Author Spotlight: Christine Van Zandt
Dec. 17, 2021
We are excited to feature Christine Van Zandt and her debut picture book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS illustrated by Harry Briggs (Quarto Kids 2021). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
While in college studying for my master’s degree in English literature, I took a series of kid’s lit courses. Those classes covered multicultural books from picture book through young adult. As an avid reader since childhood, I was thrilled to analyze classics as well as modern stories. It made me realize what an impact kid’s book writers have on children. Until then my writing had been focused on the adult marketplace. I finally started writing kid’s books in earnest once I became a mom and was immersed in them daily.
Congrats on your book, A Brief History of Underpants! What a fun subject. Tell us about the book and what inspired you to write it.
This 48-page nonfiction picture book is a funny, easy-to-read history of underpants, from the first fossilized pair until today. The comic-style illustrations by Harry Briggs add another level of humor. There’s an interactive wheel on the front that turns to reveal different styles of underwear.
The inspiration for this book came while I was volunteering at our elementary school’s annual Book Fair. I listened to one kid after another complain that nonfiction books were boring—as their parents tried to steer them toward that section! This negative perception motivated me to write something educational but also entertaining.
My daughter (who was in third grade then) came up with the idea of underwear. When I looked into what had already published, I was surprised to find few kid’s books about the history of underpants and none quite like my idea for one. So I researched, wrote, and hoped my puns about buns would crack people up.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Short and sweet! I was lucky because it was only 235 days from my first draft until I connected with a publisher via #PitMad. (I was unagented at the time, but have since found representation.) In those 235 days, I went through at least 20 drafts and workshopped my manuscript with my critique partners several times.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on fiction and nonfiction picture books. I’m passionate about trying to keep the western monarch butterfly from extinction (their numbers are down 99.9%) and have a lyrical narrative nonfiction picture book. This soothing bedtime read provides new perspectives on monarch life cycles and migration. It also has an underlying call to action. For example, we can help these amazing creatures by not using pesticides or by planting flowers and milkweed; this benefits other pollinators as well.
What advice would you give to writers working on nonfiction picture books?
Use only reputable reference sources, remember to keep track of them down as you go along, and try to be patient because finding the right facts can be a slow process. When researching my underwear book, I really had to dig to uncover great facts—I guess that’s why underwear is called “unmentionables”!
As with fiction, when writing nonfiction picture books, find multiple ways to engage your audience. My book has humor but it also connects with the STEM curriculum by including the Industrial Revolution, inventions, innovations, technology, and archaeology.
Nonfiction has come so far. Melissa Stewart’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction (2021, Stenhouse) has an abundance of information for anyone interested learning more about today’s nonfiction children’s books.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
As a literary editor, people presume I spend my free time reading The New Yorker (which I do!) but I also have Stephen King’s latest novel in my library queue—he did name a book after me, you know 😉.
Where can people find you online?
I’m at christinevanzandt.com, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear (yet!), but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids such as her funny nonfiction picture book A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021). She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.