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Celebrating A Sequel with Jill Dana

Happy Book Birthday to Rate Your Story Judge Jill Dana, who welcomes her latest picture book Butternut and Buttercup! She’s here to tell us a little bit about the process.

Lynne Marie: First of all, for the published authors in our midst, please share a little bit about how you celebrated this book's birthday.

Jill Dana: We’ve had many celebrations and they continue throughout the month. Storytimes, school visits, blog visits, book talks, tagged photos of kids with the book, reviews, and so much support from readers and the writing community. Thank you to everyone who shared photos, posts, wrote reviews, liked and shared posts and celebrated the book birthday with me, the illustrator and the editor of BUTTERNUT & BUTTERCUP.

LM: You had previously published Butternut with Marshall Cavendish. What inspired you to write that story?

JD: I was inspired by nature and plants. I love how fruits and vegetables come in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors and often have interesting names. I was inspired by former students who didn’t know where food comes from. On a personal note, there are themes about identity, belonging and community that come from a more subconscious place.

LM: Tell us a bit about the main character and how you effectively anthropomorphized a squash.

JD: I wrote a ‘March on with Mentor Texts’ 2022 post. For a deeper dive into my thoughts on anthropomorphized characters, take a look at this link: MO Day #3: Anthropomorphism with Jill Dana ( (On a side note, ‘March on with Mentor Texts’ 2023 is happening right now. I suggest you sign up, if you haven’t already to learn from amazing authors. I have an upcoming post on dialogue.) When writing anthropomorphized characters, it’s important to treat that character with the same respect you’d treat a human character. Butternut is a young, innocent squash who is like a child main character. I asked myself: what would his prior knowledge be? What would he know about the world? What wouldn’t he know yet? What is his back story? What are young readers’ prior knowledge about butternut squashes and the supermarket world?

LM: What tips do you have for anthropomorphizing inanimate characters?

JD: In addition to asking myself the questions (above), for anthropomorphized inanimate characters, it’s essential to create your own rules for the world and to stick with those rules consistently throughout the whole story. For example, in the Butternut series, foods can speak with each other (even packaged foods), but the foods can’t speak with other non-food store items. When Butternut enters the pharmacy aisle, he can’t converse with the shampoo, soap or other non-food items.

Even though they’re foods, the characters are different ages in the story. The baby jars say “goo goo gah gah” and don’t know how to read. Whereas Aged Green Tea can read.

Creating world rules and staying consistent help contribute to the realism in a fantastical world.

LM: Please tell us a little about the story’s journey.

JD: I’m fortunate that the editor and I both came into this hoping for a series. The first book had a long journey to publication, which you can read more about in Lynne Marie’s ‘Story Behind the Story’ blog series. Here’s the link: And now there’s a brand new ‘Story Behind the Story’ for BUTTERNUT & BUTTERCUP too. Here’s the link: I wrote BUTTERNUT (the first book) in 2013 and it took many years until it found the right home with the right editor.

LM: Please share the pitch for the original book.

JD: For the first submission email to MCIA in 2019, I actually pitched a young chapter book (with series potential). I included a short biography, inspirations for the story and this short pitch:

Butternut awoke to bright fluorescent lights, weird shelves, and colorful square beings. This little squash discovers that he’s in a supermarket, but where does he belong? Along the way, Butternut learns about food, food’s origins, and about himself.

And I let them know that I also had a picture book version of the story, that I would be happy to send them.

LM: Please share the pitch for the second book.

JD: BUTTERNUT & BUTTERCUP didn’t really have a pitch. The editor and I had discussed a Butternut series off and on for a while. There was even a different version of the series, that the editor suggested, but then didn’t go through.

For this book, I wrote the full manuscript and sent that to the editor. There were many revisions until it got to a place that we were both ready to take it to the next phase.

LM: Do you have any tips for writing pitches?

JD: I actually really dislike writing pitches, to be honest. I’d rather write a full manuscript than a pitch. But over the years, I’ve learned that pitches should include a sense of the main character, the world, and the major conflict. I recently learned, from Joyce Sweeney, that it’s effective to include a ticking clock element. For example, this and this, before ______. It could include some type of consequence, if the main character doesn’t achieve the goal in time.

LM: How did the Butternut and Buttercup sequel come about?

JD: As noted above, from the beginning, the editor and I both wanted a sequel for Butternut. A sequel presented the creative challenge to dive deep into the character’s journey and world and ask ‘what’s next’ for Butternut and his friends?

LM: What was the revision process like?

JD: There were many revisions for this story. The editor and I were both on the same page excited about a story about friendship, the value of sharing experiences, and the heart of the story, but she had suggestions for big changes too. I took her feedback in mind and wrote many revisions. We saw what worked best, and the story is stronger thanks to her.

LM: The puns in this book are quite fun! Please share your process for finding relevant puns and how you decided which to use and which not to use.

JD: I do a lot of research about the characters and their worlds for all my books. I brainstorm words and phrases that relate to the characters and their world. I think specificity adds texture to the story. Brainstorming often includes idioms and wordplay ideas. You can search idioms on-line too. If you search, for example, “idioms with bread”, many idioms will pop up.

The goal is for the wordplay, in addition to adding fun and language-enriching poetic elements, to share information about the characters and the plot. The wordplay should bring the reader further into the story. When deciding which puns to use or not use, I try to choose puns that are parts of the storytelling, not purely jokes or humor.

LM: What’s next for you and/or for Butternut and Buttercup?

JD: There’s a new Butternut book in the works that I’m super excited about. I can’t go into details yet, but Butternut has a big conflict in the third book that I hope kids connect to in their own ways and find comfort from.

LM: Lastly, what advice do you have for writers for making sure their characters come to life in a believable way, and in a way that’s kid-friendly? (Or Other Advice)

JD: It was important to convey that Butternut is a young squash in both the illustrations and the text. He’s consistently child-like. He can be a stand-in for a young reader or someone that readers of all ages feel empathy for and want to protect. He learns about the world in a child-like way and is full of wonder. He’s always discovering new things. I think that this makes Butternut, even though he’s a squash, a relatable character for young readers. Plus, his journey to find his new home and discover who he is (in the first book) and his goal of finding the perfect gift for his best friend (in the second book) are universal themes that most readers can relate to.

LM: What’s one question I didn’t ask that you wish I had asked you?

JD: These are deep, thoughtful questions and I hope my answers are helpful to writers and other artists as well. I’d like to close with extra encouragement to keep writing/creating, create art about something that you love. When you love your story, readers will feel that connection to the story too.

NOTE: Rate Your Story Members can view the replay to Jill’s fabulous crafty webinar “10 Mistakes I Often See As a Critiquer” in the 2023 Rate Your Story Member Resource Page. Don’t miss it!

Jill Dana is an author, illustrator, award-winning filmmaker, and certified elementary educator. She has master’s degrees in film and television production and elementary education plus TESOL. She is the author of the Butternut series, about a little butternut squash and his supermarket world, with themes of identity, friendship, #WhereFoodComesFrom, and more. The second book in the Butternut series, BUTTERNUT & BUTTERCUP’s U.S. book birthday was March 1, 2023. Jill is a Rate Your Story judge, an active SCBWI member. and an Author’s Guild member. She’s also a member of the picture book groups @PBSunrays and @PictureBookGold.

Visit Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok: @JillDanaBooks and her website

Visit Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok: @JillDanaBooks

and her website


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