I want to introduce to you an author that goes by the name of Mrs D. With a name like that you would have thought that she wrote spy thrillers, but no, Mrs D is an award winning children’s author that is reviving the classic childrens book and presenting it to a new generation.
Mrs. D. (Olga D’Agostino) is an award-winning children’s author. Originally born in western Ukraine she now lives in NJ with her husband Patrick and a meticulous old cat named Nyda. Two of her children’s books, Good Morning,World! and The Trees Have Hearts, won a 2013 Mom’s Choice Awards.
How would you describe your writing style in two sentences? A mix of realistic fiction with modern fantasies. A twist of true events with unrealistic characters, which teach children to conquer problems, build self-esteem, and overcome challenges.
How long does it take for you to write a chapter? The illustrated children’s books are short, but the writing process is long and challenging. A children’s author must create a story that will make sense to a child and parent, and teach them something useful. There is no room in children’s books for extra explanations or expressing deep thoughts, as there is in adult books. Most of the stories are less than a thousand words. I usually break those rules and write longer stories. Children like the sound of printed words. Why deny them the language that stimulates their imagination? Of course, it depends on the child, age, and personality.
I like to write for both groups. It is much easier to write for adults than children. I rewrite my story until it makes perfect sense and carries a clear message to the young readers. Children are tricky readers. By nature, they are very impatient, so the author must create a story that will keep a child’s attention from beginning to end. Then the mission is accomplished. Writing for children is not how many words your write daily; it is about the quality of words the author seeds in their minds. Children’s books can raise readers or leave them crippled for the rest of their life. Sometimes it takes weeks to rewrite one paragraph, and sometimes it takes a few days to complete an entire story.
What is the best part of the writing process for you? Writing for children is like playing a game: you win or you lose. There is no middle ground. I must surround myself with their imagination. I must go to their level and see the story from their viewpoint. Children have a most unpredictable imagination and hunger for knowledge. If I do not get their attention from the first paragraph, then I have lost them. I must also see the story from the viewpoint of their parents. It is hard to be a grown-up and child at the same time, and that is why writing for children is not an easy task. What I like most about writing for children is reliving the special moments, when I feel as if I am a child again. When my story makes me laugh or cry, then I know I got it right. In my opinion, children’s books must teach both child and parent.
However, as much as I like creating stories, my best part is working with the illustrator and watching the characters come to life. It is a very intensive, but thrilling process. First, I write notes for the illustrator and describe each character and scene. Then, based on descriptions, the illustrator creates the characters. We go back and forth frequently with the first sketches until we get it right and we are both satisfied. After that, the illustrator is working on the sketches and I keep writing. It takes a long time before I see how the illustrations will appear in book form. Before the coloring stage, we correct every small detail. Each illustration must represent the story correctly. Usually I do not see the coloured illustrations until they are completed. Once they are coloured, I can finally see my words transformed into pictures. However, the work does not stop there. We still correct images, check faces for consistency, and other small elements that we may have overlooked during the sketching stage. Sometimes it takes time and sometimes it goes easy, but it is worth our sweat and efforts, because a child who spends time with a well-written and well-illustrated book will want to read it over and over, and eventually will grow into a lifelong reader.
If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a lot of people—what would that message be? I cannot say it better than I wrote in one of my books, The Trees Have Hearts:
Stop your busy life for a moment and take time for you and your child. Close your eyes and go to a special place, where everything is simple and pure. Cuddle with your child on the green grass or golden sand… stare at the beautiful blue sky… listen to the splashing waves… spin around in a blooming garden or talk to the whispering wind. Look around you and see what is important in life and to your child.
Stop and breathe… Be a child for a moment… Dive into their imaginary world, where you can hide in the shadows of blossoming trees. Do not lose this precious time together; our children grow so fast and I believe that these special moments are given to us for a reason. Hug your children every chance you get; reassure them that they are loved. They have their worries and fears, ideas and solutions as we do. Our children need us to be present in their dreams. Try to listen and hear what they are hearing and see what they are seeing. Love simple things with an open heart and you will receive unconditional love. Teach your children, lead them through their life, but let them run free in their imaginary kingdom.
