What’s Going On: Niantic children’s author and illustrator out with two new books this year
Joey the snake is back, and so is East Lyme children’s author Abi Cushman, who in the next few months will be publishing both an original book titled, “Flamingos Are Pretty Funky,” along with her first collaboration, “The Quiet Forest,” acting as illustrator for a story by Charlotte Offsay, a writer from Massachusetts.
For Cushman, it’s the latest step in chasing her dream in the crowded book-publishing field. But now that she’s established herself, Cushman finds she’s able to call more of her own shots, including a move from fiction to nonfiction, which is an evolving trend in the children’s book field.
The move to nonfiction started when she shared her idea with a previous publisher, which instead started pushing the project toward yet another story book in the vein of “Soaked,” her debut title as a children’s author in 2020. So she approached her agent about pitching the original idea to another publisher, and HarperCollins agreed to a two-book deal starting with “Wombats Are Pretty Weird.”
“I think with these educational books, kids are looking for a series,“ Cushman said during an interview at Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London.
Cushman said her move into nonfiction children’s books satisfies her own craving from childhood, when she could not find enough information about the animals she so adores.
“I loved learning about animals when I was a kid,” she said enthusiastically.
Now with two of her own children, ages 5 and 9, Cushman spends much of her quiet time today (when the kids are at school or asleep) drawing animals for her books, which have been enthusiastically reviewed. “Soaked,” a book about four animals who make the most out of being stuck in the rain, was translated into two other languages, Russian and Korean.
“’Soaked’ is my most popular book,” she said, pointing to children’s book trails at libraries across the country that have used the story and images to entice kids to read. “A lot of it has to do with my publisher pushing it.”
The current push is looking toward the March publication of “The Quiet Forest,” published by Simon & Schuster and due out March 12, in which Cushman’s delightful and expressive animal characters take center stage. The story involves the antics of a mischievous mouse whose mishap snowballs into a ruckus before an ending in which kindness prevails.
According to a Kirkus Reviews assessment found online, “The use of onomatopoeia, alliteration, and repetition makes for a lovely read-aloud experience, and the many humorous details in the art (such as the bear’s bunny slippers) make rereading a treat.”
While this is the first of her books in which Cushman provided only the illustrations, surprisingly the East Lyme High School graduate who went on to study art at Tufts University said she only had very brief exchanges with the author before the book was finalized.
“The author got to see my sketches, but they were pretty final sketches,“ she said.
Cushman explained that publishers don’t like artists to exchange ideas with the authors for fear that this could impede the creative process. It’s better for the illustrators to take their own visions of characters and settings into their artistic playground than to feel constrained by the ideas of others.
That’s not a problem when it comes to the books she writes and illustrates herself. In addition to her two books on the way, including “Flamingos” due to be released by HarperCollins in June, Cushman is also author/illustrator of the 2021 picture book “Animals Go Vroom!”
Though neither “Flamingos” nor “The Quiet Forest” are officially released yet, both can be ordered through Amazon and elsewhere. Cushman said they also will be available at Bank Square Books in Mystic once released.
“Flamingos” builds upon the success of Cushman’s previous nonfiction children’s book, 2023’s “Wombats are Pretty Weird,” published by HarperCollins. Cushman had always loved wombats, especially since spending time in their native habitat of Australia during her college years.
She had next thought about doing a book on sloths, another favorite animal, but eventually settled on flamingos because they were fun to draw, had an interesting backstory and could be found on almost every continent except Australia.
According to one review on the popular Mom Read It blog, “Cushman fills ‘Flamingos’ with fun facts and entertaining dialogue from the birds themselves.... Side-bars and cartoon art, speech balloons and labeled pictures all facilitate learning, and informational backmatter, including glossary, make this a good addition to your animal collections.”
Cushman’s advice to other would-be children’s book authors starts with the idea that they should spend a lot of time reading and analyzing a bunch of picture books published over the past five years. She also suggested finding a critique group, such as the ones she attended early on in Madison and Killingworth.
“It just helps to have people who don't know you to listen to it, get their reaction,” she said. “It's also a way to make connections too. ... Just keep practicing and keep writing the stories.”
She added that an agent is really essential these days as fewer and fewer publishers have the time to look at unsolicited material.
As for what Cushman has in mind next, she is hoping to continue in the vein of “Wombats” and “Flamingos” with perhaps a new book on giraffes, though nothing is settled. She has now worked with three of the five biggest children’s book publishers in the world, so her main goal now is to ensure she can produce at least one book a year.
“I really like picture books,” Cushman said. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave picture books.”
Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. To reach him with story ideas or for comments, email email@example.com.
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