Friday, May 16, 2008

How I Became a Children's Writer

Guest Blogger, Kim Chatel

In college creative writing class, we did a semester of writing for children. It was the hardest course in my school career. Even poetry class couldn’t compare, and no one has ever accused me of being a poet. In Children’s Lit 101 we wrote Limericks, short stories and a play. I sweated blood for each assignment. I couldn’t think of one story for children. I forced myself to write about Wally Whale who was hearty and hale…Oh yes, it got worse after that. And the four seasons, who—wait for it—argued like siblings. Very orgininal.

Why was writing for children so scary to me? Because I had no experience with kids. I was the youngest in my extended family. I had never babysat or volunteered with kids. They were an alien breed to me.

Then I got married. My husband had two young boys at the time. I learned to settle rowdy children for bed. I found ways to pass long rainy afternoons. I had a baby of my own and sang silly songs to distract her while trying to change messy diapers. I watched the same children’s shows over and over again until they were part of my nightmares. I memorized Dr. Suess’ ABC Book, and read other children’s books by the dozens. In short, I became a mother.

So how does all this translate to fiction? Well, one evening during a storm, my daughter couldn’t sleep. I started a game with her that would last for years. I gave her a dream. This funny story was something she could latch onto while she tried to sleep and I told her to finish it in her dreams.

The first of these story-dreams was an early version of “Rainbow Sheep.” Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. The story went through many revisions before it was ready to submit for publication, but the basic story is the same one I told on that rainy night so many years ago.

About that time, I picked up needle-felting as a hobby. I made all kinds of music boxes and Christmas Tree ornaments. Because needle-felting is a new craft, I was completely self taught, which was great in one respect: no one could tell me I was doing it wrong!

Needle-felting is like sculpting with wool. I had been making three dimensional ornaments, now I decided to try felt-paintings. I was always fascinated by picture books illustrated with alternate forms of art such as Eric Carle’s collages or Barbara Reid’s plasticene-relief illustrations from “The New Baby Calf,” (author Edith Newlin Chase). These books worked on my subconscious, inspiring me to merged my own art with my fiction. I stretched a wool canvas over a wooden frame and felted my illustrations onto this medium. I had no idea if any publisher would be interested in such a thing. And because each frame took about 8 hours to complete, I made only three to begin with. When the publisher at Guardian Angel told me she was interested in not only in the story, but in the art as well, I quickly got busy making another seven frames!

The result is a unique book, very special to my heart from beginning to end. You can see a selection of my fiber art on my site as well as an intro into the art of needle-felting at There is also a trailer with a short clip of me making a felt Rainbow Sheep.

I hope children will enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed making it!


  1. Very nice blog. We have 2 alpacas and their fiber is great for needle felting but I have not attempted that craft yet. Good for you to have mastered yet another skill. I will check out your books and your site. Thank you.

  2. What an interesting concept for your book, Kim.

    Great job as usual, Donna. Really enjoyed reading about Kim's experiences.

  3. Thank you Terri. I hope you will try needle-felting since you have your own source of wool. How lucky! If you'd like some help finding needle-felting resources, let me know.

  4. Lea, thanks for your nice comments! I'm glad you liked the blog. I'm very lucky that Donna included me.

  5. Hello you. It is amazing to me how my network has grown of the last year and I'm delighted to have you part of it! Each person brings something unique and I've learned from everyone that I've come in contact with.


  6. Great interview. I loved hearing how Rainbow Sheep came to be. I write MG stuff, and began my story "writing" by telling stories to the kids I babysat.

  7. What a wonderful story, Kim. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Another great interview from you, Donna.


  8. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Kim. Best wishes with RAINBOW SHEEP!


  9. Kim and Donna,

    Wonderful posting. I can see why your followers have grown, Donna, with postings like this. Interesting concept. The thing about the book trailer and you are finishing up the sheep is that it is so quick. I think you would do well with a video to go step by step in creating your designs - but I know that would take forever to do - lol -

    Good job ladies - see you in the postings - E :)

  10. Thanks for the nice comments everyone! Elysabeth made an interesting comment about the trailer and how it would be nice to have a full movie of the instructions...and guess what? I've already made one of those. It will be included as a freebie on the DVD version of Rainbow Sheep. I tried to download it to my site but it's too long (15 minutes) YouTube won't accept it at that length either. I tried to cut it down, but I can't get it under 10 minutes. Maybe I'll keep trying, it there's interest.

  11. I've never heard of needle felting before, so found the article fascinating. I love the cover of the book and will check out the website to find out more. Great how Kim has combined her two hobbies.

  12. Great post, Kim! I can relate to what you say about not knowing how to write for children because of not knowing children. I never thought of writing for children before I had children of my own--in fact I found the genre irritating! LOL Amazing what having a child can do! It can change you completely.
    Best of luck with your book!

  13. I love your combinations of a learned skill and crafting a children's story from your motherhood experiences. It reminded me of a time when I made up a story for my four year old's monster dreams. I used a spray can and called it Monster-busters. I would spritz the room wherever he told me the monster was and in no time he was fast asleep. Not an original idea. It was a take from the movie Ghostbusters.

    Thank you for sharing!
    Jewel Sample


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