Author Spotlight: Randi Sonenshine



Feb. 14, 2020


Today we are excited to feature author Randi Sonenshine and her debut picture book, THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT, illustrated by 
Anne Hunter (Candlewick, March 10, 2020)

Enter to win a copy!






Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

Like many other authors, I was a voracious reader growing up. My mom and dad were both wonderful reading role models, so our house was always rich in print. As I got a little older, maybe nine or ten, my dad would read aloud classic poems and stories to me and my two sisters. I was especially smitten with the (albeit macabre) works of Edgar Allen Poe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I think I could recite “The Raven” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” before the Girl Scout Pledge! Thus began my lifelong love affair with words. 

I always loved writing, and received praise from my English teachers, but that inspired me to become an English teacher, not a writer. I wanted to pass on that love of words, stories, and poems to my students. I taught middle school language arts in Maryland, where I grew up, then high school English when I moved to Georgia. After earning a Master of Education degree in Reading, I  taught some college reading courses and then took on a position as a middle school literacy coach. 

During this time, though, I couldn’t stop thinking about writing. My husband encouraged me to give it a go. In 2015, Cricket Magazine accepted a historical fiction piece about the Portuguese Inquisition called “The Inside Name” (April 2017), which gave me the confidence to stick with it, and here I am! It’s been challenging while working full-time, but I love my other job, too!


Congrats on your upcoming book, THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT. Tell us about it and what inspired you.

That’s easy! Each spring, a pair of tiny brown birds built nests in our garage. One year they “wrented” a bike helmet. The next time, their building site was on top of a pile of books inside a cloth shopping bag. Other sites included the brim of a sombrero, a tin watering can, and an empty flower pot! We tried to discourage them by keeping the garage closed, but somehow they always found a way in. I became utterly intrigued by these bold little builders and their clever, compact cave-like nests, so I did what writers do - research! Lots of research. And the more I read about the incredible engineering and science involved in their nest construction, the more enthralled I became. Birds are some of nature’s greatest architects, and wrens especially so. 

Then one day, I woke up with the title in my head, and the idea was born. “The House That Jack Built” provided the perfect “framework” for the subject, but when I wrote my first draft, the cumulative effect was clunky, bogging down the verse. I decided to omit that aspect, and instead,  used precise verbs to show the layering of the various nest materials, as well as the purpose of each. For example, “These are the feathers, petals, and thread, placed on the moss to soften the bed that waits in the nest that Wren built.” After the nest is built and the eggs hatch, the verses shift to show what is happening in and around the nest as the nestlings grow, and ultimately, fledge. “These are the nestlings, drowsy and fed, snuggly and plump on their feathery bed, warm in the nest that Wren built.” 

I’m so in love with the soft, earthy hues and texture of Anne Hunter’s colored pencil and ink illustrations, which fit the text so perfectly! She’s a master of detail. Every time I read the book, I discover something new. She created a fascinating parallel narrative through the cleverly camouflaged critters on each spread; one unfortunate beetle ends up dinner, while two lucky mice have their patience rewarded. She even hid an ant on every page! How fun is that? This book is all about layers!




Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

It was a rough and tumbly adventure, to say the least. Finding my wonderful agent, Kendra Marcus of BookStop Literary was first. I met her and her partner at Kristen Fulton’s non-fiction WOW conference in the summer of 2015. They took an interest in my work, but it wasn’t until Kendra saw this manuscript at another conference that December before she took me on officially. The manuscript actually sold very quickly in the spring of 2016. I was beyond excited! However, due to circumstances beyond our control, we decided to take back the rights. It was meant to be, though, because in early 2017, Liz Bicknell at Candlewick took on the project after a meeting with my agent in Bologna at the Children’s Book Fair. I was (and still am) giddy about working with Liz and Candlewick, whose books I have always loved (and maybe drooled on a little)! 


What projects are you working on now?

Right now, my all-consuming project is the book launch! As a debut author (and perfectionist!), I have to constantly tell myself to chill, enjoy the experience, and learn as I go, instead of trying to do everything all at once. (Sadly, I’m not a very good listener.) We do have a few other picture book manuscripts on submission, and I have a middle grades historical fiction I started several years ago that has been tugging at me a lot lately. We’ll see!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors? 

Get! Out! There! Go to conferences, participate in online pitch parties, and enter contests in which agents, editors, and experienced authors can see your work, give feedback, and take note. Connect with other writers, especially those who write in a similar genre, through Facebook groups, critique groups, SCBWI workshops and conferences, etc. The kidlit community is incredibly supportive, encouraging, and generous, and has played a huge role in my publishing journey. Last, and most importantly, read, read, read, learn, learn, learn, and believe in yourself! 

What is one thing most people don't know about you? 

I am a cut-throat Mah Jongg player! My group has been playing together weekly for seventeen years, and we love each other, but we will take each other down for a 25-cent hand! ;)

Where can people find you online? 

