Author Spotlight: AJ Irving
Oct. 23, 2020
We are excited to feature picture book author AJ Irving and her debut picture book, DANCE LIKE A LEAF, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (Barefoot Books, Aug. 2020).
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Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life. I’ve worked at restaurants, a women’s and children’s shelter, an advertising agency, and a TV station. My favorite job before I started writing fulltime was working on a bookmobile. We ran reading incentive programs and gave out snacks, school supplies, and hats and mittens. We focused on STEM books and projects during the summer, partnered with a free meal program, and visited a literacy center for immigrant families. It was extremely rewarding to get to know these kids and offer them access to books. I loved reading to preschoolers and getting older kids excited about books. On my last day, the library director told me how much I made a difference in these kids’ lives, and that they would never forget me. I hope she is right.
Congrats on your debut picture book, DANCE LIKE A LEAF! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
I’ve always loved reading and writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. My grandma inspired and encouraged me. Her lifelong dream was to be a published author. I dedicated DANCE LIKE A LEAF to her. My grandma and I were pen pals. The last letter I wrote her was the inspiration for my debut picture book. Autumn was her favorite season. She loved drinking tea, admiring falling leaves, singing, and dancing. DANCE LIKE A LEAF is about a special bond between a grandmother and granddaughter as well as the changing seasons of life. I hope it helps children by showing them that our loved ones never truly leave us because they live on in our hearts, memories, and traditions.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Definitely long and winding! I did everything wrong when I first started out. I didn’t take any craft classes. I didn’t have any critique partners. I sent 1,000+ word fiction picture book manuscripts to houses that still accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I even sent one of these to my current publisher. I received no responses and one form rejection. I saved the form rejection. It makes me laugh.
Thank you for sending us your work. Though we must decline the opportunity to publish it, we wish you every success with the project.
Please excuse this form letter, which we employ to respond to all submissions promptly. Be assured your submission received close consideration.
I became serious about my craft in 2014. I discovered the online kidlit community. I joined SCBWI, attended my first conference, signed up for 12x12, and connected with critique partners. My craft slowly improved. In 2017, I was selected for a mentorship with Laura Gehl through Writing with the Stars. In 2017 and 2018, I was a #PBParty finalist. I pitched my debut picture book, DANCE LIKE A LEAF, in #KidPit in 2018, and received a heart from my fabulous editor, Kate DePalma. I signed with my wonderful agent, Jordan Hamessley, shortly after I received an offer from Barefoot Books.
What projects are you working on now?
Fiction picture books are my favorite! I have a lyrical one inspired by our first dog and all the experiences she shared with my children, a daddy/daughter gardening book, one about a wizard and his pet Mop, and a picture book about a puppy and a plushie (inspired by Escargot). My agent also recently sent me an idea that I am excited about. It made my heart smile that she thought of me for this project.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is it the same you'd give to other aspiring authors?
Dream big and never give up! My three publishing P’s are passion, persistence, and patience. I would have told my younger self that everything in publishing takes FOREVER. Waiting has always been the hardest part for me. I’m still working on my patience skills. I’ve learned that there will be a lot of nos along the way, but it only takes one yes.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
My mom worked at a TV station when I was growing up. I was in a lot of commercials for local businesses. My favorite one was for a pizza company. The delivery driver was a cartoon character named John Dough. This commercial was the first locally produced computer animated commercial in Boise, Idaho. I was also in a commercial for Paint the Town when I was in high school. In the spot, I say, “Let’s paint the town!” My husband saw it on TV before we met. He still teases me about it. Unfortunately, I was never in a pickle commercial. I LOVE dill pickles! When I was a kiddo, I used to get in trouble for drinking all the pickle juice. I still do this occasionally, but my husband and kids don’t seem to mind. They prefer sweet pickles. Yuck!
Where can people find you online?
DANCE LIKE A LEAF SYNOPSIS: As her grandmother’s health declines, a young girl begins to lovingly take the lead in their cozy shared autumn traditions. Poetic prose paired with evocative illustrations by Mexican illustrator Claudia Navarro make for a beautiful celebration of life and a gentle introduction to the death of a loved one.
DANCE LIKE A LEAF is also available in French and Spanish.
SLJ STARRED REVIEW: https://www.slj.com/?reviewDetail=dance-like-a-leaf
AJ Irving grew up in Boise, Idaho, writing stories and daydreaming about becoming an author. Now, she writes picture books and poetry on her big back porch in a tiny town near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. AJ reads kidlit every day and dances every chance she gets. Her debut picture book, DANCE LIKE A LEAF, published on August 21, 2020, from Barefoot Books.
As an author and former bookmobile librarian, AJ is passionate about inspiring children to read. She received a B.A. in journalism and women’s and gender studies from the University of Oregon. AJ is represented by Jordan Hamessley of New Leaf Literary.
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