As I was scrolling through Twitter one day, I came across an image of a duckling riding on the back of a loon. It was the cover of a book! A book about how a pair of Common Loons adopted an orphaned Mallard Duckling, two species who normally don’t get along. I remember seeing this true wildlife story that was observed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I read more about this unlikely pair and was intrigued. My friends told me, “Barb, you should write a picture book about this.” Yes, indeed, I should, but someone beat me to it. This someone is Laura Purdie Salas, children’s author, poet, speaker, and creator of educational materials for teachers.
I contacted Laura to see if I could interview her for my blog, and she agreed. I’m so excited she said “yes” because she is such an interesting lady, and all-around nice person.
Barb: Tell us a little bit about yourself and include a tidbit of information not many people know about you.
Laura: Ooh, let’s see. I’m a native Floridian who hates hot weather and moved to Minnesota with my husband in 1990. We adore it. I’m an odd combination of analytical (give me a good chart and to-do list and I’m happy) and swoony. A picture book or poem can make me cry. I want to make picture books that make a difference for kids in some small way. And I want to make a living through writing and writing-adjacent activities. So…lots of dichotomies. Oh, and I love donuts and ridiculously sweet treats. Lots of them. Something not loads of people know is that I write at a treadmill desk set-up.
Barb: You are going to be launching three books in March 2023. Tell us about Finding Family.
Laura: Finding Family is a nonfiction book that was suggested by a Lerner editor I’ve worked with on 7 or 8 other books. This was the first time she’s suggested a topic, and I was a little panicky. What if I hated the story? What if she hated the story? But as I wrote my way into this story of mated loons who lost their chicks raising a mallard duckling who lost its family, I grew a deep connection with this story. It has a couple of big ideas that I value a lot. One is that you can do things you aren’t supposed to be able to do. A mallard duckling shouldn’t be able to dive for food and take on a loon lifestyle. Their bodies aren’t built for it. But she did. That resonates with me as someone who moved out of her parents’ home at 16 and put herself through college. Even though my parents were sure I’d fail utterly.
And the other is that sometimes we find what we need right in front of us, even if it’s not what we plan or think we want. I’m a mom of a daughter with major medical needs, a person who can too graphically imagine every terrible possibility, and a reader who can quickly become overwhelmed with all the tragedies of our world. I often find I need to focus on right here, right now. Finding Family is a true story of right here, right now. It’s animals who need each other finding each other and spending one sparkling summer together—with no guarantees of a future.
Barb: Tell us about your connections with educators.
Laura: I taught 8th-grade English for a couple of years, and I have so much gratitude and respect for educators! School was my happy place as an elementary school kid, and I was much happier there than at home. Because I write a lot of poetry and nonfiction—both of which are largely marketed to schools and libraries, educators are a big audience for my books. They’re the ones most likely to share the books I create with kids. So I create materials for educators, go to some educator conferences, and basically have a community of educator friends. The ones who are equally passionate about books and about kids—those are amazing people! If I wrote mainly more commercial picture books that were “bedtime” or “storytime” books, I guess parents would make up a larger part of my audience. But I’m often thinking about how teachers could use my books in their classrooms.
Barb: You send out newsletters. Tell us what topics you cover and how to subscribe.
Laura: I have a monthly e-letter called ‘Small Reads,’ and it’s geared at educators of all kinds—teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, etc. Each month, I write one main article. Let’s see, some of the topics I’ve covered in the past year are:
- using We Belong and other picture books as a springboard into conversations around hard topics
- sharing a roundup of my poems that are free online and have a spring theme
- a thank you poem to educators for things they did over the pandemic
- growing world citizens
- 3 of my favorite poetry lessons with students
You and I, we’re alike,
but we’re different too.
That’s not good.
That’s not bad.
It’s just what is true.
-Laura Purdie Salas
You can click here to subscribe.
NEW AUTHOR ADVICE
Barb: Do you have any advice for someone who is starting out as a new author?
Laura: Here’s what served me the best when I first started having books published. Keep improving my writing craft, largely through 1) analyzing books I love, 2) courses/conferences, 3) writing a lot—so much that even when only 10% of it was worth deep revision and submission, it was worth the other 90%, and 4) building a writing community, both in-person and online. As an introvert, I struggle with the in-person part. But my kidlit community is a large part of my being able to sustain a writing career!
Barb: Tell us what you do in your spare time. (Let me guess. Does it involve donuts?)
Laura: I read. A lot. I also knit rather badly, play kalimba equally badly—but enjoy both immensely. I watch too much T.V. (Great Pottery Throw Down, anyone? Great British Baking Show? Secret Life of the Zoo?) I love to go for long walks. And I love to play games. My husband and I play Scrabble, Five Dive, and Columns daily. Plus we have regular family game nights, and I meet up with friends for games. I also go to the gym to offset some of the donuts!
Barb: Tell us what you are working on now.
Laura: Right now, my life is all about promotion for my 3 2023 books (Finding Family, Puddle Song, and Zap! Clap! Boom!—the last one written in 2008 and finally becoming a picture book in 2023!). Plus back matter, art feedback, and some final revisions on my 3 2024 books (Oskar’s Voyage, Superhero Tryouts, and one without a final title at this point). Between all of those and a lot of speaking and freelance writing gigs this spring, I’m lucky to grab 30 minutes daily on my own writing projects. During that precious time, I’m working on 2 Christmas-related manuscripts and a manuscript about a walk in the forest.
STORY TIME AND BOOK LAUNCH
If you are in the St. Paul, Minnesota area, be sure to meet Laura in person Saturday, April 1, 2023 at Red Balloon Bookshop when she launches her new books.
You can follow Laura on the following social media sites:
MORE FROM LAURA PURDIE SALAS
Laura is very generous in helping authors and educators. Check out these resources:
Website: laurasalas.com See my annual income breakdown at
Writer in Progress Facebook Group—subscription paid through Patreon:
(This is where I share my writing process, talk about the business side of things, answer writers’ questions, etc.)
THANK YOU LAURA
Thank you Laura for letting me interview you on my blog. To be honest, I’m exhausted after reading about everything you do, (maybe I need a donut), but I’m definitely a fan! I wish I could go to your book launch on April 1st, but I already ordered a signed copy of Finding Family for my very own.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve written a few picture books about Loons myself. There are four books in my Lonnie the Loon series, and you can order them from my website.
I write monthly newsletters too. You can subscribe here and receive a digital copy of the “Puppy Wisdom” chapter from Larry’s Words of Wisdom.