by Rachel Hamby
Jeni Leidenfrost and Jessica Linn Evans live in Moscow, Idaho. Jeni is the author of Little Mouse Finds a Friend and Jessica is the Illustrator. That’s unusual, right? The author and illustrator live in the same town. Even more surprising, they’re neighbors!
How did this happen? Aspiring Picture Book writers are often told they won’t work directly with their illustrator and vice versa. But these two determined women broke the rules–before they knew about the rules they were breaking.
The publisher of Little Mouse is Jovial Press. Jason Farley is the Managing Editor and Jerry Owens is the Development Editor. Jovial is a small press that started in California. But Jason moved to Moscow, bringing Jovial with him. They publish Children’s Books, Theology Books, and Poetry. Jessica’s first book, Waiting Trough Winter, was written by Jason Farley.
But this isn’t just a small-town, small-publisher story. Jeni and Jessica took some important steps to ensure their book was a quality product kids would enjoy. It all started when Jessica was hanging out at Jeni’s house. Jeni was sharing one of her Little Mouse stories with the kids. Jeni often told stories, made-up on the spot, to entertain and help her kids think about tricky situations. Little Mouse was a reoccurring character that Jeni was getting to know through her tales.
As Jessica listened in, images started to form in her head. She told Jeni, “I want to illustrate that!” This event happened 7 years ago. Jeni started to work on a draft and Jessica started sketching mice. Jeni’s first manuscript was over 3,000 words. She shared it with Jessica and some friends that worked at Cannon Press, another publisher based in Moscow. These friends gave Jeni some great advice. They suggested she and Jessica hire a freelance editor.
Jeni and Jessica hired Tim Travaglini. At the time, Tim was doing freelance work. He’s currently an agent with the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency. Tim has an extensive background in children’s book editing and sales. Over the next 4 years, Jeni and Jessica edited and revised both text and illustration with the feedback they received from Tim.
The editing process was tough. Tim scrutinized their work, and at times, the honest feedback stung. But Jeni and Jessica took time to let the comments settle. After a few days, the hurt feelings subsided and they saw how the story and the art could improve with revision. But there were edits they didn’t take. Deciding which suggestions to accept and which to set aside was tricky. Together, they found the balance and stayed true to their vision.
Jeni also shared the story with kids. She made some revisions based on their feedback. The kids wanted higher stakes and more excitement for Little Mouse. Jeni was happy to oblige. When the manuscript was cut down to just over 500 words, and the art was ready to go, Jeni and Jessica submitted their polished work to Jovial Press. Jason had a few additional suggestions. After revising, the manuscript was set for publication.
At the storytime event Jeni and Jessica had at Authie’s Bookstore in Spokane, they shared the braille versions of Little Mouse. Jeni has a friend with a visual impairment. Talking with this friend, she discovered that braille picture books aren’t readily available. Jeni’s passion to make Little Mouse accessible to adults and children with vision issues is inspiring. There is a version available with braille stickers. This allows a blind adult to share the book with sighted children. There is an audio version on Amazon and a braille book with art description. The audio version with art description will be available soon.
Jessica shares Jeni’s passion for getting picture books into the hands of more children. Solar the Polar is about enjoying life with a disability. Author Kim Constantinesco, is the Editor-in-Cheif of Purpose 2 Play. She shares inspiring sports stories of athletes overcoming obstacles. The publisher, MacLaren Cochrane Publishing, makes all their books available in both a regular font and a dyslexic font. More books for more kids!
For more information on Little Mouse, visit his website here.
Follow Jeni on Twitter.