Behind the Story: Kathy Appelt on COWBOY DREAMS

Cowboy Dreams (book jacket)
COWBOY DREAMS by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Barry Root (HarperCollins, 1999). Put your little cowpokes to bed with this lyrical picture book, and let their eyes begin to glaze over the dreamy paintings. A poetic path to a good night’s sleep for those whose dreams take them riding on the range. Ages 3-up. This interview was conducted via email in 2002. Visit author Kathi Appelt.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

Maybe my fondest childhood dream was to grow up and be a cowboy! I yearned to ride the range, right beside Rowdy and Wyatt and the Virginian, and of course Roy Rogers. I had a major crush on Trigger. In fact, horses were the end-all and be-all of my early years. Heaven was a horse. And so COWBOY DREAMS is just that–my own dreams to ride my palomino across the prairie, sing around the campfire, listen to the coyotes.

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

It seems like it took a while for this one to really gel. I made several false starts before I really rolled with it. That’s not unusual for me. As soon as I can find my way “into” a story, I can move on. But it sometimes takes me a while to find the door, and then a little longer to walk through it. I’m thinking it took about a year for this one to come around. Of course I didn’t work on it all the time. I’d put a few words on the page, and then set it aside, coming back to it later until it was finally done.

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

This book did not start out to be a dream. I wrote it in real time as a story about a little boy who joins his dad on a trail ride. But my editor couldn’t believe that there really are trail rides still going on and couldn’t buy into that. She felt the book would have broader appeal if it were a dream. So, against my judgement, I rewrote it. And what do you know? I actually liked it better. Just goes to show that editors are usually right.