Guest Post: Toni Buzzeo on Her Journey to the Caldecott Honor Book One Cool Friend

pre-pub date 3000-copy first-printing signing by Toni & David

By Toni Buzzeo

9:50 AM, Monday, January 28, 2013


Text message from my editor:

Top secret and wonderful news: One Cool Friend is a Caldecott Honor!!!

That quirky proper boy with his pilfered penguin, brought to life through David Small’s brilliant graphic art, had captured the committee’s fancy as he had the hearts of so many kids and adults in 2012.

As the news sank in, I thought back to September of 1995, when I set down the first words of my very first picture book manuscript—and only a few months later met Cynthia Leitich Smith online.

We formed a friendship and a partnership. We two hopefuls walked forth into the world of published children’s books. And we tried to proceed without doubt.

After all, we were both University of Michigan grads with advanced degrees (not that this made a dust bunny’s worth of difference in our pursuit of children’s book contracts).

Cyn beat me to the finish line by a few years when she sold Jingle Dancer, but on September 5, 2000, I screamed past that very same finish line with my own first picture book sale.

In The Sea Chest, I told a deeply felt part of my own life story through a fictional tale set on a rocky Maine lighthouse island in the 1870s.

Since then, I’ve sold 21 picture book manuscripts in all and I have at least that many more manuscripts in various stage of development or drawer-sitting. Perseverance, talent, and a personal share of fairy dust have brought me here—to my amazement and joy.

Now that the flood of congratulatory texts, calls, and e-mails has diminished, now that I’ve gotten back to my desk, found my way through to the end of a new manuscript, and submitted it to my agent, now that the darling penguin-shaped chocolate truffles have been consumed and the stunning bouquet of roses and tulips is drooping a bit, in other words, now that it’s real life I’m waking up to each morning, it’s time to reflect. Post-Caldecott Honor, as it were.

One of my dearest author friends—and a mentor to both Cyn and me in those early days of aspiration—Jane Kurtz told me that I should wake up every single bingle morning now and think, “Caldecott Honor, Baby!” She’s right, of course, but it’s so hard to adopt a new habit.

I’m working on it, though.

What I do find, now, is that I have renewed confidence—the kind of confidence Cyn and I used to feel in those golden pre-pub days when all things seemed possible. All things do seem possible once again.

My friend Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor Award winner, wrote me a note on the day the awards were announced. It said simply: “Your life just changed!” And really, I do feel that way. One night the award fairy sprinkled my book with her dust and now here I am, all sparkly.

When my newest book Just Like My Papa publishes on April 2, I know it will publish with a little spill-over fairy dust, an additional bit of magic for a lovely, heartfelt book about the importance of fathers, and optimism, and dreams.

The book is dedicated to my uncle, John Mackey, who, from the very start, always believed in me, always stood by me, with a love so strong—like Papa’s for his little Kito—that there was never any room for doubt.

So, post Caldecott Honor?

This is my hope. To live my writing life without doubt. And, of course, with a fine sheen of lingering fairy dust.

Cynsational Snapshots

View from Toni’s office window in Florida

View from Toni’s office window in Florida
Toni’s writing cottage
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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Toni Buzzeo on Her Journey to the Caldecott Honor Book One Cool Friend

  1. So much that made me smile here. I'm happy for both the persistence and fairy dust, and the dust that keeps falling. Loved the penguin shaped chocolates! And roses!

  2. What an inspiring post!

    One of my students dictated a story about a seal he brought home and kept in his bathtub. Where do you suppose he came up with the idea? Your fairy dust has spread and is inspiring writers and future writers of all ages.

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