ALTOONA BABOONA by Janie Bynum (Harcourt, 1999). This book is more fun than a barrel-a baboon-as. The rhyme flows as Altoona takes her balloon-a to the skies. You'll be humming this story long after you've put it down and picked it up again. Ages 4-up. Don't miss the sequel, ALTOONA UP NORTH (Harcourt, 2001). This interview was conducted via email in 2001. Visit author/illustrator Janie Bynum.
What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?
I was riding the train between Kalamazoo, MI and Chicago, IL when the name ALTOONA BABOONA just popped into my skull. I have no idea why.
Then the image of a free-spirited baboon-girl formed with these lines attached: "Altoona Baboona flicks peas with a spoon-a. She dances all night and sings songs to the moon-a."
What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?
I THINK that spark happened in April of 1996. When I was on that train ride, I was in the process of moving to Chicago.
After I took two classes of children's book illustration at the Art Institute of Chicago and put together a book dummy of ALTOONA BABOONA (as a class assignment), I joined SCBWI and learned about the National Conference. I attended the SCBWI National Conference in August of 1997, met another author/illustrator who forwarded my portfolio of artwork to her agent, then got a call from that agent a couple of weeks later asking me to see my writing and/or dummy work. I sent him my dummy which he sent to Harcourt the next day. I got a phone call that evening that Harcourt wanted to acquire ALTOONA BABOONA.
From "spark" to contract it was about 16 months, From contract, it was another 18 mos. to publication--after many revisions of the text. So, "spark" to publication was three years.
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?
This is a tough question since I sort of edged my way in to this business.
Since I ran a graphic design business (and still do to a lesser degree), I expected that if I worked hard enough, did my homework and had a great product, I'd reach my goal of getting published. I was too naive to realize how impossibly difficult it can be getting your first contract (or even subsequent ones for that matter)!
The one thing I think I did "right" was to "network" (SCBWI, internet listservs for writers, etc). I toted my portfolio and "dummies" off to SCBWI National and showed my work, talked to people. Had I stayed in my corner of the world (we had moved back to Michigan by then) and never networked, I don't know that I'd be published today. I like to think someone at a publishing house would have plucked me out of a slush pile. But, who knows?