Wednesday, February 28, 2024


By Steve Swinburne

Some books take years and years to evolve, mature, unfold. And some books are born out of spontaneity. For example, the idea for one of my new books, BIG TRUCK SUPER WASH, came to me by pure serendipity. A few years ago, we visited our daughter and her husband living in New York City. As you do, we went out for coffee and bagels one morning and we happened to pass Brooklyn’s Famous Car Wash. Watching the cars go in and out, a thought popped into my head, “Where do trucks get washed?”

I think all stories are born from curiosity. What if a shark played the ukulele? What do sperm whales eat? How large were T Rex eggs? Where do trucks get washed?

While the idea for BIG TRUCK SUPER WASH came out of the blue, my other new book, GIRAFFE MATH, was another matter.

I’ve been trying to write a book about giraffes for over a decade because I think they are ridiculously cool and one of the most unique creatures on the planet. My Vermont buddy, Peter Lourie, and I first proposed The Giraffe Scientist for the Scientist in the Field series with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2009. Pete would take pictures and I would write. After HMH and others rejected our project, we tried a new hook, Tall Beauty-Desert Giraffes of Africa. This was to be an adult coffee-table-style book about giraffes living in the Namibian desert. After a year or so of submitting we realized it was not to be.

I couldn’t shake my obsession with giraffes so I tried writing a very simple and short nonfiction manuscript about giraffes. It flopped. About the time GIRAFFES CAN'T DANCE, I thought I’d try a funny book about giraffes. No go. Then I played around with a giraffe joke book. My manuscript was a joke! I even tried a young nonfiction book that I thought might work as a board book. My ingenious title for that one was Giraffes Are Tall. 

After over a decade of giraffe book trial and error, I hit the pause button. Shortly thereafter I was invited to Kenya for an author visit. After the school visit, my wife and I went on a 3-day safari. Seeing giraffes in the wild reignited my fascination for this creature.

When I got back home, I sat down with a blank yellow pad and began making a list of things I knew about giraffes. How tall they were. How long was their tongue. Their weight. How long they sleep. I looked at the page and realized it was all numbers. It was math! It wasn’t long before I connected Giraffe with Math and I had my title, GIRAFFE MATH.

Do you have a manuscript that seems to be stuck? Is it possible your younger nonfiction story is really mid-grade nonfiction? Would lyrical poems best suit your tale about baby dinosaurs? What if you told your examination of recycling practices from the first-person point of view? There’s no ironclad way to write your nonfiction manuscript.

Moral of the story: some ways to tell your story take a very, very long time to congeal, to crystallize. Be flexible. Be patient. Never give up. 

About the Author:

Steve Swinburne has worked as a national park ranger and is the author of more than 40 children’s books. His extensive travels to faraway lands such as Africa, Borneo, Bangladesh and Dubai along with treks through Yellowstone and the highlands of Scotland, have influenced his book projects. Steve researched sea turtles in the Caribbean Islands for Sea Turtle Scientist and Run, Sea Turtle, Run, and he went on safari in Kenya for his nominated STEM title, Giraffe Math. Steve visits nearly 70 schools a year across the United States as well as many international schools. He lives in Vermont with his wife, Heather. For more information, see
Steve blogs at 


  1. Thank you for this inspiring post! I'm following you on Instagram now and I look forward to reading your works with my daughter! I've been on a similar journey with the manuscript I am querying with right now. I'm obsessed with tardigrades and have been writing different adventures with my main character for years! Finally, I have written an adventure with him that has gotten a revise and resubmit query opportunity I'm waiting to hear back about, so I think I've finally found the right way to tell Tardigrade's story!

  2. Way to be persistent Steve! I have a similar topic that I’ve written in several formats, genres, and age group and finally land the winner with an Arcadia book contract, slated to come out early 2025. Looking forward to your giraffe book:)

  3. Makes me feel so much better about a book I have written ten different ways. Thank you

  4. Thanks for the pep talk. I have a ms I submitted many times, all with encouraging comments, but something was always "not quite right" for them. I've rewritten, revised and reimagined for several years. I'll just keep plugging away and maybe I'll have that ah-ha moment as you did. Congratulations on Giraffe Math and its success!

  5. How cool to be invited to Kenya for an author visit!! And what an opportunity for you. I am glad you finally ended up finding a way to present your story about your giraffes. Thanks for sharing and reminding me, some stories do take a lot of time to gel.

  6. Thanks for sharing! I connected with this post and your books. I have several cool creatures that I'm determined to keep writing about in different formats.

  7. Every book has its own schedule, it seems. And sometimes they just like to play hide-and-seek with us until we find how they want to be told...

  8. Funny! Love all the interations you tried to make this work and how you were finally able to make a story for the animals you love! Patience, indeed.

  9. Robin.Currie1@gmail.comFebruary 29, 2024 at 8:26 AM

    You are so right about curiosity! The world is all potential stories if you wonder about stuf!!

  10. What an interesting backstory! I have a couple of ideas like this and hope to find that sweet spot soon!

  11. Love hearing the journey of stories! Thank you.

  12. Thank you, Steve. Patience and perseverance are certainly needed in the KidLit industry.

    Suzy Leopold

  13. I love this. Persistence does pay off. I published a HFNovel that I started on 10 years before I published it. I kept changing it and kept changing it 'til I got it right. I have several PB manuscripts that I need to revise and try different ways.

  14. I could so relate to your giraffe journey! Thanks for a great story and the reminder to never give up...I've got a couple (or more) of topics I can't let go of, but can't find the right approach for...