Author Spotlight: June Smalls
May 29, 2020
We are excited to feature author June Smalls and her new picture book, SHE LEADS: THE ELEPHANT MATRIARCH, illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara (Workman, May 26, 2020).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve always been a reader and writer, even writing poetry and ads for the school newsletter in elementary school. I even wrote scripts for a few radio and tv ads.
It wasn’t until I was reading picture books to my own child that I remembered falling in love with reading. I’d been dabbling for a few years writing short stories and the start of multiple (never to be completed) novels. But one day with her I realized building readers was where I wanted to be. From there I dove into kid lit.
Congratulations on your recent picture book, SHE LEADS: THE ELEPHANT MATRIARCH. Tell us about the book and what inspired it.
I had been working on a chapter book series and had done research on elephants for a potential third book. On International Women’s Day my agent tweeted an elephant fact to me and said she’d love a story about elephants. I had an AHA moment thinking about the strength of the female leader of the family unit. The title idea came and then the words tumbled out.
SHE LEADS follows the elephant matriarch on a lyrical journey as she teaches, protects, and leads her family through the wilds of Africa, and has non-fiction sidebars on each spread. The beautiful illustrations by Yumi Shimokarawa really bring these creatures to life.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Long and winding for sure. Once I decided kid lit was where I wanted to be, I started going to the library most weeks and studying structure, pacing, openings, endings, and styles of picture books. I filled notebooks of research and ideas, joined SCBWI, followed blogs like Kidlit411. I sold a book on my own about 2 years in and it made it through edits and illustrations when the publishing house was sold. My rights were reverted to me since my book was humor and they were taking the publication to a more education focus. But I kept at it and about 5 years in I published my first book, ODD ANIMAL ABC’s with Blue Manatee. About that same time I started taking on work-for-hire as well.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on multiple picture books, a magical early chapter book series, a work-for-hire, and I have more news coming soon. But you know publishing, you can’t share your good news for about seventy-billion years.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Keep learning! This is a craft that needs practice and no matter what point you are at, there is always room to grow. You don’t need to spend tons of money if you don’t have it, but read with purpose at times. Break down books, stories, plots, pacing. Don’t fall so in love with a piece that you can’t work on it further. You came up with those words and you can come up with more.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I had a speech impediment as a child and was lucky in 5th grade that my school had a speech pathologist. After a few years of speech therapy my older brother announced that I now, “spoke like a telemarketer,” since I spoke with no “accent” and tended to REALLY enunciate things. I still get tripped up on some words!
Where can people find you online?
June Smalls has been making up stories since she only had pets and stuffed animals to share them with. June is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. She resides in Northern Virginia with her hubby, The Kid, and an ever-growing assortment of animals.
When not writing June is researching, visiting zoos or aquariums, reading, or trying to convince her hubby they have room for just one more pet.
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