mybigtreeMaria Ashworth is a dedicated children’s book writer who has just released a big new venture, a picture book entitled MY BIG TREE, illustrated by Bailey Beougher. What makes this book different than the ones I typically feature? It is with a smaller, independent publisher…but it has led to big things for Maria’s career. (You note the theme is BIG here, right?)

MY BIG TREE features a sweet little blue bird who has found a favorite place to nest in a big, swirling tree. Soon other animals think it’s the ideal place to be, too. The little blue bird isn’t ready to share her space and decides it’s no longer the “best tree to nest in.” She finds a new tree, but something is missing. In the end, the little bluebird realizes there is one thing more valuable than nesting in her favorite tree…

Maria, what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to challenge myself to write a concept book with a message. An idea came along where what if there was a bird who had something she loved, a big tree. And then what if everyone thought it was their favorite tree too. Would bird be happy sharing…???

The dog in the story doesn’t have a speaking role in this production, so how did he come to be?
At first I had the animals in the tree and was satisfied. The illustrator perfected a dog in her portfolio so I thought, huh, wouldn’t it be neat to add a dog in each page doing his own thing? It would get the reader curious, maybe even make them suspect the dog was up to no good, especially near a big tree. But he is just a dog doing his thing on every page with no real purpose other than to create more curiosity surrounding the big tree.

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What do you want kids to take away after reading MY BIG TREE?
The message is about friendship but also that materialistic things are not what is important in life. Building relationships with others, having friends is what matters. Toys and things are just stuff. They are a temporary happy. Relationships are forever and can last a lifetime.

Your book has a classic feel. It’s a friendship book, a counting book and a search-and-find book. How would you describe it?
It has a BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR feel with a hint of Handford’s WHERE’S WALDO? books, but aimed at the younger set. I wanted the animals to be placed randomly throughout the book so kids would have fun finding the animals in the tree. Then at the end, the animals join together in their grouping so children can make sure all the animals are accounted for. And I snuck in some chicks so they’d better not miss those!

This book is with the Spork imprint of Clear Fork Publishing in your home state of Texas. Can you tell us how you decided to self-publish at first and then sign with them?
My critique group enticed me into self-publishing. I have a couple of gals who are gurus in the self-publishing market. One of them is Indie and boasted how being an independent author reaps more benefits. I felt I had put in my time into the writing world and was salivating to get myself out there. To date, I’ve accumulated a hundred and seventy-five rejections from my submitted work. I’m a salesperson by nature and knew I could do it myself instead of waiting on rejections.

So I was all ready to self-publish MY BIG TREE–I found the perfect illustrator and had my finger on the “send” button to the printer…but then I went to my first Texas Library Association conference. I met an editor from Clear Fork and we grabbed coffee together. I told the editor about MY BIG TREE, which she loved, and offered to be my publisher. She also asked what else I had stirring in the pot! It’s all a fairy-tale ending after that, with a multi-book deal. IGGY LOO is coming out this winter, with TOMMY JAMES, THE LITTLEST COWBOY IN RECKON’ series following next year. I am blessed.

What are the advantages to working with a small publisher in your own backyard?
I see for ME a BIG advantage and that is I am asked my opinion on everything. Right down to who I see as an illustrator for the book to the vision and look of my characters. I’m not sure it’s this way with all small press editors. Matter of fact I know it’s not, because a writer friend is with a small press and doesn’t have the same relationship I do. I think after seeing the work I put into MY BIG TREE she saw my vision as a writer. The editor and I hit it off like sisters. Joining forces with her felt right. The publisher is only three years old. I want to make them just as much as a success as I hope to be for them.

Congratulations, Maria. Your experience just proves that it pays to keep writing…and always have more than one story ready to go. You never know when someone will ask for MORE! Best wishes with THE BIG TREE and your upcoming titles.

Hey, BIG NEWS! You can win a copy of MY BIG TREE, just leave a comment below. What BIG things are you planning for your writing career? One comment per person. US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly chosen in early September.

mariaashcroftMaria Ashworth volunteers her time when she’s not writing for the Maud Marks Library Friends Board in Katy, Texas where she serves as President, as well as a Member-At-Large for the Friends of the Harris County Library. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Some of Ms. Ashworth’s picture books and middle grade novel manuscripts have been nominated as finalists in several contests. She’s published a handful of short stories through contests and a women’s anthology. Visit her at MariaAshworth.com.