must deliver complex ideas and valuable life lessons in a fun, relatable and easy-to-understand format.

It’s no easy task, but these local authors have done just that, with recently released children’s books that tackle topics from food allergies to pandemics. We reached out to these local authors via email to learn what went into the creation of their works. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.


‘Cora’s Slate: A Day at Walnut Run School’

Lynette Brenneman, a former third grade teacher at Lititz Area Mennonite School who currently lives in Pequea Township, took her love of history and education and wrote a story about a young girl who learns valuable lessons during one day at her one-room schoolhouse. The book includes color photographs and a page of facts about one-room schoolhouses. The 40-page book is available at mastofpress.com.

What made you decide to write this book?

I love history and enjoy sharing it with others. I think preservation of Walnut Run School (one of our county’s historic treasures) is very important. I loved taking my students to Walnut Run School to step back in time for a day at a one-room schoolhouse. I grew up near the Oak Grove one-room schoolhouse in East Lampeter Township. Unfortunately, that schoolhouse is no longer standing.

Talk about the photos in the book.

Family members and friends donned costumes to become the characters. They then reenacted each scene for the book while I snapped away. The Lampeter-Strasburg School District kindly allowed me to use Walnut Run School as the historic setting. I purchased most of the period-appropriate props we needed and borrowed others. I’m especially appreciative to the 23 children and two adults who portrayed the book characters.

What was the biggest challenge with this book?

Creating historically accurate costumes for all the characters pictured in the book. I ended up asking a few local seamstresses to help me with the sewing because creating 25 costumes took much longer than I anticipated. With the help of existing patterns and sewing experts Marie Brenneman and Andrea Railing, I designed the costumes based on period photography of schoolchildren in Lancaster County. Jennie Chancey designed one costume piece as well.


‘Curious Creatures of the Live Animal Room’

Morgan Nadin, Annie Esbenshade and Jon Derk, of Lancaster’s North Museum of Nature and Science, collaborated on this educational book featuring colorful, detailed photographs and educational information about some of the animals that live in the museum. Kids and animal lovers will enjoy this book, which is available for preorder at northmuseumathome.org. Creative director Jon Derk answered questions via email.

What was the biggest challenge with this book?

Getting the animals to pose for the camera.

Is it difficult to create an educational and entertaining book?

In this particular case, the balance came naturally. I think all these animals are fascinating, lovable and have their own personalities, and I think people naturally want to learn more about them. With a book like this, I think the challenge comes from finding a balance between giving enough information and still keeping the reader’s interest.

Advice for children’s book authors?

Read! Read, doodle and write. Study children’s books that are already out there: How long are they? How many words are on each page. Do the words flow? What is the art like? Do you like it? Why or why not? And have fun with your ideas.


Archie's Dragon cover

‘Archie’s Dragon’

“Archie’s Dragon” is Patti Cornelius’ second children’s book. Her first, “The Christmas Snowflake,” was written in 1993. Cornelius, of Lititz, used her artistic talents to create a unique world for Archie and his dragon friend and tells a timely story. The 48-page book is available to order at archiesdragon.com.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by a needle-felting course I took online last spring, offered by Sara Renzulli, artist and owner of Sarafina Fiber Art. I created a dragon made of wool. My intent, as the character developed, was to create a story, making the dragon a main character. Soon after the dragon was completed, I developed Archie. The story is about an 8-year-old boy who feels alone during a pandemic. With the help of a dragon made by his grandmother, he discovers what is really important during these trying and scary times.

Can you talk about the art in “Archie’s Dragon?”

My characters are made with a technique known as needle felting. I used different types of wools and silk fibers. Sharp, barbed needles are poked into the wool forming knots. The more you jab, the tighter the fibers bond together. Shapes are made from the wool to add features. Then the sculpting begins. Each character is built from an aluminum wire armature. The wire is wrapped with pipe cleaners, then strands of wool.

How did you approach writing about the pandemic for children?

I tried to imagine what it would be like for a child to experience a pandemic. As a child, I found comfort by surrounding myself with my favorite stuffed animals. Building forts from blankets and empty refrigerator boxes, I created my imaginary world. I noticed parents, who were forced to work from home, were building the same kind of forts with their children. The characters and the storyline mesh well and remove the anxiety the pandemic creates. A wool-felted heart comes with the book so the reader can feel what the characters are made of.

What has the response from readers been like?

A student said, “Isn’t it funny that Archie is living in a pandemic just like we are?” A second grader said that I inspired her to write a book. That makes it all worth it.


‘Lucas Takes His Food Allergies to Daycare’

Megan Herr, of Douglassville, set out to show that our differences don’t have to stop us from enjoying life. Inspired by her son Lucas, Herr wrote her story to raise awareness about food allergies. The wonderfully illustrated book can be purchased on Amazon and more information can be found at thealherrgymomblog.com and Herr’s Instagram account @the_alherrgy_mom.

Why did you decide to write a children’s book about food allergies?

To help spread awareness for children living with food allergies, and to open up that dialogue between children, parents, caregivers and their peers. Raising awareness creates empathy, and that will help save lives. …The book shows why it’s important to wash your hands after eating, not to share food, why a child may have to sit away from the table or at another table. One in 13 kids has food allergies and 1 in 3 kids with food allergies gets bullied because of them. Educating kids on food allergies and cross-contamination is paramount. … One bite can literally kill our children or cause severe bodily harm. Children have tragically lost their lives due to caregivers, teachers and their peers not taking food allergies seriously, or an oversight. We’re not parents who are trying to make their (teachers, caregivers, peers) jobs difficult. We’re just parents trying to give our kids the right to be like every other kid in a safe and understanding environment until a cure is found.

What has the response from readers been like?

Amazing! It has already sold worldwide, including Canada, Guam and Asia. Amazon and Ingram (the largest book wholesaler) had to already restock their initial orders. I have parents reaching out to me saying how much it has helped their child show they’re not alone. At that age, children start to know they’re different but don’t exactly know how, so this helps with that.


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