Monday 19 September 2022

How to Answer Curious Questions Kids Ask on School Visits • by Natascha Biebow


I do a fair number of virtual school visits, which are hugely enjoyable ways of connecting with teachers and librarians as well as children in many parts of the world. The highlight for everyone is usually the Q & A when the students get the opportunity to ask questions and get answers to whatever they're curious about.


Other authors and illustrators will be familiar with many of these questions, like:


- Where did you get your idea?

- Why did you become an author?

- How long did it take to make the book?

And even the more personal types of questions, like ‘How old are you? and ‘How much do you earn? Are you rich?’


This is a portrait of me doing a school visit by Angely

Every once in a while, a child will ask you something that gives you pause, perhaps something that you don’t know the obvious answer to and you find yourself umming . . .


Here are a couple that have made me stop and think:

“How many times did you mess up on the book?”


I love the idea that children think that you need to ‘mess up’ to make a book.


And indeed there is a lot of messing up!


In the first draft  . . .


And the umpteenth drafts . . .


One of the umpteenth drafts of my book.

And in the illustration roughs . . .


Steven Salerno's rough doodle for the first spread of The Crayon Man


And sometimes even in the artwork!

Messing up is part of figuring stuff out. Messing up is to be human and it’s how we make better books and learn for next time.


Messing up






But I’m not sure I can count how many times I messed up to answer that kid's question . . .

“Are you and the illustrator friends?”

Ooh, wouldn't it be great if you could just hop on the phone to your illustrator, and meet up for pancakes or pizza or something? We could share about our lives, what we are making and maybe find out we both like dogs or collecting cool rocks.



Then I’d tell the illustrator how amazing they are at interpreting the words I'd written.


And congratulate them on making visual magic between words and pictures.


And sometimes, if we were on the subject of the book we're making together, I wouldn’t be able to resist offering my two cents about this and that. 


We'd be friends in no time, I'm sure!


But, if you’ve ever made a picture book, you’ll know that the process is rather different. Usually, the editor and art directors are the ‘go-betweens’, the champions and project directors of the picture book. The author talks to the illustrator through them. Very rarely do they meet – at least until the book is out in the world.


This process allows SPACE for each of the author and illustrator to each create freely and unencumbered, and to carefully weigh up and consider feedback to make the best book possible.


So, authors have to trust that everyone on team publishing has the best interests of the book at heart and that every decision that is made is for the good of creating something amazing for children. Sometimes that is HARD.


I’ve made friends with many authors and illustrators with whom I collaborated with my editor’s hat on. We play together, we write letters (and emails) to each other, we share cookies and coffee and we talk about one of our favourite things – books.

THE CRAYON MAN illustrator Steven Salerno and I have collaborated and exchanged many emails. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet met in person. I’d like to be friends with my book’s illustrator because we share something very important in common – we’ve made a book together!



I didn't know what Steven Salerno looked like until
he shared this photo for a joint blog post on his process.

“Do you sell every book you write?”

This question can be read in two ways:


Do you sell every book that you write?


If we sold every book that was printed that would be super super!

No bookstore returns.

No books pulped.

No more sitting in the bookstore at a signing waiting for a single person - anyone - to come and talk to you and buy a copy – the books would just fly off the shelves and the tables and you'd get to sign them all until they were SOLD OUT!


Do you sell every book you write?


Oh my goodness, wouldn’t that be AMAZING? Can you image if you wrote a book and it sold right away and you didn’t have to wait for ages and ages and ages for it to find a good home with an editor?


But on the flip side, it’s actually quite good that everything I write doesn’t end up

on children’s bookshelves because fairly often it needs polishing and loving and cooking some more, and then re-jigsawing and sometimes even










Luckily we have time, kind and generous critique group partners and editors to help us realize THAT.


and . . .


“What happened to Harold?”


Harold C. Smith was Edwin Binney’s cousin, with whom he ran Binney & Smith, the company that made Crayola crayons. Harold was the salesman in the duo, while Edwin enjoyed experimenting and inventing.

Harold made friends all over the world on his travels selling products. He later turned to writing and philantrophy.

Edwin and Harold outside the factory (From
The Crayon Man, illustrations by Steven Salerno)


You can never be quite prepared to second-guess what children might ask.

To get out of a tight situation, you can either quickly Google it under the table or . . . 


. . .  if you’re brave enough, admit you don’t know and make it a game. :We should all look it up, shouldn’t we?!"

What curious questions have young readers asked YOU on your author visits? 



Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. Find out about her new picture book webinar courses! She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at



Pippa Goodhart said...

I had a young child in a school in Hull gazing at me with big eyes all through my session. She'd gasped out loud when the teacher had told the class that I was an author. Her question, at the end, was, 'What's it like, being an orphan?'

Oliver said...

Amazing Hand Art we do art to for events