Here Comes the Judge: Jill Dana
1. What brought you to children’s books? How long have you been writing?
My creative background is in filmmaking. Years after film school, ideas came to me that seemed suited to books.
Children’s picture books and silent short films are very similar to me. When I read Uri Shulevitz’s book, WRITING WITH PICTURES: HOW TO WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE CHILDREN’S BOOKS, it was such a positive confirmation. Within the book, he wrote about the
similarities between picture books and films. (That book is a must-read for picture book creators.)
I explored children’s book writing, came across SCBWI, and the rest is history… I’m still
an active SCBWI member. I believe it’s important to always keep learning and fostering your
In reference to how long I’ve been writing: I feel like I’ve been writing forever. When I
was young, it started with free-flowing, journal writing. When I became an adult, I started writing all different kinds of stories in different mediums.
The number one reason I write and illustrate children’s books is to make art for children.
To bring children joy, a new or deeper understanding, a reminder of their specialness, a
reminder that they’re not alone, that we are all one (including nature and animals).
2. Has your publication journey direction changed at all from the onset?
When I was a child, I didn’t have a dream to be a published author. But I’ve always been creative and always had a desire to create.
I think the journey to publication is much longer and much more competitive than most people expect. And, I don’t mean competitive in a negative way between individuals. I love the children’s book community and I find the community to be super supportive and generous. I mean competitive when considering the huge number of submissions agents and editors receive regularly. Which is why, it is so important to write the best stories you can write and to always keep developing your craft.
3. Please tell us about the first book you published.
My first book that was traditionally published is HER PINK HAIR (Guardian Angel Publishing). Here’s a description of the book: “The story of a young girl's perspective of her best friend's battle with cancer. Through a poetic text and mixed-media clay illustrations, experience the story through a unique lens.”
That book is very special to me for many reasons and on many levels.
4. What genres of books will you be open to rating for Rate Your Story?
I am open to rating picture books of any genre.
5. List five things you look for in a successful story.
I look for many things in a successful story. All the structural elements of storytelling are important to look for, analyze, and address. But, when I read a story, the most important, big picture, overall things I initially look for are:
Do I care? – I.e. Do I care about the main character? Am I invested in what the MC is going through? And if it isn’t a character-based story, do I care about the theme or the primary focus or the main concept of the story?
Emotions – How does the story make me feel? Does it make me feel anything?
Takeaway – What am I taking away from this story? Do I see the world or something in a different way? Do I want to re-read the story after I’ve read it the first time?
Consistency – Is there consistency in the story plot, the characters’ actions, the pacing? Or, am I taken out of the world of the story through a detail or story element that is inconsistent?
Hope – To me, children’s books need to have an element of hope. (That’s not to say that they can’t be about very serious topics or issues.)
Those five things are about the heart of the story, but of course, there are so many elements that need to be in place and weave together for a well-crafted, successful story.
6. Name five subjects you love to read about.
Five subjects I love to read about include plants/nature, animals (wild and domesticated), food, relationships, and behavior. That being said: I love to read and I love learning, even about subjects that I don’t know I love reading about. Until I discover I do, in your story.
7. Name five subjects you don’t want to read about.
Since I’m only rating picture books, I’m open to all picture book subjects. For books for older readers, there are subjects that I don’t want to read about.
8. What author has inspired you most on your journey?
This is an impossible question for me to answer. Any author whose book made me look at something in a different way has influenced me. I’m friends with many authors who inspire me. So many artists in all artistic fields inspire me. And there are so many people who’ve inspired my writing journey that aren’t artists too.
9. What do you feel is an important preliminary step before actually writing a story?
An important preliminary step before I start writing is thinking and researching and more
thinking and so on. I think about the character, the character’s world, the story idea. I research details about that world (while ideating and while writing). If that idea keeps popping up in my head repeatedly, that’s one sign to start writing the story.
I also research published books that relate to my story or character in some way. Is my
idea very different from what’s already out there? Is the idea worth pursuing, i.e. what am I
potentially contributing to the book world through this story?
I don’t always research before I begin writing, sometimes I write full draft(s) before I start
researching a story. But, I do feel research is an important part of the writing process.
10. Please share a writing Tip for our Members.
Write every day. Even if it’s for only five minutes. Even if you don’t feel that what you are writing is “practical” or “productive” or a story. Even if it’s stream-of-consciousness writing. It will get your writing juices flowing. The creativity will flow more. It will get your observer (a writer as an observer of the world) juices flowing too. And you’ll start writing more and more. (And you never know what little tidbits may be seeds for a story.)
11. Share a fun fact about YOU!
I’m a huge boba tea fan! When traveling, I even search for new boba tea places to try!
JillDana is an author, illustrator, award-winning filmmaker, and certified elementary educator.She has a Master of Fine Arts in Television and Film Production and a Master of Education in Elementary Education plus TESOL.Her newest book BUTTERNUT, about a little butternut squash lost in a supermarket, will be available in the U.S. on February 1, 2022.She is a member of SCBWI and the Author’s Guild.
Visit Jill on social media @JillDanaBooks and her website www.JillDanaBooks.com