When it comes to friends, it’s hard to think of a dearer one than Ann Whitford Paul. Ann is the reason I am a writer and how lucky I am to have had the benefit of her wisdom. In my humble opinion, Ann is the Queen of picture books and her wildly successful “If Animals” series is sheer proof of that. Today we are celebrating If Animals Went to School (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux), her latest picture book. And lucky us!

Ann has also agreed to giveaway a book! Click on this Rafflecopter link to be entered.

My latest book If Animals Went to School (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) began as an editor’s assignment. As a student, I dreaded assignments.

Not anymore.

What changed?

If Animals Kissed Goodnight by Ann Whitford Paul.

The success of If Animals Kissed Goodnight (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) should have been an occasion for joy, but when my editor, asked for another book like it, I wrote If Animals Bathed in Tubs.

Rejected!

I tried If Animals Wore Clothes.

Rejected, too!

I feared I could never satisfy her and that my career was over,

She must have realized I needed a specific assignment and gave me a title: If Animals Said I Love You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

If Animals Said I Love You by Ann Whitford Paul

With more of a handle to work from, I vowed to write something or die trying. I almost did die, until I expanded from the limited focus of parental love in KISSING to the affection of cousins, grandparents, friends and siblings. My recurring character was a gorilla that I’d had the good fortune to view in the wild.

My editor liked my draft.

What relief!—

If Animals Celebrated Christmas by Ann Whitford Paul

until she gave me a double assignment—If Animals Celebrated Christmas
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and If Animals Went to School.

Grateful to write about my favorite holiday was relatively easy. I loved imagining how koalas and other animals might celebrate the season.

If Animals Went to School, the book just out, was more daunting.

My school days long behind me, I had to arrange a visit to a local nursery school to learn about the latest toys, contemporary classroom activities, and how today’s children interact with others.

Home again, I chose Beaver as my recurring character because his flat dragging tail would echo the reluctance some children feel about school. Then the animals did their things—Lemur leapt about a tree jungle gym and Goat ate books instead of reading them. And here a special shout-out to the talented David Walker who brings all my creatures to life in warm, adorable ways.

If Animals Went to School by Ann Whitford Paul

The specific assignments for If Animals Went to School forced me to leave my desk and go into the world. It dragged out the forgotten memory of my trepidation starting a new school. And encouraged me to put the fun-sounding teacher and cheetah together.

Assignments can do the same for you.

Don’t have an editor to give an assignment?

Give yourself one.

Here are some assignments I’ve given myself:

What would a child say, talking to her feet? (which led to my book , Hello Toes! Hello Feet! (DK Children) )

Does Mrs. Claus have an important job? (‘Twas the Late Night of Christmas)

What would happen if The Little Red Hen were relocated to the southwest? (Manaña Iguana)

The assignment you give yourself might just lead to a manuscript an editor will snap up and publish to much success. I hope so!