Author Spotlight: Becky Scharnhorst
Jan. 14, 2022
We are excited to feature author Becky Scharnhorst and her picture book MY SCHOOL STINKS, illustrated by Julia Patton (Philomel Books 2021) and THIS FIELD TRIP STINKS – also illustrated by Julia Patton – Flamingo Books (August 2022) Enter to win a copy of THIS SCHOOL STINKS! Be sure to check out the cover reveal below of THIS FIELD TRIP STINKS.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
In my early twenties, I spent a year working in the children’s department at Barnes & Noble and became totally smitten with picture books. From then on, every date night with my husband ended at a bookstore and almost every conversation with my older sister ended with her asking when I was going to write my own book. But I never seriously considered writing myself until I had my own kids. I spent countless hours reading to them because 1) I loved books and 2) they never slept. After three years of being woken multiple times a night, I was sleep deprived just enough to believe maybe I could write a book after all. When they finally started sleeping, I started writing.
Congrats on your picture books, My School Stinks and This Field Trip Stinks. What inspired you?
I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, and I knew I wanted to address my nervous nature in a humorous way. I asked myself what would happen if a nervous child was put in a legitimately nerve-wracking situation? At the time, I lived at a camp in the middle of a forest in Northeast Pennsylvania where wild animal sightings were a regular occurrence. At first, my kids were terrified of the bears wandering through our backyard, and my husband was even more terrified of the snakes. But my kids soon grew to appreciate the wildlife, and their fear turned to excitement whenever we spotted a bear, porcupine, or even a snake. Watching their transformation was what inspired me to plop Stuart into a classroom full of wild animals. When my editor asked me to write a sequel, I knew I wanted to put Stuart and his animal classmates back in the wild. That was the inspiration for This Field Trip Stinks.
And we also have a special cover reveal for THIS FIELD TRIP STINKS!...
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
All of publishing feels a bit long and winding to me, but things can also sometimes happen quickly. My School Stinks and This Field Trip Stinks had very different paths to publication. I wrote my first manuscript ever in 2014, but I didn’t get serious about writing until 2016 when I wrote My School Stinks for a workshop at the Highlights Foundation. The first night of the workshop, I changed the setting to a camp, and the POV to 1st person, written in letters home. After I met my editor Cheryl Eissing through the 2017 Rutgers One-on-One Plus conference, it went through a couple rounds of revisions before she took it to her team at Philomel in July 2018. Even though they liked it, they thought the camp setting was too niche, so they asked me to change it to a school setting. That fall, I changed it back to a school story and wrote it in journal entries instead of letters. Thankfully, they loved the changes, and it finally became a book in June 2021.
This Field Trip Stinks had a much shorter path to publication. After the launch meeting for My School Stinks in June 2020, my editor asked if I would be interested in writing a sequel. Of course, I said yes, and two months later they acquired it! This Field Trip Stinks comes out in August 2022, and I’m thrilled to share the cover with you today. Both books were illustrated by the extraordinary Julia Patton.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m always working on a couple different picture book manuscripts, but one of my goals for this year is to write something completely new. I’m currently reading a bunch of chapter books, middle grade novels, and graphic novels while brainstorming ideas for each. I’m not sure where I’ll land, but it’s been fun to explore new options.
What are some of your favorite classic picture books? New ones?
I still remember the first time I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I was fascinated by the holes, the flaps, and the simple text. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since. I also adore The Monster at the End of This Book. It’s one of the few picture books I remember reading as a kid. Some recent favorites include Dandy, Chez Bob, Neck & Neck, Experiment #256, Boats for Papa, The Longest Letsgoboy, The Blue House, and I Talk Like a River.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I’m certain everyone has heard this before, but I believe reading is one of the most important things you can do to improve your craft and learn the market. Read as many recent picture books as you possibly can, and study what you like and don’t like about each book. Try to figure out why something resonates with you or why it doesn’t. I’m embarrassed to admit I often skip the second step, but if you want to improve your craft, then you need to be serious about studying it. I’m saying this as a reminder to myself as well!
What is something most people don't know about you?
I am equally enamored with both Big Macs and Kale smoothies. I can also recite almost every line from Return of the Jedi. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but for some reason that movie made a big impression on my 10-year-old self. I saw it seven times in the movie theater!
Where can people find you online?
I love connecting with teachers, librarians, and fellow members of the writing community! You can find me on Twitter and Instagram, or you can connect with me through my website.
Twitter: @beckyscharn (https://twitter.com/beckyscharn)
Instagram: @beckyscharn (https://www.instagram.com/beckyscharn/)
Becky grew up in Northeast Wisconsin and spent most of her childhood playing in lakes and reading books. Shortly after receiving a BA from Luther College, Becky spent a year working as a children’s bookseller at Barnes & Noble and soon discovered she enjoyed reading picture books more than anything else. Much, much more. Now Becky spends her days writing children’s books and working at her local library. Her debut picture book, My School Stinks, was published by Philomel Books in 2021. This Field Trip Stinks and How to Get Your Octopus to School will be published by Flamingo Books in 2022 and 2023. When she’s not reading or writing, Becky can be found hiking through the woods, baking something sweet, or thinking happy thoughts. She currently lives in Central Wisconsin with her husband, two kids, and a few too many pets.
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