Do you ask yourself questions or do you settle for what you know? I am a restless soul. I need to know as many things as my poor brain can handle. My mom said I was a very determined child, always hungry for knowledge. When I was in first grade, the teacher gave us homework to write a tricky letter, which we learned that day. Back in those days, we learned calligraphy and wrote with an ink pen. I could not get that tricky letter right, and I asked my mom for help, but she was too busy working on the farm. I struggled all evening, and then the electricity went off and I went to sleep. Mom cheated, and did my homework at night using a kerosene lamp. The next day the teacher gave it a huge “1”=“F”, the worst and only bad grade I ever received. I did not go home after school. I was sitting under a bridge, writing hundreds of letters until I ran out of paper and ink. I was writing that letter on the ground until I got it right. It was deep night when my father found me under the bridge still practising my writing. I do not think I ever settled for anything in my life. I like challenges.
When it’s all said and done—will you have said more or done more? Don’t we all? Yes, I am as guilty as anyone. If I could, I would. But as my grandpa would say: after the battle, there’s no need to swing fists. What is done is done and what is said is said. A word is not a bird; once you let it go, you can’t catch it. Usually I try to fix things and put them behind me. It is not fun to sleep with a restless conscience.
Which activities make you lose track of time? I am a child of nature. I grew up in the Carpathian Mountains and love the outdoors. I love the forest and the wind. I was always fascinated by the trees, the way they care for each other, the love they share, and the wisdom they have. I am a wind-worshiper. I can listen to its soothing whispers all day, taking my mind away from this earth. I love walking on the beach when the world is sleeping. I find peace in the splashing waves, which are calming and comforting, recharging my soul and body. I love the coolness of the morning breeze, brushing my shoulders and hair. I love getting lost in old cities with narrow streets and glorious buildings, thinking of people who walked on the same side of the road as I do. I love spending time with history in museums, antique or thrift stores, libraries and old bookstores. I would love to get lost in many places, but the reality is that life often takes me in different directions.
What’s your single greatest moment of personal failure? Looking back on it now, did it make you weaker or stronger? What did you learn? Life is an ocean of problems with tiny sparkles of happiness. Over the years, I learned that every one of my failures was a blessing in some way. I am who I am now because I failed many times, and every time I fell on my face, I learned something. I learned how to fight life. I did not necessarily like it, but each of my failures made me get up and look for a new way out. It forced me to move forward and pushed me closer to my destination. I cried, I complained, and I hated it. I doubted my strength, my dignity, my ability. “Why me? What have I done wrong? Why don’t things work my way?” I thought I would never forget my devastations. But God always works in mysterious ways; as soon one door closes, a second door opens. Now, looking back at my failures, they look more like successes, a good graduate school. As my grandpa would say, if you want to get somewhere, you must move; if you want to cross the river, you must wet your shoes. Simple and true.
Joy is found with simple awareness. What does your joy look like today? I am a grandmother now. I am blessed with two beautiful grandchildren and one more on its way. I finally have time to sit and play with my grandsons. Moving from place to place, country to country, job to job, I missed many beautiful moments when my own children were young. I wish I could reverse time and have these moments with my girls. We can have all the wealth in the world, but we cannot buy back the lost moments. The older I get, the more I value time with my family and friends.
If your life was a novel, what would be the title and how would your story end? The story of the little girl praying on the hill would finish the way she was dreaming. She found the way out and finally felt loved. Life beat her everywhere she turned, but like most children from her village, she survived. She left home when she was 16 and went looking for a better life in different places. She did not return home for a long time. She hated that God-forgotten place, surrounded by beautiful nature, but rotten to the last bone. Once in a while, she came back to check on her mother, still suffering from an abusive man. When she became a mother, she finally understood why her mom never left her father. Recently, her family sent her a picture of the vanishing village she was born in. She smiled. She was glad that this hideous place was coming to an end. God did not want to answer her prayers when she was a little girl, but He finally took care of this disintegrating place. Finally, it is disappearing from the face of the earth. Yes, God made a mistake and dropped her in the wrong place, but now she knows why He did it. She would never become the person she is today if she had not learned His lessons. Every day she thinks how blessed she is. She pulled herself out of the life that almost destroyed her. It was not easy to survive in this unfairly divided world, but what did not kill her, made her strong. This is my title…