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.com Exclusive Essay: From the Slush Pile to #1: Realizing My Vision. Or Not.
First-time author Sherri Duskey Rinker's Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site steadily climbed up the New York
Times' Bestseller list throughout 2011, reaching #1 on January 29th, 2012. Here she shares the early inspiration that
inspired a career in design, and how another artist brought her vision to life.
I grew up loving picture books.
I can still hear my grandmother's voice over the sound of the pages turning, the old wind-up Westclox alarm clock
ticking away and the sound of traffic rolling down Howard Street. I remember the smell of books mingling with the smell
of freshly laundered sheets.
Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House was my favorite, and I obsessed over the whimsically sweet illustrations of that
little pink house happily sitting upon a hill covered in daisies.
Inspired, I wanted to be an artist. I also wanted to be a poet, an art teacher, and a journalist. The ping-pong ball of
art vs. words ended with a career as a graphic designer. It was a perfect fit: I took pictures and words and put them
together in a pretty way.
I met an artist, a photographer. He also had grown up with Virginia Burton: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. It was
a sign. So I married him. We had two boys and two good excuses for buying dozens (and dozens) of picture books.
Inspired by my youngest son's tireless (literally!) obsession with trucks, I wrote Goodnight, Goodnight Construction
Site in stolen moments during the workday and late at night, after the boys were tucked in. And with the words emerged a
vision (dare I say "obsession") for how the book and my trucks would look.
I could see it so clearly: realistic illustrations of trucks superimposed with facial expressions to convey the mood and
create the characters. Strong, yet simple graphic elements to create the setting. A bit of realism. A bit of collage. A
bit of a grunge to compliment the dirty work of the trucks. I included the concept illustration with my manuscript and
sent it, unsolicited, to Chronicle Books.
When my editor contacted me, three months after I'd sent the manuscript, she was friendly, but also to-the-point: They
loved the manuscript (!), and hated (though she used a nicer word) the illustration concept.
One of the reasons that Chronicle was the first (and ultimately only) publisher on my list was that I LOVE their
picture books. I appreciate their beauty and high production values. So, I had a choice here: trust, or walk away. I
chose trust--with a big dash of fear.
My editor asked if I had any ideas for illustrators. I sent her a dozen names and online portfolios. I'm pretty certain
she ignored me. And, they chose Tom Lichtenheld. (Who?)
When I told my editor that I'd never heard of Tom, she quickly emailed a few examples. The first was from Tom's NYT
best-selling book, Duck! Rabbit! I was stunned to see bold, simple shapes and thickly-outlined illustrations. I stared
blankly at the screen, feeling my heart sink.
Could this guy even draw a truck?
I spent the next couple of months intently focused on the process of editing and developing the final manuscript. But
it was always there, in the back of my mind: What would the book look like? What had I given up?
One evening I received an excited email from my editor with Tom's first pencil sketch attached.
I wrote back: "I’m scared. I'll pour a glass of wine and then look at it."
I held my breath and double-clicked. And there it was: classic, timeless and tender, with just a touch of whimsy. My
crane truck, a distant, younger cousin to Mike Mulligan, perhaps? My heart melted. I was won over.
So there it was: nothing like I imagined. But it was better. I've come to learn that some of the best things in
life--like marriage and motherhood--are like that.
And I could almost feel Mrs. Burton smiling down.
Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House
Virginia Lee Burton's Mike Mulligan's steam shovel
Rinker's original vision for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
Illustrator Tom Lichtenheld's Duck! Rabbit!
Lichtenheld's first sketch of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
" Truck-loving kids will respond to this take on settling down to sleep. " - The Horn Book Guide
"Your child WILL become obsessed and incessantly request Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Sitenight after night."
"This book is a treasure." -Testy Yet Trying blog
"Rinker's rhythmic verse reinforces the vehicles' love of their work (Dump Truck "moves the dirt/ from place to place,/
Then dumps it with a happy face") and, like Lichtenheld's art, deftly balances the story's boisterous and drowsy
elements. Truck lovers will happily nod off to the strains of this read-aloud." - Publishers Weekly
"Perfect for sleepers who are more fascinated by the motorized and muddy than by the soft and fluffy. A certain subset
of parents and grandparents will see this book and shout, "At last!" - Chicago Tribune
"Lichtenheld's detailed and textured illustrations, rendered in wax oil pastels on vellum paper, perfectly complement
the fun, rhyming text, cleverly personifying each truck with expressive eyes and amusing details. ...Recommended for
vehicle- and bedtime-themed storytimes, this is sure to be a hit with truck-loving preschoolers." - School Library
Journal, starred review
"If your little reader is mad for trucks, you must get this gem of a book!" -SweetOnBooks.com
"Gentle rhymes and soft-colored pictures of favorite trucks are the perfect way to lull any child into sweet dreams." -
"For all those youngsters who feel coziest with a cement mixer jammed into an armpit and a dump truck wedged at their
feet, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site might be the best bedtime book ever." - Hampton Roads
"An ideal bedtime book for all those truck-loving toddlers and preschoolers! ...If there's a truck fan in your family,
this is a great pick... Drive it to the top of your pile of story time truck reads as well." - Waking Brain Cells blog
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