Want an easy job? Don't write books for children

September 3, 1995
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

You may think it's easy to write a children's book, particularly a picture book where the word count is very low, ranging from 200 to 1,500 words.

But April Halprin Wayland, a published children's book writer, says it's not at all as easy as it looks.

"You cannot write a children's book in 10 minutes," she said. "It takes me a year, I work it over and over and over again." April said she wrote 15 drafts of "It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma!" in eight months. Then her agent sold the book and then she had to write it over again 20 times with her editor. "Every single word has to be exactly right," she said.

April is the author of three books for the 4 to 8 set, the latest of which is "It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma!" (Knopf, 1995, $15). It's a quirky down-home book set way out in the country. The book is illustrated by The New Yorker cartoonist George Booth and that, says April, was a stroke of luck. First you have to understand that the writer has nothing whatsoever to do with the selection of the illustrator. So the assignment of an internationally known cartoonist, who has created a new genre of neurotic dogs and cats, was luck for April indeed.

But the publisher put April and Booth together because they fit. The book's country theme matched Booth's talent and interest. April said she and the illustrator got along very well - by phone.

"I never met him," she said in a recent phone interview from her home in Southern California. "But I talked to him on the phone (he lives on Long Island) and he was incredible, generous and cooperative. He turned out to be a wonderful match. It is his book now as much as mine."

April never intended to write children's books. Her sister, Lyra Halprin, a former reporter, is a writer for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program at UC Davis. But April had different interests. She worked as a governess, a country fiddler, a farmer and a marketing executive. Her wide range of interests may be explained by her unusual upbringing.

The girls were raised in two distinctly different environments. Their mother, a concert pianist, needed to be in an urban area. Their father, a farmer, ran a 300-acre walnut ranch outside Yuba City.

"It was his bad luck to fall in love with a woman who lived 500 miles away from the farm," said April. There was only one answer. So April's father commuted for 28 years. Long summer vacations were spent on the farm, winters in Santa Monica.

"We had a wonderful childhood split between the city and the farm," she said.

Her father died two weeks before April graduated from UCD in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in human development.

Then came a long period of experimentation with different careers. For a few years, April, Lyra and their mother ran the farm. After traveling in Europe, starting her own business, becoming involved with the folk music community, April got married. She and her husband, an accountant, live in Manhattan Beach with their son, Jeffrey, 6.

And after working for many years as a successful, highly paid and stressed-out marketing executive, April had had enough. She'd been taking classes in children's book writing and publishing through the UCLA Extension and knew she's found her calling.

She quit her job. Since then she has published three books and, she says, has zillions more still unpublished. She also has given more than 250 presentations to local schools (including a presentation to Patwin Elementary School in Davis in April of 1993). After one such presentation a woman came up to her son and said: "Your mommy makes magic!"

Jeffrey's adult reply was: "Yeah, but my daddy makes money."

April suggests that those who would like more information on agents, markets or how to submit manuscripts should phone the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators at (818) 888-8760.

Book IllustrationThis illustration is by The New Yorker cartoonist
George Booth from the children's book by April
Halprin Wayland
entitled "It's Not My Turn to
Look for Grandma!" (Knopf, 1995, $15).

Elisabeth Sherwin's interview
with April Halprin Wayland
is entitled: "Want an easy job?
Don't write books for children,"
Click here September 3, 1995,
to return to the top of this column.

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