California Kids - December 2016

Page 11

Who wrote that? KIDLIT CREATORS WHO MAKE KIDS WANT TO READ An interview with with Nikki Shannon Smith

By Bitsy Kemper

Who Wrote That? is a monthly column profiling talented authors and illustrators who bring children’s books to life.


hat could be cuter than a picture book about Christmas? A book about a Christmas elf? Think cuter. A little Christmas elf? Bingo. Nikki Shannon Smith did just that with her charming The Little Christmas Elf, a Little Golden Book published by Random House. Illustrated by Susan Mitchell, The Little Christmas Elf is the story of how Nina, the smallest elf in Santa’s workshop, struggles to finish her teddy bear toy in time for Christmas. Her perseverance [spoiler alert] ends up saving the day. Bitsy: The Little Christmas Elf has the look and feel of a classic story yet was published within the past five years. What keeps it so relevant? Nikki: Well, the message is timeless. One of the best compliments I’ve heard is when someone told me it’s a “new classic.” BK: How did you come up with the elf and the story idea? NSS: Believe it or not, this book is the result of HOMEWORK! I’m in a writer’s critique group. The holidays were approaching, and my critique group leader decided everyone had to write a Christmas story. I resisted until the last minute, and struggled with writer’s block, but The Little Christmas Elf was the outcome. I started by choosing a character, then I came up with an obstacle, and it really flowed from that point. It pays to do your homework! BK: Do you think the season has anything to do with the book’s charm? NSS: I love this book, and I love Christmas, and I think it captures some of what makes Christmas magical. And I love that Nina is triumphant at the end.

Nikki Shannon Smith

BK: Tell us about being a writer. NSS: I create because I have to. I’m restless and grouchy when I go for long periods without writing. When I’m not writing, I’m often thinking about writing. I did not grow up wanting to be a writer, but I always was one, even when I didn’t realize it. I wanted to be a nurse, the first female president, a lawyer, and then a teacher. Looking back on my childhood, I was always reading, writing short stories and poems, and even making up tales I told my cousins for fun. It took me until I was 36 years old to realize I needed to be writing, and I haven’t stopped since. BK: Where do you get your ideas? NSS: Ideas are funny. They’re hard to find when you’re looking for them. When you stop grasping for them, they come to you. Ideas are little scared puppies. I just have to be calm and open, and they come to me. Often, I get ideas while I’m standing somewhere staring into space. (Daydreaming is IMPORTANT!) Sometimes my ideas end up not being so great, and I either don’t write them down, or I don’t like them after they’re written. If an idea is really good, it will not go away. Twice I’ve tried to make ideas go away, because I didn’t want to write them, but good ideas are stubborn. They won’t disappear. One was the novel I just finished, and one is the novel I’m about to start.

BK: Do you have a writing background? NSS: I’ve been in elementary education for over 20 years now, and a lot of what I bring to my picture book writing comes from my understanding of children. I did not go to school to be a writer, but I did major in English, and got my MA in Curriculum and Instruction: Language and Literacy. I’ve always loved words! BK: What about your readers, what do they love? NSS: Sometimes after a school visit, I get thank you notes and pictures from children. Once I had a letter addressed to my main character, Nina. It came in a decorated envelop. What I love about it, is that the child so related to Nina, to the point that Nina was real for her. That’s the kind of reader response authors dream of! BK: Didn’t you get some local recognition? NSS: One of my proudest accomplishments is an award I received for more than my writing. In 2014, I was recognized at the Yolo County Women’s History Month celebration. The theme was Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment. I am so proud of that award, and so honored and humbled that I was chosen. One of the things I love about this particular award is that I was recognized for all of the things that make me who I am: a teacher, (at the time, a principal), a writer, and an

advocate for social justice. It’s also meaningful because it was an award that made me feel like a special part of my local community. Maybe our community is the one that got the award by having Nikki in it! Bitsy Kemper is author of 15 children’s books. You may have seen Bitsy on CNN, heard her

on national radio, noticed her in a range of places from Parenting magazine to Writing Children’s Books for Dummies, or seen her work in countless newspapers, radio and TV stations across the U.S of A. Busy with three kids (four if you count her husband), she happily finds time to present at schools and writer conferences from CA to NY. Find out more at

LEARN MORE ABOUT NIKKI SHANNON SMITH Website: Twitter: @nikki2smith Facebook: NikkiShannonSmithBooks

Nikki will be moderating a panel about diversity in children’s literature for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s “Spring Spirit” Conference on April 1, 2017. Some of Nikki’s favorite things include Disneyland, long walks, reading, writing, laughing and being silly The Japanese proverb “Fall down seven times, get up eight” speaks to her loud and clear. “I find perseverance is a theme in everything I write, even when I don’t plan it that way.”

BOOKS BY NIKKI SHANNON SMITH THE LITTLE CHRISTMAS ELF Illustrated by Susan Mitchell Random House/Little Golden Books

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