Maggie Bates has been a student, a designer, a teacher, and a mother. She recently added an additional job description to her resume: the author and illustrator of a book for small children.
Although the book has only just been published, a hint came along years ago that it might be on its way.
“When I was in college I studied art, but an English professor tried to get me to switch my major. She said I had a knack for it, but I just wasn’t interested at the time,” Maggie says. Now, in her “day job” managing designers at A1DesignBuild, she sees that the ability to write comes in handy in a number of ways. “I’ve done technical writing at work for years [but] to approach a children’s book is a whole other thing. You want to make it lyrical and fun. It’s completely different, but also it’s just another form of writing.”
The seeds for her debut book were sown in Alaska 15 years ago, when Bates spent three years overseeing a Waldorf School summer camp. The Waldorf model engages students through imagination and creativity, which engaged Bates as well.
“They appreciate when a teacher or a camp leader really brings themself to the children in a creative way, and they appreciate it if you are speaking directly from the heart or your own experience, since it’s more effective than reading from a book,” she says. “So, I wrote some poems over the years that the kids would memorize. And then, at the end of the camp, we’d put on a show for parents with their artwork on the wall, and the kids would recite the poem.”
It stuck with Maggie that the poem was particularly well received by the children, so as she packed away her camp tools and supplies, she saved it with the thought that she might play around with adding illustrations. “Over the next few months, I did a couple of drawings that illustrate the story of the poem, and then I tucked it all away,” she says. Soon after, she moved from Alaska to Washington, switched jobs, and spent the next several years raising her daughter.
And then, about a year and a half ago, Maggie opened up that old box.
“I pulled out the poem, and I pulled out those first sketches that I did,” she says. “I came up with a storyboard, broke the words of the poem up into pages, and then I started sketching ideas for what I wanted to say, visually, on each page.” Her arts background made creating the illustrations easy, and she found herself enjoying the challenge of learning to hone her written words in a new way.
It’s a good thing she enjoys challenges, since the writing was only the first of many steps, most of which were new to her.
“I did my own photography of the paintings, uploaded them, and then added the text,” Maggie says. “You really need a second set of eyes on your work, so I hired my friend Carrie Kartman as an editor, and she also gave me really good advice on some things to adjust.”
With the work completed, the next step was to bring the physical book into the world, and the do-it-yourself spirit guided Maggie again. “I thought, ‘People are doing self-publishing all over the place, so why wouldn’t I? It’s a no brainer for me. It’s another challenge, and I’m going to learn a whole new thing,’” she says. “And so I learned how to do it, and I am now Steady Horse Publishing.”
Steady Horse has only just begun, as Bates has already started work on her next releases.
“I have at least two more in me right now,” she says. “One is about a gal who goes on a nighttime adventure. It’s quite bold in that she’s out walking at night in a storm.” Another book brewing is about two children who are friends that go on a quest during the daytime in a local park.
And yet another book Maggie is working on is about bears. “I wrote a clapping game about bears for the summer camp, and I didn’t save it but I remembered the first line, so I texted my daughter and said, ‘Do you remember the poem that starts ‘Bear, bear, Papa bear?’ and she typed the whole thing out in a text. She had it all inside of her.”
Sharing her stories was the drive behind learning all these new skills, and Maggie is happy to report that she’s received a coveted “starred review” from Kirkus, a five-star review from Chanticleer, and has her fingers crossed that she’ll get a mention from the committee that awards the esteemed Caldecott Medal.
In the meantime, she’s showing her work to other judges. She’s visited a couple of elementary schools to read the book, and brings her portfolio along to share. “I have sketches in pencil and in colored pencil, and then I had two or three watercolors that I did before I finally got to the ones that ended up in the book,” she says. “It’s a way to show the children that things don’t always come out right the first time when you do something like that.”
Maggie is happy to say that her book is available locally at Village Books in Fairhaven, and she has signed copies available by email through her website. It can also be found through most mainstream booksellers.