The Jill Esbaum Interview Update

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Art copyright by Gus Gordon

Art copyright by Gus Gordon

See Jill’s Original Interview


I had such a great experience interviewing Jill a couple years back that I decided to see if she could update us on her writing. Jill even agreed to answer some additional questions and you’ll enjoy her answers. I can’t wait until 2015 to see all of her new work hit the shelves. She’s been one busy woman writing, farming and enjoying life in Iowa. Now, onto some questions.


Jill, it seems like you’ve gone the non-fiction route for many of your recent books. Do prefer non-fiction over fiction? Do you have to switch on a different mindset to do one type of writing over the other?

Most of my nonfiction books are work-for-hire projects. However, some of those have sparked many nonfiction picture book ideas. A goal for 2015 is to make time to flesh out at least one of those.

Which of your recent non-fiction titles did you enjoy most researching and writing?

My favorite National Geographic book (so far) has been ANGRY BIRDS PLAYGROUND: RAIN FOREST. It was a joy researching all those Amazon animals. So many of them were new to me, and fascinating. Another recent NG favorite is NIGHTTIME (2015), because the structure was challenging (and the photos are going to be GORGEOUS). Oh, and EVERYTHING SPRING I enjoyed, because I really let ‘er rip, style-wise. Very satisfying.

In regard to latest fiction books, I HATCHED and I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO, both released this year, can you tell my readers a little about each i..e the genesis for each story and reactions from kids and parents?

I HATCHED was inspired by the many killdeer running up and down our gravel road all spring and summer. The chicks are adorable, and Jen Corace’s illustrations bring both killdeer and countryside to life beautifully. That one was a NYTimes Editor’s Pick, a first for me. I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! is a book a lonnnng time in the making. I first dreamed up the character, Nadine, probably ten years ago. I think I wrote three complete stories for her over the years before finally stumbling across one that worked. Makes me enormously grateful that people are enjoying it. Everybody likes cows, for some reason.

I see on your website that you and Linda Skeers conduct the Whispering Woods Picture Book Workshop/Retreat. How long have you been conducting this writing workshop and when is it typically held?

We do! Next summer will be our 8th year. It’s an intense weekend dedicated to helping people improve their picture book writing skills. Our 2015 session is scheduled for July 24-26.

For those who can’t make it to the Whispering Woods Picture Book Workshop which is located in Eastern Iowa, you also offer a personal critique service. Can you describe the type of writer who should use your service and is there such thing as a type of writer who should hold off a while before using your critique service or any critique service for that matter?

I don’t think there’s an ideal here. I work with beginners and also with people who have been submitting manuscripts for years. Some writers are simply too close to a manuscript and need somebody with fresh eyes to tell them what to tweak. Others have no idea what a picture book needs to be. Most are somewhere in between. Yes, I think some should hold off awhile, but when you’re new, you don’t KNOW that. Warning: I’m honest. But kind (I hope!).

Is there any upcoming Jill Esbaum writing news you can share with your fans?

My next picture book, due Sept. 1, 2015 from Sterling, is ELWOOD BIGFOOT: LOVE THOSE BIRDIES! I’m excited about this one, illustrated by Nate Wragg, because it’s another one for which I had the character long before I found his story. It was only after many crummy drafts that I stopped to ask myself: What’s his real problem? What’s his deepest need? Those questions led me to the heart of the story that then sold on its first time out. Next year’s National Geographic books are ANGRY BIRDS PLAYGROUND: Q&A, THE LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF WHO, EXPLORE MY WORLD – KOALAS, EXPLORE MY WORLD – NIGHTTIME, and a nonfiction picture book, ANIMAL GROUPS.

Finally, I have a quick round of quirky favorites and preferences to ask you about, ready?

What was your favorite department store to shop in as a kid?

JC Penney, where I hid among the clothing racks then jumped out to scare my mom.

What is your favorite farm animal?

A cow, of course. And chickens, but I’ve never had any.

Do you prefer rivers, streams, lakes, ponds or oceans? (name your specific favorite)

Streams, because they often come with mountains attached.

Who is your favorite all time Chicago Cubs player?

I always liked to watch Ryan Dempster. And Andre Dawson. And Mark Grace. And Ryne Sandberg. Dating myself, aren’t I?

Do you prefer tractors or combines?

Tractors, because I get to drive those. My husband can’t be pried out of the combine with a crowbar.

If you could hop on a plane today and travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Seattle, to visit my Washington cousins.

What is your dream dessert?

I found a recipe for bread pudding with whiskey sauce that was amazing. But my apple crisp is the world’s best.

What fast food place are you seen at most often?

Rudy’s Tacos.

Since you admitted in my last interview that you have big feet, today I’d like to know If you could have any pair of shoes in the world for free, which would you choose?

Hahaha. Um…maybe a pair of ruby slippers like Dorothy’s.


Visit Jill’s website -> Link
Visit Jill’s Amazon page (It’s two pages long, that’s impressive) -> Link




4 Responses

  1. Jody says:

    GREAT interview, Brian and Jill! And congrats on all your success, Jill. Whispering Woods sounds awesome, and it’s just one state away for me.

    Keep up the great interviews, Brian!

  2. Charlotte says:

    Wonderful insights for readers and writers! I love Nadine and am so glad you kept her until the right story “arrived.” I tend to discard characters if I can’t come up with a story for them right away. Hmm…must rethink that. Thanks, Brian and Jill!

  3. Jill Esbaum says:

    Thanks, Jody! E-mail me through my site if you want more retreat info. 🙂
    Charlotte, I have plenty of story-less characters in files, too. I keep hoping….

  1. November 11, 2014

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