Author Spotlight: Annemarie Riley Guertin

Oct. 26, 2018

We are pleased to feature picture book author Annemarie Riley Guertin and her new book HOW THE FINCH GOT ITS COLORS, illustrated by Helena Pérez Garcia (Familius Mar 2018). Enter to win a copy!

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

A little background on myself… I grew up in a small town 45 miles north of Boston, MA. I struggled in school and around the age of 8 I was diagnosed with a learning disability that my family kept secret out of fear. To keep my grades up, my family hired tutors for me, and with their help, I made it through school. I have always been a hard worker and put in a tremendous amount of effort into everything I’ve set out to accomplish, so, it came as no surprise that I wanted to go to college to become a teacher. I wanted to help kids like me. After graduating high school, I went to Wheelock College to study early childhood education. Two years after I earned my bachelor’s degree, I earned my master’s degree and graduated with a 4.0 summa cum laude (without the help from tutors!). I like to think of myself as a late bloomer!

After working as a Kindergarten teacher for ten years, I was bumped up to first grade. When it came time to teach a unit on folktales, I realized there weren’t enough picture books that offered “new” story lines. Most of the folktales used for the unit were ones my students had read in previous years…Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and so forth. I decided right then and there I was going to create something new and send it off into the world.

My aunt had been a first-grade teacher for her entire career, and when she retired, she gave me some books she had used in her classroom. I remembered that one of them was filled with older, lesser-known folktales. I dug through it and found the original version of How the Finch Got Her Colors. I took the characters and the moral and created a story line from it. It only took me three hours to rewrite it.

From there, I shared my story with a few coworkers. One of them thought it had real potential, so she put me in contact with a local children's author she knew. This author suggested that I join SCBWI so I could learn the ropes of publishing. After chatting with her, I signed up. I posted Finch in its entirety on one of the blue boards. I was naive and had no idea that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Luckily for me, a member reached out to offer her guidance. She said she saw potential in my writing and wanted to help me polish it. That person became my most trusted friend and critique partner. Sarah has been a gift, and I can never thank her enough for her love, support, and guidance. 

After a few rounds of editing, it was ready to send off. I sent it off to a handful of publishers in April 2016, and by June 17th I'd received four separate offers on it!

Congrats on your book, HOW THE FINCH GOT ITS COLORS. Tell us about it and what inspired you.

Finch is a creation myth. It is a story about how the Earth and all its creatures received their color. The main character is patiently awaiting his turn for some color when all the colors run out. However, his patience does not go unnoticed and at the end of the story an extraordinary thing happens to him. Embedded within the story are lessons about patience, kindness, friendship and the power of positivity.

© Helena Pérez Garcia

Finch was ultimately created out of need. There is a gap in the market for lesser-known folktales in picture book format. Since 48 out of 50 states use Common Core standards for instruction, and folktales are a required unit of study for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, there is a real need for picture books in this genre. I know this first hand because I teach!

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

My road to publication was short and sweet! This is not your typical publication story. I wrote Finch in three hours, and after two weeks of editing, it was ready to fly. I sent it out on a wing and a prayer and in two months’ time I received four contract offers on it from four different publishing houses. Finch was my first attempt at writing a children's book. I've learned a lot about the publishing business having navigated my first contract on my own. I struck gold when Familius offered me a contract (with world rights and everything!). It has been an incredible journey!

© Helena Pérez Garcia

Congrats! Now that's a Cinderella story. What projects are you working on now?

Finch has done extraordinarily well. About a month after its release, Christopher Robbins, the CEO of Familius, reached out to ask if I would be interested in writing another folktale. After searching for one to retell, we decided on Florence Holbrook’s classic: Why the Evergreen Trees Keep Their Leaves in Winter. This was another quick write for me. After a week of revisions, I sent it off. One week later, I received an offer on it! The icing on the cake was learning that my amazing illustrator, Helena Pérez Garcia, agreed to illustrate the second book.