You can visit my website:  http://www.randisonenshine.com/ or find me on Instagram as @rsonenshine68, and Twitter as @rsonenshine. I am also part of two amazing groups:  http://www.steamteambooks.com/ and https://perfect2020pbs.weebly.com/


Randi Sonenshine is a children’s author, literacy specialist, and instructional coach. Her debut picture book, THE NEST THAT WREN BUILT  will be released on March 10, 2020 from Candlewick Press. She lives with her husband, two sons, and a spoiled schnauzer in Northwest Georgia, and does her best writing accompanied by birdsong and a good pot of Earl Grey tea. 






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64 comments:

  1. I love hearing the inspiration behind stories and this one is delightful. I like how you’ve built this story as a reflection of how the wrens build their nest. Looking forward to reading it!

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  2. Thanks for a great post! I loved hearing about the delightful birds who inspired this story. The book looks beautiful and I look forward to reading. Congratulations!

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  3. What a fabulous post, and I cannot wait to get my hands on your new book for my class! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. 😊

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    1. Thank you, Beth! I'd love to hear what they think. :)

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  4. Randi, here you are, author, author. I'll never forget our WOW days together and hearing your poetry read aloud in a few critique groups there. I knew then, you were one special writer and person. Big congrats on WREN.

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  5. Congratulations on your book! It looks absolutely lovely.

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  6. What a terrific idea for a book--can't wait to see all the building sites these nesters “wrented”!

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  7. The words and illustrations are beautiful! I look forward to reading this. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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  8. Such beautiful verse and illustrations - absolutely MEANT to be paired together. Congratulations!

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  9. This sounds like a beautiful book. Congratulations! Thanks for sharing a little about yourself with us. I also love Mah Jongg. I play it on Facebook.

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    1. Thanks, Janet! Love that you play Maj Jongg, too! :)

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  10. I enjoy your word play through this post. Your lyrical verse is one I plan on studying as mentor text. I also am a huge fan of Candlewick's books--they never disappoint me and are always of highest quality both in writing and art. Congratulations on your beautiful book.

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    1. Thank you so much, Danielle, for your kind words! Having my debut with Candlewick is a dreammmm!

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  11. So happy for you! A book many will enjoy.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sherri! I was in your neck of the woods last month for a wedding and remembered too late that you lived there! :( We need to meet halfway one day. :)

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  12. This book sounds wonderful. Love the cover. Congrats on finally getting it out into the world!

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    1. Thank you, Jilanne. It has been a long journey, but now it is right around the corner, and it seems crazy!

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  13. I loved hearing the story behind your story! :-)

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  14. I like Randi's way with words and am a bird watcher so I can't wait to read dthis book. Also, the illustrations are lovely.

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    1. Thank you so much, Linda! Bird-lovers are the best! ;)

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  15. Am I remembering that you participated in the Poetry Madness event? So happy to read about your debut book! Congrats from Colorado!

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    1. Thanks from Georgia, Deborah! You remembered correctly. I was runner-up to Buffy Silverman in 2015 and 2017 champ. :) So much fun, but intense!

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  16. Birds have always inspired me. My first PB was bird story that I have never sent out -- because it was my first. But I'm always tempted to work on another. Maybe this is the year!

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  17. I loved reading about the inspiration behind this gorgeous debut. The text sounds vivid and lyrical and I love the soft tones and layers in the illustrations. Can't wait to read this one!

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  18. The illustrator uses nice colors and techniques to help tell this story!

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    1. Aren't they dreamy??? I'm so smitten with Anne's illustrations. :)

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  19. Congratulations on your debut! The lyricism in your work is so beautiful - can’t wait to read the rest! This definitely looks like one I will want to own and read to my littles over and over again.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Danielle! I hope you and your littles love it. :)

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  20. Congrats, Randi! Very excited for your book. We have nesting house wrens, that move in our bird house every year. I love their song!

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    1. Thanks, Maria! They are such loyal "wrenters" aren't they? I'd love to see pics of your pair. :) Thank you also for writing your beautiful books...they are hugely inspiring. :)

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  21. Kudos, Randi! I love the structure and language of your debut book. It sounds so engaging.

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  22. I love the lyrical sound of your words. Excited to read!

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  23. Well that's just beautiful, I'd love to have a copy of your book. Thanks

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  24. Randi, I knew you were an author when we met at WOW :) So proud of you and your accomplishments. I'm looking forward to reading your beautiful story. Congratulations!

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    1. Thank you, my friend! I'm so glad we met and hope to see you again soon!

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  25. Randi is wonderful, and I can't wait to see this lovely book.

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    1. Thank you, dear David! Back atcha! I do hope we can meet in real life someday!

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  26. Love the lines you shared from this book. Can't wait to read the rest!

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  27. Loved hearing the beautiful story which inspired you to write your debut book. Looking forward to reading it. Congratulations!

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  28. This looks like such a perfect book for spring. Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey with us.

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  29. Congratulations on such a beautiful story!

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  30. I know some budding ornithologists who would love this book.

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  31. This looks like a lovely, lyrical book. I can't wait to read it.

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  32. My son would love a book about birds.

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  33. I'm really looking forward to your book, Randi. The language in the shared spreads is so beautiful! Huge congrats!!!

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