HAPPY OWL-OWEEN, everybody!!!
Yes…yes, I know it’s supposed to be Halloween, but today we are celebrating the launch of Laura Gehl’s brand-new picture book, Happy Owl-oween!: A Halloween Story. It’s about little owlets doing all sorts of adorable things to get in the holiday spirit—picking pumpkins, sipping cider, making costumes, and of course, trick-or-treating!
Look, all I know is that my four-year-old son, Trevor, wants to read this with me EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. and laughs with joy at each rhyming page turn. The beautiful and colorful illustrations by Lydia Nichols set the perfect holiday mood, making this a treat of a book for the preschool crowd, and even pre- preschool crowd. No tricks, I promise.
Actually, I do have one trick up my sleeve…I have Laura Gehl here with us today!
Laura is the author of three dozen or so picture books, board books, and early readers. Many have won awards. In fact, this year alone, Laura has released eight new books (yes, you heard that correctly), including Happy Owl-oween!, You’re My Little Dragon, You’re My Little Unicorn, The Hiking Viking, Apple and Magnolia, Donut: The Unicorn Who Wants to Fly, Who Dug This Hole (a lift-the-flap book!), and Odd Birds.
Hilary Margitich: Laura, welcome to Writers’ Rumpus! Thank you for bringing your Halloween magic to our blog today.
Laura Gehl: Thanks so much for inviting me, Hilary. I’m excited to break out the Halloween candy a little early (dark chocolate peanut butter cups…I hear you calling my name!) and chat about Happy Owl-oween! and more.
HM: Happy Owl-oween! is a perfect book for younger picture book readers. Can you tell me how you approach writing for this curious and impressionable age group? Because it is not as easy as it looks, that much I know!
LG: When I write for this age group, I like to use very few words. This is especially true for books that might be read as bedtime stories, like Happy Owl-oween!, which ends with the owlets going to sleep after a busy night of trick-or-treating and candy-trading. I think my propensity for low word count is because of my experiences with my own four kids at a young age. As a parent, I always wanted bedtime stories that were short (yet satisfying!), so the kids and I could all get to bed. And with a quick story, I could give in to the “read it again, Mommy!” without pushing bedtime too late, so it was a win-win.
I also like to have a repeated line when I write for younger picture book readers. It’s great fun for younger kids to join in and say (okay, usually shout) that refrain along with the adult reader. Of course, in this book, that repeated line is “Happy Owl-oween!”
HM: In addition to writing board books and picture books, you have expanded into the world of writing early readers. Tell me about what prompted that, and if/how the writing process for those differs for you.
LG: I started writing early readers after my daughter struggled with learning to read. My older kids had learned effortlessly, but it just didn’t click for my daughter. Together, we read every early reader we could get our hands on, and I could see how much of a difference it made for her when she read a book that was designed with emerging readers in mind. And seeing that made me want to contribute to this very important genre.
The best early readers usually have an engaging plot, repetition, simple sentence structure, and a mix of sight words and word families. Writing books that incorporate all of those elements is challenging, but it’s challenging in a good way—like a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku. My next early reader is Dog Can Hide, featuring the same silly cast of characters as the other books in the series. And for any parents out there with kids struggling to learn how to read, I’ll add that my daughter is now a great reader who says being allowed to go to the library every day is the best part of middle school.
HM: You have such an interesting background in the sciences. When did that interest in science start for you, and how has it shaped your writing career?
LG: My interest in science definitely goes back to early childhood, and I have my dad to thank for that. We used to grow bacteria in petri dishes and collect pond water to look at under the microscope. There was a science supply store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that we would go to, and I thought that was the coolest store ever. It was like FAO Schwarz times a million.
Science has had a huge impact on my writing career. My first published writing was in the magazine world, articles about science for kids of all ages (and adults, too). At this point it has been a number of years since I transitioned from magazine work to writing books. But when I read about a thrilling new scientific breakthrough or discovery, my first thought is still the same: How can I share this excitement with kids through my writing?
HM: Laura, you have seriously written and published A LOT of books. You probably get asked this a lot, but what is your secret? Is it writing a lot, writing strategically, etc.? Spill the details for us, please.
LG: Writing a lot is definitely a big part of it. I do write dozens of new drafts each year. I think another important piece of the puzzle, which is related to writing a lot, is to silence your internal editor…at least for a while. I have no problem writing really awful first drafts, and that allows me to write more first drafts. I also have no problem sharing my awful drafts with my critique partners, which allows me to turn some of those awful drafts…eventually…into publishable manuscripts.
HM: Your books have covered so many different topics and genres, from fiction to nonfiction, science to fantasy. Is there a topic or genre you haven’t gotten to work with yet, but would like to?
LG: For a long time, I wanted to write a lift-the-flap book, and I finally did! Who Dug This Hole? came out this year, and the companion book, Who Laid These Eggs?, will come out in 2023. As far as what I haven’t done yet…I’d love to write a heist book, like the spirit of Ocean’s Eleven in kidlit form. And I am intrigued by young chapter books and young graphic novels. Maybe I can write a young graphic novel involving a heist at some point?!
HM: Can you tell me what you are working on next, and where our readers can follow you on social media?
LG: I’m finishing up my first middle-grade nonfiction, Climate Warriors, which will be out in the spring. Climate Warriors introduces readers to fourteen scientists…from an artificial intelligence expert, to a scientist who is growing meat in a lab, to an economist, to a public health researcher…who are attacking the problem of climate change from fourteen very different angles. I hope this book, which also has lots of suggestions for ways kids can help fight climate change, will both inspire and reassure young readers who are concerned about our planet.
I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter @AuthorLauraGehl, and I would love to connect with your readers on those platforms.
Laura, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I love your work and have enjoyed getting to know more about you.
Thank you, Hilary! It was delightful to “chat” with you and your readers. And I didn’t even have to share my peanut butter cups….
To win a copy of Happy Owl-oween!: A Halloween Story, comment on this post! If you share on Facebook or Twitter, you get another entry. Giveaway closes in one week. US and Canada only.
Laura Gehl is the award-winning author of more than thirty picture books, board books, and early readers. Her books have received starred reviews, been featured on state and national reading lists, and been translated into numerous languages. Laura’s books include ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR; the PEEP AND EGG series; the BABY SCIENTIST series; ALWAYS LOOKING UP: NANCY GRACE ROMAN, ASTRONOMER; WHO IS A SCIENTIST?; and I GOT A CHICKEN FOR MY BIRTHDAY, among others. She loves reading, ice cream, travel, and hiking in all combinations. Visit Laura online at www.lauragehl.com.
For more Halloween book recommendations from Writers’ Rumpus, click here.