I’m delighted to welcome Michelle Nott in celebration of her debut picture book, Teddy, Let’s Go!
Teddy, Let’s Go! is a sweet, sweet story, illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, and told from Teddy’s point of view. It begins with Teddy’s birth at the creative hands of Grandma, continues with his introduction to his girl, My, and then follows their growing up years until a little brother comes along and inherits Teddy’s love. Kirkus says Teddy, Let’s Go! is “Comforting as hugging a beloved stuffed animal.” And it really is. Grandmothers, mothers, and young ones alike will love reading this heartwarming story together.
Teddy and My are made for each other—literally in the case of Teddy, a teddy bear lovingly stitched and stuffed by Grandma for the newborn baby. From eating mushy vegetables to playing with blocks, Teddy is there every step of the way as My grows older. Even as the little girl goes to school and makes new friends, she can always count on Teddy for playtime, comfort, and friendship.
As she leaves early childhood behind, My comes to rely on Teddy less and less. But Teddy still has an important role to play in My’s life. In an act of welcome and tremendous love, My decides to give Teddy to her newborn baby brother, who needs Teddy just as much now as she once did.
Believe it or not, Michelle wrote Teddy, Let’s Go! when her daughters were still in preschool. It will be released by Enchanted Lion this upcoming December 6–fourteen years later! You can bet that I’m going to find a What’s On question to find out what happened in those years. I’m dying to know.
Well, actually, I know part of the answer. Michelle was living in Belgium and doing freelance editing work. She was writing her story blog, Good Night, Sleep Tight, where a very early version of Teddy appeared. And she was travelling, which is her third-best love after her family and writing books. She also moved back to the US. But what about Teddy, Let’s Go!?
I’m going to turn things over to Michelle, who is joining us from North Carolina, to tell us What Was on Michelle Nott’s…
Fourteen Year Publishing Journey: Thank you, Sandra! It is an absolute delight to be on What Was On…? I’ve been reading your interviews for years. So, it feels very special to be featured here.
To answer your question, “What was on my publishing journey…” I started getting serious about working towards publication around 2011, when I attended a SCBWI master class with Mary Kole (who was then with Andrea Brown) in Paris.
Before then, I was writing bedtime stories for my daughters for fun. Living in Belgium, I noticed one day that there were more French titles on their bookshelf than English ones. So, I decided to write them some stories. I studied Creative Writing as a minor in college and rediscovered my joy of storytelling. Most of those stories ended up on my blog, Good Night, Sleep Tight, including an early version of Teddy!
After the master class in Paris, I joined a critique group with SCBWI Belgium and improved my craft with the most wonderful writers who are now some of my closest friends. Teddy (by several different titles) was always my favorite manuscript. But after countless agent rejections basically saying the same thing, “Nice, but too quiet,” I put it away. I wrote two early readers that were published in 2016 and 2019. I also worked on some middle grade manuscripts.
Early in 2016, I queried Essie White at Storm Literary Agency with one of my middle grade novels. She expressed a lot of interest in my writing and asked if I had any picture book manuscripts to share also. I sent her Teddy Let’s Go! and she loved it. Essie has been a great champion for this book since the moment she first read it. We signed a contract with Enchanted Lion Books in 2019. My editor, Claudia Zoe Bedrick, wanted to originally publish it in fall 2020. But as we know, publishing has a mind of its own and delays happen for various reasons.
I eventually closed down Good Night, Sleep Tight because some of the stories, in revised forms, had been published (my two early readers and now Teddy) or have been on submission. Later in 2016, I started a bilingual (English/French) blog of visual story prompts called Imagine It! Since 2021, that same blog has transitioned into a picture book review blog and includes an Imagine It! extension activity for each title.
This journey, as with all adventures, has taught me that life is on its own schedule. Things happen when they’re supposed to. And I believe this is the best time for Teddy Let’s Go! to jump into the world.
Daughters’ Beds: On my daughters’ beds, when they were little, were fairy duvets and various stuffed animals. And of course, the teddy bear my grandmother made me shared time across the room on one or the other’s bed. One evening while sitting with my girls and Teddy, my imagination started to create Teddy’s character and the adventures he would go on.
Favorite School Visit: I love school visits! I used to teach (Pre-K to 12) and appreciate being able to get back into classrooms and engage with students again.
It’s hard to decide just one school visit, but I’ll mention a day I was at an elementary school near Houston, Texas. The librarian asked me to wait in the library until my two escorts came to accompany me to their class. A few minutes later, two second graders arrived. And as we were walking down the hall, the little girl looked up at me holding her hands against her chest. “Are you a real author?” she asked. “Yes. I am.” I smiled down at her. Just about ready to burst, she said, “This is so exciting!” Honestly, I was ready to burst with joy as well.
Desk Now: Besides my laptop, a cup of tea, a binder with a printed draft of my WIP (a MG verse novel), and two blank Maxelle cassette tapes, 6 YA novels, 2 MGs. I have 51 picture books currently sitting on my desk (I just counted). Thankfully, I work at an old farm table that we brought back from Belgium. So, there’s plenty of room. I’m currently revising my novel while also compiling a reading list for a webinar I’m preparing to give for SCBWI Benelux.
List of Favorite Picture Books:
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring (from my childhood)
This is Me by Philip Waechter (a comfort read with my daughters well into their teen years)
Why Am I Me by Paige Britt
Violet Shrink by Christine Baldacchio
Most Frequent Editing Advice: What I find myself repeating often is, “Story comes first.”
If writing in rhyme and searching for the perfect rhyme, not just any word will do. It must add to your story in some way.
If a writer has the most beautifully eloquent line that would put Shakespeare to shame, it has to be cut if it doesn’t move the story forward.
If a character has a pet sloth, that animal must be essential to the story, not just because he’s cute.
Mind: My daughters. They are now moved into their dorms at their chosen universities (on opposite sides of the U.S.). These girls have watched Teddy grow from an oral story to a handwritten one to one they drew pictures for on a day home from school. They’ve seen my happiness and frustration over the years trying to “make it” in publishing.
As I’m preparing events and signings and school visits, I do wish they were here. They have been, and always will be, my inspiration and my motivation. But at the same time, they got to have Teddy and this story all to themselves as they grew up. I think we’re all now truly ready and excited to see where Teddy can go.
I, too, am excited to see where Teddy will go. All the best luck for the launch!
If you would like to order Teddy, let’s Go! Simply click on the book below. Or, you may order a signed copy from Michelle’s local bookstore, Park Road Books.
If you would like to know more about me, please visit me at sandranickel.com.