That week was probably the best week of my life because not only was I offered a second book contract, but I was also contacted by my now agent, Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary. A few weeks prior, I participated in one of those Twitter pitch parties. Rebecca hearted one of my pitches and asked that I send her that manuscript.  I sent it off and waited to hear back. I opened my inbox to find an email from her about my submission and she asked if we could set up a time to talk. I emailed her right back and we scheduled a call the next day.  We chatted, and she offered representation and if this wasn’t exciting enough I opened my email to find my second offer! Rebecca was amazing in helping to secure that one. I feel so blessed to be part of her team!

© Helena Pérez Garcia

In terms of future projects, Rebecca just sent two manuscripts out on submission. We also have a third in the holding box.  I just finished another story last night, so, she will be getting that one as soon as I have some of my trusty friends critique it. Hopefully, this is the start of a long, successful writing career!

What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?

I have a few pieces of advice for aspiring authors…

•    First and foremost, you're never too old to go after your dreams! I wrote Finch at the age of 39.

•    Find yourself a critique partner...not a family member! You need someone that will offer you critical advice on your writing. If you ask a family member they’re likely to tell you everything is perfect in an effort not to hurt your feelings.

•    Research, research, research! Research agents that might be a good fit for your works. Research publishers and the types of books that they are putting out into the world to make sure your work is a good fit for their company.

·         If you can get an agent before you get a publishing deal, then do it! Agents do so much work for their authors. They know the ins and outs of contracts and will guide you step by step though the whole process.

•    Finally,… go for it! Don't let your fear of rejection stop you from trying to turn your dream into your reality. Rejections are a hard but necessary part of this business. You're going to get no’s- we all do! When it rolls in (and it will) pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward until you get that yes. All it takes is one!

What is something most people don't know about you?

Well, aside from having a learning disability, graduating with honors and writing books, I'd say that most people don't know I'm also an extreme couponer. I have been couponing for the last nine years, and I have a stockpile that will carry me through the rest of my existence! I did a segment for the news and they sent out a film crew to document my side hustle…LOL. Some other fun facts about me… I am left-handed, I’m obsessed with Disney and Mickey Mouse, and when I am not writing books you’ll find me refinishing furniture!

Where can people find you online?

People can find me online at or on Twitter: @ARileyGuertin
Annemarie Riley Guertin is a newly minted author. Her debut picture book How the Finch Got His Colors flew onto shelves in 2018 (Familius, 2018). She has a second book Little Redbird and the Evergreen Trees coming out in 2019 (Familius, 2019). Annemarie graduated from Wheelock College and Fitchburg State University earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education (summa cum laude). Annemarie is a Literacy Coach for the Salem Public School district in Salem, MA.  She lives in Haverhill, MA with her husband Michael and their two children.

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  1. Very interesting and a smart process. I would be interested in a listing of publishers for retellings of fairy tales. I had not heard of Familius. Congratulations on your success!

  2. The colors and patterns look amazing!

  3. I loved meeting you at NESCBWI and hearing about this book. Now I can't wait to read it and your upcoming title as well! Congratulations!!

  4. This book sounds perfect for a collaboration I do (as a middle school librarian) with our performing arts and art teachers. We select animal myths and students rewrite them as plays and perform them for our preschoolers. It can be tough to find myths with sufficient roles (12+) and stories that are simple enough for the assignment and both age groups. I can't wait to see this book!

  5. Wow! You had the fastest/shortest road to publication. This book has an amazing message of hope and is gorgeous. Congratulations.

  6. Congrats on your new book, I enjoyed reading about your process!

  7. An amazing journey. Thanks for the inspiration and interesting info.

  8. Great story, Ann Marie. Congratulations on your sweet successes! :)

  9. Wow, great story! A true Cinderella tale, without the evil stepmother and stepsisters...Congratulations!

  10. Your story is so inspirational! Congratulations and thank you for the comment about it never being too late.

  11. What a beautiful book. I love the "how" tale for kids.

  12. I love the story behind the creation of How the Finch Got His Colors and can't wait to read and share it. Congratulations!


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