Jill Dana is an author, illustrator, award-winning filmmaker, and certified elementary educator. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Television and Film Production and a Master of Education in Elementary Education plus TESOL. Butternut (Marshall Cavendish International Asia), a children’s picture book, about a little butternut squash lost in a supermarket, is available now. A second book featuring Butternut, Butternut & Buttercup, is slated for release in March 2023. Jill is a member of SCBWI and the Author’s Guild. Visit Jill on social media @JillDanaBooks and her website.
1. What are some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids?
As a Rate Your Story judge, I have the honor of reading picture book manuscripts on a regular basis. To me, some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids are the same ingredients that make great art in general: emotion, truth, and inspiration.
Emotion: Does the story evoke emotions? Does it make the reader feel something? If so, which emotions?
Truth: Does the story come from the heart or some true place within the creator?
Inspiration: Does the story inspire the reader to look at something, someone and/or themselves in a new way? Does the reader see the world differently? Does the story inspire the reader to take steps towards a goal?
2. What do you feel you’ve gained from being a part of the children’s writing community?
I’ve met so many wonderful and inspiring friends in the children’s writing community. Attending conferences, joining SCBWI, joining various children’s writers groups, taking classes and immersing myself in the kidlit community has been a gift for my writing craft and for my growth as an individual. I’m so inspired by the creativity, generosity, and collaborative nature of the children’s book community. In addition to SCBWI, RYS, and more, I want to give a shout-out to the authors/illustrators in PBSunrays (Picture Book Sunrays), a wonderful book promotion group with amazing books here and on the way.
3. What are you working on? What’s next for you?
I’m thrilled to announce that Butternut is a series! The second Butternut book, Butternut & Buttercup will be released in Spring 2023 in the States (but is currently available in some countries). Butternut learns that it’s Buttercup’s birthday and wants to find her the perfect birthday gift, but he discovers that some birthday surprises are more about sharing experiences than material objects. And, there are more Butternut books in the works! Follow my social media for updates on the new releases.
4. What’s a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
I’m thankful to receive many wonderful reactions and responses to Butternut. One particular response that comes to mind was from a parent of a young reader. She told me that every time her children go to the supermarket now, they look for butternut squashes. I’m so happy her children are enthusiastic about the produce section.
5. If you read Butternut to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
Once a book leaves my (and illustrator Rachel Tan-Hwee’s) hands and is in the hands of a reader, it takes on a life of its own. There are many messages I’d like children to leave with such as considering different types of foods (especially produce), where foods come from, and a greater appreciation for nature. Butternut is also about identity, belonging, and being proud of your identity. I’d love for children to take any of those messages with them.
6. Where do you get inspiration for your characters? Are you influenced by people you know?
For Butternut, I was inspired by walking around the grocery store and seeing the multitude of wonderful fruits and vegetables. I was also inspired by former students who were unfamiliar with where food comes from and different varieties and types of produce. I found inspiration from the interesting names of many types of produce, particularly the name “butternut squash” which includes a compound word and words with multiple meanings. I hope young readers are inspired by this young squash’s adventure through the supermarket learning about himself and finding his place in the world.