Julie Hedlund is a wearer of many hats, and a woman of many talents. Her new picture book OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? is full of many wonderful things as well- puns and wordplay so clever, you will find yourself laughing at every page turn, adorable characters, and a whimsical, fun way to introduce young audiences to compound words and word-building.
Besides writing amazing picture books, Julie has founded and built a number of online communities and events that have become mainstays in the kidlit community, most notably The 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Picture Book Summit, and The Complete Picture Book Submissions System. As a proud 12X12 member (probably for life), I have been thrilled with this online community, and want to evangelize it to every picture book writer I know!
It is such a pleasure to speak with Julie about her book, her writing, and everything she has been doing to support children’s writers at large.
Hilary Margitich: Welcome to the Writers’ Rumpus blog, Julie! I am overjoyed to be speaking with you today. I just want to underscore that I will try my best not to overdo it with over- and under- puns, but I really loved OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? What inspired you to write such a creative story?
Julie Hedlund: I’d love to say there was some deep, meaningful spark of inspiration, but honestly, I just found myself chuckling one day, thinking about the idea of Over and Under as not just words, but characters. I love to play with language, and the prospect of toying with spatial relationships and puns was just too great to resist.
HM: That sounds like so much fun! What was the drafting and development process like, and what did you enjoy the most?
JH: Once I decided that most of the dialogue between Over and Under would be split compound words (“Push, Over. Under, Stand.”), I made a huge list of “over” and “under” words to give me ideas. Then I had a blast choosing the ones that worked for the story. The biggest challenge was not to “overdo” the puns. I needed to make sure the manuscript worked on multiple levels, especially the emotional one. I knew Bear’s desire to be included was the heart of the story, so I focused on making the wordplay amplify that desire and show her dismay when her intentions are misunderstood.
HM: Yes, I definitely felt the story on that emotional level– it was very sweet.
Julie, you are a children’s writer who has very successfully branched out into other areas of the kidlit world. You have built large online communities and hosted many events that support and mentor other writers and illustrators. Can you tell us how all of that came about, and what that journey has been like for you?
JH: As with all aspects of this journey, building the communities and events happened step by step and over time. For instance, I started 12 x 12 ten years ago because I needed a way to force myself to write more. Picture book authors need to be prolific, and I’d spent 3 years working on two manuscripts. That, I knew, was going to get me nowhere fast. I guess that idea resonated because 12 x 12 has grown to 1700+ members today! Those members (including you!) keep me going. As you know, this business is tough. You NEED to surround yourself with people who “get” what we’re doing and why, and can provide support for the inevitable lows – and the miraculous highs when they come.
Once 12 x 12 was up and running, other ideas for events and opportunities to collaborate came along organically. One thing I hope everyone realizes is that the kidlit community is so inspiring and supportive. If you’re uncertain about participating in courses, conferences, or communities – just jump right in. I promise you that in an instant you will have a hundred friends helping you. From then on, you never take a single step of the journey alone.
HM: Working on both sides of the table, as both a writer and an advisor to thousands of other writers, must give you unique and valuable insights and perspective. Do you find that doing both helps you do each of them more effectively? Is there any sort of synergy that you feel you’ve achieved through both?
JH: Without a doubt, it does. One of the best ways to improve as a writer (besides reading and writing) is to teach others what you know and/or provide feedback on their manuscripts. I’m a big believer that we teach what we need to learn, whether we realize it or not. The same is true of critiquing manuscripts. We’ll often pick up on things in someone else’s work that also shows up in our own, but that we might not have recognized otherwise.
HM: I love this learning by teaching philosophy. It has so much truth to it. What is a valuable piece of advice you would give to new writers?
JH: In the beginning, don’t worry about how you will get published. Focus on the craft. Have FUN playing with writing and reading tons of picture books. So many new writers take the joy out of their journey by fretting about the future before they’ve even started. There will be plenty of time to learn about querying and submitting your work after you’ve put in the time. So you might as well ENJOY that time.
HM: Yes, that is what it is about! And speaking of crafting and having fun, what are you working on now/next, and where can we follow you online and on social media?
JH: I recently sold a picture book biography, but I can’t say more because it hasn’t been announced. I have two other picture books that are getting close to submission-ready and a half-dozen other drafts that I’m eager to revise. I love the feeling of being inspired by multiple projects!
12 X 12 Picture Book Challenge: 12x12challenge.com
Picture Book Summit: Picturebooksummit.com
Thanks so much for visiting us here on Writers’ Rumpus and chatting with me, Julie!
OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? has a release date of November 9th, and you can pre-order it now wherever books are sold. If you want a signed copy (by both Julie and Michael Slack), you can get one by pre-ordering from Second Star to the Right bookstore: https://www.secondstartotherightbooks.com/product-page/book-launch-with-julie-hedlund-and-michael-slack
Julie Hedlund is an award-winning children’s book author. Her titles include OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE? (Philomel, 2021), MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN (2014) and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS (2013), both published by Little Bahalia Publishing.
Julie is also the founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, which boasts more than 1,700 members. She is a co-founder of Picture Book Summit, an annual online conference, and the co-creator (with Emma Walton Hamilton) of The Complete Picture Book Submissions System.