Behind The Story: Sue Alexander on SARA’S CITY

SARA’S CITY by Sue Alexander, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Clarion, 1995). Set in 1940, a reminiscent look at life in Chicago. An especially great choice for children of the Windy City. Ages 4-up.  Visit author Sue Alexander.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I wanted to do a book of vignettes about a city from a young girl’s point of view. So I wrote about 40 vignettes, divided into the four seasons. I called it CITY THOUGHTS.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

The time between that first draft and what evolved into SARA’S CITY was about 17 years. The major events:

  1. No publisher wanted to buy CITY THOUGHTS;
  2. I put the manuscript into my file drawer after two years of rejections;
  3. In 1989, I pulled it out again at the suggestion of my agent, and reworked it into SARA’S CITY;
  4. Dorothy Briley at Clarion books bought it in 1991;
  5. We both felt that Ronald Himler was the right illustrator for it — but he was busy — so we waited 3 years for him to have time to illustrate it;

It was worth the wait! SARA’S CITY was published in 1995.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

First, deciding how to rework it. After a lot of thought, I realized that to make it a picture book, I needed to bring it all into one day. Then I had to decide what vignettes to omit from the original manuscript and which ones to keep. And then, of course, I recognized that I had to write a few others to make it work into one day. And I had to make sure that they were all illustratable.