CAROL GORDON EKSTER: Dawn, it is so lovely that you are a Writers’ Rumpus reader and reached out about your new books. You are such an interesting #kidlit talent, I was excited to interview you. Can you tell us about your journey into becoming a #kidlit writer?
DAWN BABB PROCHOVNIC: Thank you so much for taking an interest in my work, Carol. I’ve followed the Writers’ Rumpus blog for quite some time now, and it feels particularly special to be interviewed here.
I found my way to writing for children in a roundabout fashion. About twenty years ago, I launched SmallTalk Learning, a business that originally focused on providing workshops to help hearing babies use sign language to communicate with their parents and caregivers before they could talk. These workshops gradually expanded into a full range of sign language-infused early childhood enrichment programs, and eventually into an early literacy consulting business.
Wanting to reach more learners than I could feasibly do via my local workshops, I eventually sought opportunities to transform my instructional materials into books for children. That was a long and winding process, spanning several years and many rejections. Eventually, I found my way to Abdo Publishing Group, my first publisher. Happily, they published 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series.
If you want to dive more deeply into how I found my way to Abdo, I shared that story here.
CGE: You have two books that came out this fall: Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?What led you to write potty humor? Can you give us the back story to how these titles and their publication came to be?
DBP: As I worked to polish and prepare my sign language stories for publication, I rediscovered my long lost love for creative writing. I wrote poetry and short stories as a child and patched together a full-ride of scholarships to pay for college by writing creative and compelling essays. However, once my college (and soon after, corporate) career started, I left that part of me behind. The creative writer in me remained hidden until I attended my first children’s writing workshop in hopes of finding an illustrator and publisher to “hire” for my sign language books (ha!, I was so naive). During that workshop, a faculty member facilitated a writing exercise that woke the writer in me. I don’t recall the prompt, but I do recall the pungent memories of my fourth-grade teacher’s halitosis flooding out of me and onto the page. I was hooked (or, more accurately, re-hooked) on creative writing.
That workshop eventually led me to SCBWI, my local kidlit writing community, and my critique group. I took full advantage of these resources and started writing all kinds of stories, many unrelated to my signing stories, as I worked to perfect my craft. I didn’t set out to write potty humor, but one of the story ideas that came to me early on was “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”
Back when my son, now a senior in high school, was a toddler, there was a day when he was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where does a pirate go potty?” I knew immediately that was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. It took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me.
My Pirate Potty story eventually led to my Cowgirl Potty story … Interestingly, it was the Cowgirl story that first struck an interest with my publisher, West Margin Press. Happily, they acquired both books and published them simultaneously so they could launch into the world together. If you want to read more about how that opportunity materialized, I shared that story here.
CGE: You are the founder of SmallTalk Learning. Can you tell us a little about that and how it interacts with your life as an author?
DBP: That’s such a great question. I’m so glad you asked it. Children love sign language. School-age kids think it is a secret code to unlock, preschoolers embrace signing with the same enthusiasm reserved for treasured fingerplays, and as I alluded to earlier, many babies born today will learn to sign before they can talk.
In the early days, most of my workshops were “signing with babies” programs offered to families in private homes, community centers, and public libraries. Although I do still occasionally work directly with parents of infants and toddlers in these settings, my current focus is offering sign language infused school/library visits for kids of all ages, and “train the trainer,” workshops to help teachers, librarians, community educators, and other early childhood professionals incorporate ASL [American Sign Language] into their program offerings and outreach. I frequently present at professional development conferences for teachers and librarians, and provide customized early literacy training and consulting services for schools, libraries, and childcare centers. My website is full of free resources to help parents and educators incorporate sign language into their learning environments.
Even when I’m reading/sharing books that don’t intentionally incorporate sign language, like my Story Time with Signs & Rhymes books, I find it nearly impossible to read books with kids without incorporating sign language in some fashion. As an example, recently I had the opportunity to read my new potty-humor books on the storytime stage at a nearby county fair. Reflexively, I taught the participants a few signs ahead of reading my story, and asked them to sign along with me when they heard the keywords. Predictably, they joined right in and loved the sign language element of the story time.
Given that many of my established readers came to know me through my sign language series, I decided to incorporate a variety of sign language-infused storytime lesson plans to go along with my new potty-humor books. These lesson plans have been fun to put together and they have been well received. I will continue to build more resources of this nature (pardon the pun) in the coming weeks and months and add them to this page on my website.
CGE: What excites you most about being a children’s author? What scares you most?
DBP: When I was a fifth grader at Rose City Park Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, my teacher, Mr. Snook, ran a “pleasure reading contest” each year. The student who read the most books during the school year won the award. That year, I started at one end of my school library and snaked my way around the room. I do not remember how many books I read or how far I got into the library’s shelves, but I do know that I read the most books in the fifth-grade class that year. This is the one and only trophy I’ve ever won, and I’m still proud of it. I’m convinced that all of that pleasure reading way back when, set the foundation for every problem I solve, interest I pursue, and curiosity I satisfy, still to this day.
I sincerely believe that reading is THE most important thing we can teach a child, and that reading enjoyment is an important aspect of learning to read. What excites me most is that I might play a role in helping children learn to read and/or develop an enjoyment of reading…that one of my books just might set off a spark for at least one other child.
I can’t say that there is anything that scares me about the work that I do, but I do have a worry. I worry that maybe it’s not “right” to write such silly books during such serious times in our world. I worry that maybe I should use my gifts for more serious subjects. In fact, the next book I have coming out (Spring/2021) is a bit more serious, and I wonder if maybe that book is more “right” to share with young readers.
Then I remind myself of what I just said above, and I settle down and consider that light-heartedness may, in fact, be “just right” for this serious world. I’m convinced that igniting a child’s desire to read is serious work, and I’m hopeful that my silly books will bring laughter into lap time and snickers into storytime, setting a joyful foundation for a lifetime of reading.
CGE: What does your writing schedule look like?
DBP: I am very disciplined about working on my craft, but I do not maintain a structured writing schedule. I write something most days, but not necessarily at the same time each day, and not necessarily the same work-in-progress each day.
The most important routine related to my writing schedule is setting weekly writing goals and sharing those goals (and a progress report about the prior week’s goals) with one of my critique partners. Quite often, not every goal of my plan is completed. That’s okay. The process of planning my goals and sharing the goals and goal report with another person helps me stay focused, and the process helps me see my forward progress (as well as the places I’m not moving forward, so I can make adjustments).
CGE: What does the future hold for Dawn Prochovnic?
DBP: I hope my future holds more picture book manuscripts written, sold, and published, and more opportunities to share my books with young readers and their grown-ups in schools, libraries, and bookstores. My youngest child graduates from high school this school year, so I’m aiming for my book-related travel schedule to begin expanding beyond the Pacific Northwest.
Also, although I’ve successfully navigated the publishing industry without agency representation thus far, I’ve come to a place in my career that I’d like to secure representation so I can focus my attention more fully on creating new books and engaging with readers. I plan to pursue agency representation in the near future.
Thank you so much for interviewing me, Carol. It was great to spend some time considering and responding to your questions.
CGE: Thank you, Dawn! Your dedication and journey will inspire many.
If you’d like to connect with Dawn online, please connect with her:
Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? by Dawn Babb Prochovnic, illustrated by Jacob Souva, are available today from West Margin Press.
Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist, and she is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.