Author Spotlight: Sarah Hoppe

Author Spotlight: Sarah Hoppe

No, this is not a drill. This is not a test. It's Picture Book Spotlight.

Many thanks for all the support for Lizzy Rizzi! If you happened to miss her Author Spotlight, check it out here.

Congrats to Carrie Cook for winning a query and picture book manuscript critique from Lizzy!

Today we get to celebrate another debut picture book. Sarah Hoppe's Who Will? Will You? is a delight to read--check it out!

Without further ado...

Here's Sarah

Name three things you can’t do your job without.

Quiet time, laptop, internet. Even though the internet is hugely distracting, I check random facts that pertain to my stories often enough that it’s nice to have around.

What’s something you absolutely must have in your refrigerator or pantry?

I just eat whatever is around. But there’s almost always yogurt in the fridge for my kids and husband. We have to have coffee, and usually there are a couple cans of Coke or Dr. Pepper hidden around the house for the rare times we may be out of coffee.

Where do you feel most inspired and why?

Outside. Ideally, I’d say on a beach in the south Pacific, but I’ve found inspiration on the sidewalk outside my house. I saw a slug slime trail, a rotund bumble bee, and a pill bug as I walked down the sidewalk this morning. Nature always inspires me.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into kid lit...why picture books?

I went to college for Elementary Education. The children’s literature courses were my favorite. I taught 3rd grade for a few years. I loved reading out loud to my students, and later to my own kids.

In a picture book, you get to experience the story in two ways. I’m not an illustrator, so I’m always thinking of ways to leave my words open to interpretation. Seeing what the illustrator adds, or how they viewed a scene, is fascinating.

Congrats on your debut book! What does it mean to have your work out in the world?

Thank you! It is an honor. One of my critique partners read it to her kindergarten class. They enjoyed it and learned something new. What more could you ask for?

I really enjoyed Who Will? Will You? What on your journey inspired this story?

Thank you. My oldest son is a voracious nonfiction reader. He went through an animal phase. He and my dad love to quiz people. One day, they were quizzing each other on animal baby names. Because so many different animal babies share a name, like pup or cub, I thought a case of mistaken identity would be a fun concept for a book.

The nonfiction information we absorb from the story is far more evident on the second read. When you know what Lottie’s little pup is, you can go back through and learn a lot about it based on the questions the adults ask. I liked this convention of secretly weaving in information about our mystery pup--rather than having a fictional narrative devoid of facts and then just giving us a nonfiction info dump in the backmatter. Backmatter is great (and yours is wonderful), but sometimes there is a disconnect from the story and the facts. Was this story convention always part of the book, or did it emerge through revision?

The basic idea was always there. I wanted to leave clues for the reader. So, given that, I had to find pups that shared characteristics with the pup Lottie found. I made sure my statements were accurate, yet vague enough to keep people guessing. Then I elaborated in the backmatter.

I really resonate with the message of taking ownership to solve a problem. Kids need this message. Not only does the main character, Lottie, take ownership of something she could have just as easily ignored, but she is the one in the driver’s seat working to solve the problem. She seeks out the most likely people to collaborate with her to find a solution for the little pup’s predicament. And that’s different than just letting the adults do the work for her. Her agency is fully intact--thank you! Talk to us about how your story’s message relates to the title.

Adults sometimes forget to give kids their fair credit. I can more easily see a child acting as Lottie did than an adult. Lottie’s only concern was helping the pup. An adult may have questioned it more; Could I? Should I? What if? And while that is certainly sensible, I know so many kids who would do almost anything to help another living creature.

Plus, Lottie had to steer her own ship. The book would lose so much if she didn’t. It would be a totally different story if Lottie asked the first person for help, and the lady said, “Well, let me call someone for you.” The main character solving their own problem is a hallmark of picture books.

