Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir – A Picture Book for Bug Lovers

Barry B. Wary, by Leslie Muir (Hyperion Books)

My son is grown up now, but sometimes I still wish I had a little one around the house, so I’d have an excuse to buy more picture books. I love the stories and amazing artwork.

Today I’ve got a treat for those of you who also love picture books–and it’s an even bigger treat, if you’re an aspiring children’s writer (like me!).  Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY, recently spent a little time answering my questions about her brand-new book and about the writing process.

Leslie, who is also a poet, sold the manuscript for BARRY, along with two other manuscripts, about three years ago–and yes, it took that long for the first one to be published. The good news is that Leslie’s other books are coming out soon, and in the meantime, she’s sold a fourth. (Big congrats, Leslie.)

And just who is BARRY B. WARY? He’s a hungry little spider who dines on click beetles and fireflies, as spiders do, but his dining habits leave him a little short on friends. Then he spots a passing butterfly, and….well, you’ll just have to read the story. Until you do, enjoy this visit with Leslie!

1. Leslie, how did you get into writing about bugs? Does this have anything to do with Bailey, your German shepherd, who enjoys munching on flies?

Well, my dog is a highly skilled fly catcher, but he was not the inspiration for this particular story. (German Shepherds are very sensitive, so please don’t tell him). I do find bugs and spiders endlessly fascinating. And their funny little features and quirky personalities make great fodder for picture book tales.

This is Bailey, Leslie's dog. Handsome, isn't he? Leslie says he's a good fly-catcher.

2.  Are your sons into bugs? What kind of stories do they like to read (or hear read aloud, if they’re very young)?

My nine and ten-year-old sons are into anything that flies kamikaze-like or thrives in dirt.

Much to my chagrin, my boys have moved away from picture books—though they still secretly enjoy them. I refuse to believe otherwise! They are both into middle grade fantasy (Tolkien is big with my youngest right now) and they adore graphic novels.

3. What made you decide to write BARRY B. WARY in rhyme? We know you’re a poet, but don’t publishers say they don’t buy many rhyming picture books anymore?

When I started this story, I was a member of an online poetry group, so most everything I wrote during that period was in rhyme. Because it’s difficult to do well, rhyme is always a harder sell. But fear not! Publishers are still buying rhyming stories. They just have to be exceptional.

4. Was this book hard to write? How many revisions did you go through?

BARRY B. WARY was originally a short poem and eventually evolved into a picture book. There were many revisions along the way. And in order to sell the story, I was asked to totally revamp the ending. My original ending was predictably sweet and romantic, but my editor thought it would be more interesting if Barry remained true to his darker, carnivorous nature. She was right. Last week, I read it to over 1.000 elementary school students and their reactions were comical.

5. How hard do you think it is for aspiring picture book writers to be published? Picture books almost seem like the hardest kinds of books to sell nowadays.

The picture book market is tough right now and publishers are responding by being very selective. Even proven authors are finding the waters difficult to tread. However, I remain a staunch believer that a worthy story will eventually find a home. These days, it might just take a little longer.

Leslie Muir, author of BARRY B. WARY

6. Any advice for wanna-be writers of children’s books?

Read widely. You never know where those precious jewels of inspiration will come from. Learn the craft and connect with fellow writers, editors and agents by joining SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and attending conferences. Join a critique group and let your stories be heard by objective ears. And finally, listen. Use constructive criticism as a tool to fine-tune your work.

7. What are you working on next?

Right now I’m in the middle of a picture book story about a mischievous (and highly annoying) fairy who decides to go to school. I’m having a lot of fun with this one—probably because it’s not in rhyme. : )




Earth to Table – a book review

Let me admit it right up front:  I’m a pushover for a beautiful book cover.  If a new book jacket features lush photography or an intriguing design, I usually can’t pass it up.  (That’s the one downside of my Kindle.  You still get to see the covers of the books you buy in e-format, but they’re in washed out shades of gray.  Not very appealing.)

So that explains how I happened across a new book by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann called Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm.

Crump and Schormann, according to the jacket flap, are chefs and members of the slow food movement, which is an international effort to preserve regional and traditional cuisine.  Slow “foodies” also support local farming and livestock practices.  There’s a political element to their movement, in that members want to raise awareness about the dangers of depending on too few genomes and varieties in our food supply, and that’s one reason it interests me.   I’m convinced that we need to save our heirloom food and flower varieties, and not let them disappear because big corporations control what kinds of seeds and plants we can buy.

Slow foodies also encourage organic gardening, as opposed to the use of potentially dangerous pesticides, and remind us that the opposite of “slow food,” which is fast food, isn’t a particularly good nutritional choice for most of us.

But back to the book.  Turns out it’s as beautiful on the inside as the outside.  The book is packed with how-to tips on such things as creating a compost pile, canning and preserving, and planting an herb garden.  Each chapter also contains seasonal recipes, so you can best use whatever is growing in your garden at any given time of year.

I won’t use everything I read about in this book; I can’t see myself gathering and preparing a dish of stinging nettles for my family, for example, and no matter how luscious some wild mushrooms may appear, I’m not going harvest my own for the table.  I’ve read too many warnings about how poisonous ‘shrooms can mimic the kind that are safe to eat.

But there’s plenty more that I can use, like a recipe for a refreshing watermelon drink sweetened with honey and tarted up with lime.  I’m already planning to make a Chez Panisse recipe from the book that makes corn soup with fresh corn, garlic, white wine vinegar, chicken stock, and freshly cracked black pepper.  Sounds delicious served with cayenne pepper sprinkled on top.
There’s a recipe for a beet salad made with heirloom beets, feta, and pumpkin seeds, and one for roasted autumn fruits.

I also enjoyed reading the profiles of heirloom cooks, dairymen and women, and farmers.  Makes me determined to eat more local and seasonal foods, not only to benefit the economy in my area, but also to improve the quality and taste of the meals I serve my family!

“Lord, make me see Thy glory in every place” – Michelangelo

Autumn butterflies


I’m about to doing some flying of my own, to Indiana, for an interview about my book, Mustard Seeds. It’s for a morning television show called Harvest TV. The program airs on DirecTV on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

October Owls

“Listen, the wind is rising; the air is wild with leaves.
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”

Look at these orange eyes! We saw this owl at the raptor show at Georgia Southern University, in Statesboro, GA. He’s a permanent resident there, probably because of some injury that doesn’t allow him to live in the wild anymore. What a beautiful and unusual creature–most owls have eyes of yellow-gold, but his are actually as orange as pumpkins (you might not be able to tell from this picture, but trust me on this. I saw him up close.)

Now that it’s October, I’m really feeling the fall spirit. Colors are changing fast around here, like those small pieces of glass in a kaledioscope. I noticed our hydrangea is showing hints of lavendar and purple on its leaves, and the berries on the dogwood trees are bright red–as red as the cardinals that like to wash them in my birdbath and eat them, leaving the seed pits for me to clean out.

Today the wind is whistling around my house like mad, throwing leaves into the air, and it’s cooled off nicely. Listen closely tonight, if you live in the southeast. It’s time for great horned owls to hoot into the woods, searching for mates.