Wednesday, May 29, 2024


 by Peggy Thomas

Most people think that books come out of an author’s head fully formed, perfect.

But we know the truth.

The messy truth.  

Writing can be agonizing, frustrating, time-sucking marathons that can leave a writer dithering and insecure.  At least that’s my process.

Here is the photographic evidence of my efforts to turn #*%@ into my newest picture book titled THE SOIL IN JACKIE’S GARDEN.

The idea came to me while preparing a conference workshop I led for Michigan Agriculture in the Classroom. I wanted novice writers to know that they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.  They could use a traditional form like an alphabet book or The House That Jack Built to create their own stories. And I should probably give them a quick example. (Now, one thing you have to know about me is that I love soil and I wish kids knew more about how great soil is.)  So, I said, “For example, you could do something like The Soil in Jackie’s Garden, and lead kids from the soil to seed to roots etc, back to the soil.” That was it.

Like all good ideas, this one stuck with me, and I started to play around with it.

But I really didn’t know the traditional version of The House that Jack Built, so I did a little research.  It’s a lot wordier that I expected. Meter seems more important than rhyme, but the meter changes halfway through.

I created word lists to help with rhyming, and to keep words, especially verbs, fresh.

Then I had a vision. For the artwork. What if the book opened vertically like Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens or Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor? The soil horizon line would start out high, then move down as the plants grew taller. I felt so strongly about it that I added that to the manuscript (something I normally do not do).

I’m a nonfiction writer so I had to add informational sidebars explaining all the cool stuff like how worm poop is called a casting, and leaves have little “mouths” they open and close to breathe.


My fellow Ninjas gave valuable feedback during critique sessions and helped fix problems with meter and rhyme. Other things changed, too.  Worm castings in the main text had to go, but stayed in the sidebar. Watermelon replaced  the "3 sisters" of corn, squash and beans, and I added some sound effects to make it more fun to read aloud. 

Finally it was ready to submit.  My agent sent it to Feeding Minds Press because I had worked with them before. They picked it up. Unlike most of my other projects this one sold quickly. (Don’t hate me. I can share later how another story of mine took 10 years to find a home.)

After several rounds of editing, the manuscript was given to the brilliant Neely Daggett to illustrate. Like all great illustrators, Neely added another level to the story. She gave Jackie a personality, friends, and helpers in a community garden. 

Okay, so there wasn’t a lot of angst and hair-pulling with this one, but I wanted to assure you that what may look like a mess in front of you today can turn into a beautiful book you will be proud of tomorrow.

Keep Writing!



  1. Love hearing the journey of a story! I added this to by Goodreads list.

  2. I totally agree,
    that's how writers are,
    people who work a lot!
    I think a lot of times it's harder to erase than to write (corrections).

  3. This is the best backstory ever!