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Winter 2018

Illustration by Rob Wilson

Rob Wilson

5 Easy Steps to Writing a Travel Picture Book Series for Kids

What advice is helpful for starting your own children’s picture book series, with each book set in a different location around the world? Longy Han, Ed.M.’17, shares five tips based on her experience writing Gusto & Gecko, set first in Kenya, followed by New Orleans, China, and Australia.

1. Writing what you know helps. “I actually have only written books about places I have been before. That way I can ensure their authenticity, and I feel like I write better when I am closer to the subject. It helps to eat the food, breathe the air. I don’t think I could write about places I haven’t been. While I was in Kenya, I took the opportunity to go on an African safari, and that is what gave me the inspiration to introduce kids to the five national animals of Kenya. On the safari, I was about two meters (6.5 feet) away from a lion eating a wildebeest, which I thought was incredible, and afterward I researched animal behaviors in their natural habitats and included these in the books, so that kids could learn more about them.”

2. Getting started may be the hardest part. “It’s like a swing at a playground. Getting the swing going is the most difficult part, but once you have a rhythm, it is much easier. Everyone has the capability to write a great story. The difficult part is being committed enough to continuously polish and seek feedback, so that you end up with something you can proudly publish.”

3. Having four Ed School grads on your team helps. “They all have incredibly diverse backgrounds and bring with them a variety of experiences, networks, and skills that add a lot to the team. Over the summer, we created fabulous resources for parents and teachers to use in conjunction with the first book. We have also been working on outreach and recently got invited to do read-alouds at the Boston Children’s Museum.”

4. The books may be short, but the process is long. “It takes about a year to get from idea to printing. Funny story: A large shipment of my second book was actually stranded on the ocean for months because the shipping company went bankrupt while my books were in transit! I didn’t know if they would ever get off the boats, and we joked about writing a Gusto & Gecko adventure on the sea about it.”

5. You may want to rethink the mascot. Or at least the mascot costume. “For my first-ever school visit I wore a blown-up, poorly ventilated alligator outfit, and 15 minutes into the presentation I was sweating profusely! But it was really wonderful to see kids’ faces light up as I walked into the room and swept them away on an adventure. I have visited schools that in most cases would not have the budget for an author visit, so it is incredibly rewarding for me to give back to the community in little ways that I can.”

For more: Watch a video with Han.