Author Spotlight: Emma Bland Smith




Aug. 28, 2020

Today we are pleased to feature author Emma Bland Smith and her new picture book, THE PIG WAR: HOW A PORCINE TRAGEDY TAUGHT ENGLAND AND AMERICA TO SHARE, illustrated by Alison Jay (Boyds Mills Press, November 10, 2020). 

Enter to win a copy!





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

I dabbled in all different sorts of writing before ending up with children’s writing (the very best kind, I think!). In my 20s I worked at women’s magazines (remember McCall’s?) in New York, which taught me to fact-check and fix orphans and widows at the end of lines. Back home in the Bay Area I did food writing for Sunset Magazine (that was a dream come true—you should see their test kitchens!). I wrote success profiles for Weight Watchers Magazine and recipes for a short-lived publication called Low-Carb Living

But I longed to write something with more heart and staying power. Then when my kids were little, I was reading them all these wonderful books and realized that the greatest challenge and goal I could set myself would be to become part of this amazing world. I think Cynthia Rylant, with her Henry and Mudge series, and Kevin Henkes, with his mouse books, were responsible for my dipping my toe into kidlit!

Congrats on your picture book, THE PIG WAR: HOW A PORCINE TRAGEDY TAUGHT ENGLAND AND AMERICA TO SHARE. Tell us about the story & what inspired you.

Thank you! I had so much fun writing this book. It’s a historical nonfiction story that I stumbled across when doing research for another book set in the same area—the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Although the premise is delightfully ridiculous, I worried that the book would come off as dry if I related it in a conventional way. So I decided to use a humorous, irreverent tone, and I think that voice, along with Alison Jay’s whimsical illustrations, will make it engaging for kids.

The story is so silly: One man shot another man’s pig. They let their tempers flare. One thing led to another, hostilities escalated, and the United States and England came very close to going to war. The take away is that it’s never too late to check your ego, apologize, and get along. I think that message is very pertinent in our current political climate!



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

Oh, so long and winding! I thought I would get published right away, with my very first story. (I have still not published that story. Or next five I wrote after that.) I think it took seven loooong years from when I first started submitting to find my wonderful agent, and of course several years after that to finally hold my first book in my hands. All the disappointment and tears along the way were very hard to take, but I’m over the hump, I’ve found a little tiny bit of a groove, and I’m so glad I stuck with it.

What projects are you working on now (and can you concentrate)?

I do find it very hard to concentrate these days, with all my family at home Zooming in different rooms around the house, and wandering in at various times asking about lunch. (I also love having them around, of course!) However, I am plugging away on a few new projects. I’m trying to finish up a picture book bio of a pioneering female cook, and I’m working on something that’s in between a chapter book and a middle grade.


What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?

To my younger self, I would say, “Study the market and start with a proven formula!” Some of my earliest stories were far too meandering and old-fashioned, with no narrative arc. I think stories like that can get published, but not usually by a brand-new writer. 

For aspiring authors, I would say, “Submit relentlessly!” I see a lot of people sitting on wonderful manuscripts because they’re too worried about rejection. Get it out there! Every rejection teaches you something and gets you closer to acceptance. 


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

When my second child was only three months old, I had the bright idea of starting a business baking cherry pies to order for the fourth of July. After I’d delivered them I realized there were some pits in the cherries and I had to call everyone to warn them to chew carefully. I still loving baking pies, but today it’s only for our family.


Where can people find you online? 

www.emmabsmith.com, on Twitter at @emmablandsmith and Instagram at @emmasmithsf.




Emma Bland Smith is a librarian and author of 13 books for children. Her first picture book, Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West, won Bank Street College’s Cook Prize and Northland College’s SONWA award. The Pig War: How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share, will be published by Calkins Creek on November 10 and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Emma lives with her husband, their two kids, one cat, and one dog in San Francisco, California. 



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39 comments:

  1. The cover and the title of the book grabbed my attention right away. I can't wait to read the book. I also look forward to learning more about Emma's next book about the pioneering female cook. So exciting!

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  2. Congratulations! I'm looking forward to learning about this story.

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  3. This book sounds intriguing...and of course I loved Journey! Congrats, and I agree that the message is so timely.

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  4. Love books like this, want to read this to my twins!

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    1. Aw, thank you! If you do read it, I hope they enjoy it!

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  5. Congratulations on this book, Emma! It sounds amazing. I love the story of cherry pits in your pies, although I know it was not funny at the time!

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    1. Ha ha, thanks so much! I don't think I could ever go into the food business professionally--so stressful! :)

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  7. You continue to be amazing.What a pleasure to know you.

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  8. sounds like a book I'd like to read :-)

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  9. The beautiful illustrations have an appropriate Early American look!

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    1. Thank you, John! I agree about the illustrations. I am so grateful I was paired with Alison Jay!

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  10. I adore history picture books. It is a fun way to teach my students about history.

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    1. Thanks, Jen! I agree picture books can be a great way to teach and learn history.

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  11. Your book sounds fascinating and fun. I wonder how you came across this funny story in history. Emma, I'm looking forward to reading your humorous and educational book. It's great to learn something new and get a laugh too.

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    1. Thanks so much! I learned about the Pig War when I was researching the San Juan Islands for a different picture book, To Live on an Island. There's actually a national historical park dedicated to the Pig War, and we visited it a few summers ago.

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  12. What a great story -- and I love the idea of using humor to tell it! I can't wait to read the story and find out more about what happened. I love historical nonfiction that is written in an engaging way!

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    1. Thank you so much for those kind words, Carolyn!

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  13. This book sounds fun--I enjoy finding humor in books and this topic is perfect to add a humorous touch with the seriousness behind the message. Congratulations! I need to get back to writing and have had a difficult time focusing lately.

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    1. Thanks, Danielle! I wish you luck in getting words on paper. It's hard! I'm really procrastinating with some other WIPs.

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  14. Emma, I'm fascinated by the title of your book and the cover! I'm eager to read it!

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  15. Congratulations on your #PB #debut, Emma! What an engaging title & premise - it's these little gems of history that inspire future historians!

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  16. Oh, this book sounds SO up my alley! Congratulations!

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    1. Thank, Julie! I'm so glad it sounds interesting! It's been years in the making, and I can't wait till it's out in the world.

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  17. Oh my gosh! The story about the cherry pies is hilarious. Hopefully nobody cracked a tooth!

    I look forward to reading this book!

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie! If they did, they were kind enough not to tell (or sue!) me!

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  18. This sounds like a good book and a good way to get younger children interested in history.

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  19. I wish Emma had written history books back when I went to school. They were so dull, a litany of names and dates. Pig Wars looks like it brings a slice of history to life.

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  20. I love discovering true stories told in a fun way! Congrats on the book!

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