I’d like to welcome back Dianne Ochiltree to the Spotlight. Today I’m featuring her newest picture book, It’s a Firefly Night. Stay tuned (below) for a chance to win a signed copy of this delightful book!
A fun story about a little girl who loves fireflies. With lush poetic lines paired with cheerful illustrations, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a firefly night! At the end are facts about fireflies. A great book for summer bedtime reading, and for anytime, really!
Welcome back to the Spotlight and congratulations on your newest picture book. I love fireflies! In fact, I never saw one until I was an adult and after I moved from California. How did you come up with the idea for this story?
It was sparked as I was sorting through old photographs for a scrapbook. I had found a faded Kodachrome image of my father and my tiny childhood self sitting on the front stoop of our old house, at sunset, on the Fourth of July—I know these details only because my mother, the family historian, dutifully noted them in the photo margins. Memories of those summer nights spent catching fireflies with my father immediately came to mind. I loved that special one-on-one time with my Daddy, and the little-girl adventure of staying up past bedtime to chase something as magical as fireflies…in night gown and bare feet, no less! While that special parent-child bond is the glue that holds the story together, I also wanted to help today’s kids become more aware and connected with the natural world through my main character’s actions: chasing, capturing, counting and releasing the fireflies she finds in her yard.
There are even fun firefly facts at the back of the book for grownups to share with their little ones after reading the story together.
The story is written in poetic form. How difficult is that? How many drafts did you write before you felt it was ready to submit?
Oh my goodness, it’s not so much a question of how difficult it is to write in rhyme but how compelled you are to do it. I happen to enjoy the creative challenge and don’t mind the extra steps that I need to take. The process is simple: my first drafts are basically written in prose. This allows me to work out the plot line, characterization, setting, and the mathematical element (like counting 1-10) without the added distraction of making it rhyme. Once I know everything else is working reasonably well, I can start on the rhythm and rhyme. I will have a huge manuscript with plenty of raw material to work with—far more, I believe, than I would have had if I’d worried about what rhymes with ‘orange’ from the get-go. In other words, worrying about making the lines rhyme from the beginning would have narrowed my choices and distracted me from creating a solid story. So I take my huge, wordy manuscript (“Write BIG” is my motto) and play around with a rhyme scheme and rhythm until I find one that feels right. I keep whittling down to essentials, to the best images and wordplay. It takes at least twenty drafts to get anywhere.
Love the illustrations. Do you get to communicate with the illustrator? When do you get to see the illustrations?
I love, love, love the illustrations, too! Betsy’s palette of midnight blues, glowing yellows, deep purply-pinks, and spring-grassy greens really capture the magic of a summer night. My first glimpse of the “look of the book” was about a year before the pub date, when a black-and-white dummy landed in the mailbox. However, I didn’t get to communicate with my illustrator, Betsy Snyder, until after the finished book was in my hand and I was permitted to give her my personal kudos and thanks. We were able to meet in person at last recently, recently when we did a library program together in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a thrill to speak with her about her own creative process for the book. It turned out we both had vivid childhood memories of ‘firefly nights’ with our own fathers, and shared a common love of nature. (Dianne’s interview with IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT illustrator Betsy Snyder.)
Tell me your favorite firefly night story!
While lots of fun times were had as I chased fireflies with our own kids, when we were lucky enough to live somewhere with a firefly population, I guess my favorite would be a story from my adulthood after the children were grown. It happened the first night we spent in our house in Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania. Located just outside the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, it was the most rural place I’ve ever lived before or since. My husband and I were exhausted after a long day and a late dinner on the grill. We sat in our lawn chairs as the stars blinked in the sky above—I’d forgotten stars could be that bright without light pollution—and all of a sudden, noticed the little ‘stars’ winking in the grass around us. The fireflies danced in circular patterns, floating above our lawn, flashing what I took as a ‘welcome home’ greeting. But I realized it was more than that: their glowing presence was a gentle reminder that even for grownups, if you take the time to notice, a summer night can still bring magic to your heart.
Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young, including of course her latest picture book, It’s a Firefly Night, for ages 3-6 from Blue Apple Books. Her books have been named to ‘best of’ lists, and her bedtime book, Lull-a-Bye Little One, has been a featured selection for the Dollywood Foundation’s Imagination Library literacy program for over five years. Her historical fiction title for grades 1-3, MOLLY BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, received the Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012. She is also a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, certified and the human half of a therapy dog team with the family dog, Sally. For more information about her books, go to www.ochiltreebooks.com
Win a signed copy of It’s A Firefly Night! Just follow these rules to enter the drawing:
1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me if you have a favorite memory of fireflies (or any other creepy crawly story). I’ve only seen fireflies twice in my life and both times as an adult. Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend from California was visiting and we were sitting on the screened porch at night. We saw twinkling in the yard – and they were fireflies! It was her first time ever seeing fireflies!
2. Leave your comment and email address by midnight EST Friday, August 9th. The lucky winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, August 13th.
3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.
Thanks for stopping by! Good luck and happy reading!