Carolyn Bennett Fraiser grew up just south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and has always been fascinated with astronomy. As a former journalist, she loves discovering more about nature and uncovering stories buried in history that fascinate kids. She teaches creative writing workshops for middle and high school students. When she is not writing, Carolyn enjoys playing the piano or photographing waterfalls near where she lives in western North Carolina. Her book Moon Tree: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree (illustrated by Simona Mulazzani) will be released by Reycraft Books in Fall 2022. Visit Carolyn's website to learn more about her and her work.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
I remember always wanting to be a writer, but all throughout college, I heard over and over again, “Do not write for kids. It’s too hard.” So I focused on writing for adults. Writing for young readers wasn’t even on my radar until I lost my job in 2010 and began teaching creating writing at an after-school program. One day the director approached me and said, “You should write for kids.” I laughed and said, “No way. It’s too hard.” She persisted and said the same thing to me two or three more times. I thought she was crazy. Then one day, an idea for a children’s book popped into my head, and I decided to write it down. I was hooked, and the rest was history.
2. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Yes. Since I write picture books, I often am working on two or three projects at the same time, but they all aren’t in the same stage of development. I may be drafting one project, revising another, and fine-tuning a third to send out on submission. This year, I started working on a middle-grade project and have tried to focus only on that project. It’s hard since I like to bounce between projects when I get stuck.
3. What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?
I had the privilege of being mentored by Vivian Kirkfield as part of the #PBChat Mentorship Program. When I started the program, I had been working on children’s books for about six years and was frustrated at the lack of response. My confidence was very low. But Vivian simply told me not to give up – that everyone she knew who had persisted eventually found some kind of success. She gave me the confidence to keep going, and the book she worked with on became my picture book debut.
4. Where did you get the idea for Moon Tree: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree? What was your inspiration?
I was visiting the Cradle of Forestry, a museum in a national forest in my hometown, looking for a topic for a forestry article to submit to a children’s magazine. While there, I passed a tree with an interesting plaque. My eye caught the title, Moon Tree, and I literally backed up to read it. What is a moon tree? I had to find out. The story of Stuart Roosa and Apollo 14 fascinated me. I grew up along the space coast of Florida and had always loved the topic of space. I took a photo and tucked it away in the back of my memory, but it kept resurfacing. I knew I couldn’t ignore it, so one day, I just dove in, head-first, into the research.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
In 2019, I signed up for 12x12, intending to draft 12 picture books in one year. I didn’t make it past March. That’s when I stumbling across our local moon tree at the Cradle of Forestry. For the next six months, I immersed myself in researching the history of the moon trees, NASA, and the Apollo program. From there, I drafted and re-drafted the project several times before I landed on a version that started attracting attention, including the mentorship with Vivian Kirkfield. I subbed it out for the next eight months before it was picked up by Reycraft Books and I signed with my agent, Tara Gonzalez, in 2021. The book is expected to release September 1, 2022, which is really fast for picture books.
6. If you read Moon Tree to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
One thing that struck me during the final re-drafting of the book was that several individuals (including a third-grade girl) made a difference in the moon tree story. Without any one of them, the story may have been lost in history. So, I structured the book to focus on that aspect of the story. My hope is that children will see that, no matter how small they are, they can make a difference too.