As far as the title is concerned, complete credit goes to the publishers at Blue Whale Press. It was their brainchild. In fact, I submitted the story with the title Little Lost Pup. I loved my story, didn’t love my title, but could think of nothing better. I liked that you would assume it was a story about a puppy dog, but then have a surprise. My publishers were worried the book would get lost in all the puppy dog stories out there.

And so, Who Will? Will You? was born. It’s Lottie’s refrain throughout the story. But it’s also a call to action. Who will help? Will you help? Everyone has the ability and responsibility to change their environment for the better.

There is a natural cadence of repetition in the narrative that serves the big reveal. I found that when reading, the need to know increases as the story progresses. I also discovered that I had been making predictions as I read. Great work keeping us guessing! I really like how you’ve centered the story around a driving question--what is the little pup that Lottie is trying to help? And the other question that comes from it--why won’t these other people help? An element of mystery or an unanswered question can really carry a story far. Share a little about how you worked to provide that experience for the reader.

I knew Lottie needed to fail a few times before she succeeded. I knew I wanted to give hints about what kind of pup it was, and by extension, why the people she sought wouldn’t help her out. I knew kids like to predict things and join in the refrains. And I knew the value of page turns in picture books, keeping readers in suspense as you turn the page.

Throughout the process of landing your book deal to the book’s release, what are some things that you have done along the way to celebrate and promote your book?

My book came out August 1, 2019. My kids and I were on vacation visiting family in northern MN. My mom got a cake that day and we invited my grandma and other relatives over for dinner. It was relaxing and perfect.

I joined a debut author group on-line, On The Scene in ’19. We brainstorm together and promote each other’s work. I’ve tried to be more active on Twitter. I’ve contacted newspapers, bloggers, libraries, bookstores and schools in my area to set up interviews and book readings. Overall, everyone’s been lovely. Last week, I read my book at Preschool Story Time at my library. Friends came to listen as well. I had a blast!

I want to camp out in the importance of revision for a moment. I’m in the jungle of revision myself (when I have time to write!). I find that when I allow myself to completely dissect the story in order to build it back stronger, I discover things about it I never knew...and also things about myself. The process, it seems, is what matters and teaches us most. What is your revision process like and how did that play out in your debut?

I’m a wordy writer. All my manuscripts start off way too long. I try to figure out what’s the bare minimum the illustrator needs and cut most of the rest.

With Who Will? Will You? I created a structure; Lottie finds a person, gets rejected, tries again. I had to keep the structure, as much as my mind wanted to go off in a million other directions.

What are some picture books published recently that energized you or provoked a palpable response?

Ogilvy by Deborah Underwood for the delightful way it smashes stereotypes.

The Tide by Clare Helen Welsh for the sweet way it deals with memory loss.

Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon. There’s a scene where the main character takes a microphone from a check out aisle at a grocery store and starts telling the whole place about an upcoming astronomical event.

What are you currently working on that you can share with us? Any teasers?

For quite a while after Who Will? Will You? was in the works, I didn’t write anything new. Stress, fear of failure, and major avoidance kicked in. Also, I wasn’t exercising as much. Now, my kids are back in school and I walk with my youngest kid every day. Plus, I’ve got that much needed quiet time back. I’ve puked out four rough copies since the beginning of September, and one more started brewing while working on this interview. I did a quick fact check (thanks, internet) and will work on this new idea next.

Some time ago, I wrote a manuscript about a snail with an anatomy dilemma. I still love it every time I read it. I put it on submission every so often, hopefully one day it will find the right publisher.

Who would you like to give a shout out or thank you to?

Oh man, if I start listing people I know I’ll forget someone. So, thank you Everyone! And thank you Coffee! Shout out to Ice Cream – you’re delicious!

Complete the following sentence: “the world needs picture books because…”

There is magic where words and pictures come together.

Thank you for sharing your debut celebration with us, Sarah!

And thank YOU for reading, sharing, and subscribing, kidlit fam! To thank you for stopping by, Sarah is offering to give away a copy of her new book! If you would like to win Who Will? Will You? see details below!