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!
Anne Hunter (Candlewick, March 10, 2020).
Enter to win a copy!
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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