Abi Cushman's getting 'Soaked!' and loving it
East Lyme — Abi Cushman's first children's book, "Soaked!", is being released nationwide Tuesday by Viking Press, with 30,000 copies fanning out to Walmarts and Targets and other large booksellers across America, while signed copies will be available at Bank Square Books in Mystic.
But already reviewers are weighing in with positive comments about the hula-hooping moose, despondent bear and other characters that popped out of Cushman's vivid imagination.
Publishers Weekly calls "Soaked!" an "impressive debut," extolling the hardcover book as "visually elegant." Kirkus Reviews cheers on Cushman's "endearingly expressive" four characters: a moose, bunny, badger and bear who make the most out of being stuck in a rainstorm.
"This humorous debut, full of expressive and winsome characters that are reminiscent of those found in Emily Gravett’s work, is a great story about finding joy in the moment, whatever it might be, and learning to let go of your expectations," concluded School Library Journal, in its review. "A sure hit for any kind of weather, and every kind of story hour.”
Cushman, a Niantic resident who graduated from East Lyme High School and Tufts University, said she is excited about the publication of her first book, intended for children between 3 and 7 years old.
"It's surreal to me," she said in a Zoom conference. "I've been with this for two years now."
In fact, the idea for the book hit Cushman three years ago while she was 8 months pregnant, walking in a rainstorm in downtown Niantic with husband Pete and daughter Scout. She showed some of her early illustrations at a children's book writer's conference in Springfield, Mass., where she won the portfolio showcase and met a judge from Viking Press who encouraged her to press on by submitting a book proposal.
She wound up with a two-book deal, which means Cushman is already well into the process of creating her second picture book titled "Animals Go Vroom," due out in spring 2021.
But she says marketing a book in the age of coronavirus has its challenges. She isn't able to travel on a typical booksigning tour or make appearances at conferences, so instead she has been giving online interviews during a virtual "blog tour" in which she responds to questions from book bloggers.
"It is helping," Cushman said, "but it does show how helpful libraries and booksellers are in sharing new books with people."
Without being able to attend events promoting new books, parents now are largely left thinking about and buying only the books they loved as kids, she added.
Cushman said Viking normally prints anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 copies of a new book, and it publishes only about 25 youth-oriented books a season, including board books, picture books, middle grade novels and young adult novels. Her deal as author and illustrator of "Soaked!" allows her to receive 10 percent royalties once Viking sells enough copies to cover her advance fee, she said.
"It is pretty competitive," she added, referring to the picture-book market.
She said the book had been sent out to be printed in September of last year because of a laborious proofing process, and unbound copies were shuttled to reviewers early this year. "Soaked!" originally was to have been released in the spring, but wound up being held for summer release.
Cushman said she was inspired to illustrate children's stories because of her own love of picture books. Some of her models include Richard Scarry, author of such children's classics as "Busytown," and Beatrix Potter, author of "The Tales of Peter Rabbit," among others.
"The tough part is finding your own voice," she said. "It took me a while to do that."
But being introverted helps. "We like to live in our own worlds," Cushman smiled.
Cushman has always been a night owl, but she said her tendencies have only been accentuated by her newfound status as a published author. She works on her illustrations after her 2- and 5-year-old children go to bed, then often tries out the images on them the following night to see if they can understand without words what is going on.
"I like to see their reaction; I do think that's helpful," she said.
The ultimate goal for Cushman is to make children's books into a career. So in addition to the book coming out Tuesday and another on the way next year, she already has her eye on the next story with a wombat as the lead character.
"I hope I can get a book out every year," she said. "That's what I'm working towards."
About the book
Author: Abi Cushman
Publication Date: Tuesday
Price: $17.99, hardcover
Publisher: Viking Press
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