Guest Post: Susan Kralovansky on Transitioning from Librarian to Children’s Book Author

Susan Kralovansky at a school visit. 

By Susan Kralovansky

I love books. I love the smell of new books, the brittle pages of old books, and I love collecting the books of my favorite authors.

As a child, I spent all my free time at the public library. In fact, I spent so much time there that I gave myself the job of Children’s Room Library Assistant, complete with my own desk and cardboard nameplate.

As a school librarian, I told my students that I had the best job ever. I got to discover books and talk to them about books and authors. But it never occurred to me that I could become a real-life author.

My original intention was to become a writer-librarian to help my students.

A page from the book Susan created
for her students.

We were repeating a lesson on the thesaurus for the umpteenth time. My students were attentive, they loved the follow-up game, but when I handed them each a thesaurus, I got blank stares and questions of “You want what?”

I tried finding picture books that taught the thesaurus and found nothing. In my frustration, I decided to write a book about us. My students and I would be the main characters and I’d put in their questions and comments.

After reading our book, I gave each child a thesaurus, and they knew exactly what to do!

So, was this a fluke or was I on to something?

My next experiment was the dictionary and then the atlas.

After writing four construction paper picture books, I decided to submit to Mighty Media, a Book Packager for ABDO Publishing, and Cherry Lake Publishing, a new house at the time. Both (which is not how it usually works) offered me work-for-hire contracts!

I was thrilled to see my name on the cover, but quickly learned that getting published is not all that easy. I have submitted several wonderful ideas that my publisher didn’t think were all that wonderful.

By the way, Evelyn Christensen’s website, Educational Markets for Children’s Writers, is a great place to keep up with the Educational Market.

Published by ABDO, 2013

My next series idea came when a little girl asked for a book on fish.

As we were heading toward that section of the library, she said she wanted to do her report on whales. I asked her if a whale was a fish and she said, “Sure. Whales swim in the ocean like fish, and they eat like fish, and they look like fish.”

Then I said, “But a whale is not a fish!”

That conversation gave me the seed idea for my This or That? series (ABDO, 2015).

After reading There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, a group of first graders and I decided to make up our own story about an astronaut. They had him eating everything from his space suit to all the planets in the universe.

As they were leaving, a boy asked what I would do if I wrote a “There’s a Somebody That Eats Something” story. I said my story would be about a cowboy because I love living in Texas.

That night I got the idea for There Was a Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea (illustrated by Deborah Ousley Kadair (Pelican, 2013)).

Coincidentally, Deb Kadair, a fifth-grade teacher at my school, who had done ten books with Pelican, said that if I wrote a Texas book, she would be happy to submit it along with sketches to her editor – another great stroke of luck.

This book seemed like a better fit for a traditional publisher, plus that meant I would get royalties from the sales.

My newest book was again inspired by my students who were great kids, but terrible at taking care of their library books. We would talk about book care, I would do book care lessons, they would have good intentions, but their books were a mess.

I decided to write them The Book That Jake Borrowed (Pelican, September 2018), a book about a boy who gets in a jam with his library book. His cat, pet rat, and dog are involved, and then he must go see the librarian.

The basic structure of this book I wrote in one night, but luckily, I had over a year to build the illustrations.

Deciding to become a full-time author was a tough decision. Would I be able to come up with book ideas without my students? So far, so good.

The Book That Jake Borrowed is my sixteenth book. I will have a new contract with Pelican this fall, and I have three more stories in various stages.

My day is now divided between creating new stories, working on sketches, illustrations, or revisions for an existing story, and doing book promotion activities for published stories.

Then, I have my special days when I get to do school visits and talk to kids about books and writing. And I tell kids that I do have the best job in the world!

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews wrote of The Book That Jake Borrowed, “This is the story the librarian reads to the kids to keep them grinning when they say, ‘read it again!'” Download the book’s activity guide here.