The Backstory: A PENNY'S WORTH
I am thrilled to welcome Kimberly Wilson to the blog today to share the story behind her picture book, A PENNY'S WORTH (Page Street Kids, 2022) with illustrations by Mark Hoffmann. This story is priceless and no doubt will become a favorite among teachers and kids. Keep reading to learn all about it as well as for your chance to win a copy.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind A PENNY’S WORTH.
Thanks so much for having me, Andrew!
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
A PENNY’S WORTH (Page Street Kids), illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, is a pun-filled story of a shiny new cent who feels like a million bucks. But when she’s told she’s not enough to slot-surf like Quarter or even pay for penny candy like Dime, she begins to doubt her value. Refusing to be short-changed, Penny sets out to find her purpose at any cost and ends up learning an important lesson about self-worth in the process.
The story also incorporates beginner money-math as well as back matter filled with penny fun facts and history, money equivalents, and resources to learn more.
Oh, this sounds like so much fun! I love me a pun and the teacher in me is dying to pick up a copy and start planning how to integrate it into my math lessons. And I am sure I won't be the only one. I forsee A PENNY'S WORTH becoming a staple in elementary classrooms.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
In January 2019, I had my Storystorm goggles on. When I looked at the coin jug on my kitchen counter through that lens, I saw something more––a plucky penny on a mission to prove she’s cent-sational!
Yes! Your premise alone had me hooked, but knowing this grew from a Storystorm idea makes me so happy. It is always so motivating hearing about people's successes with Storystorm and other kidlit contests. To me it makes what can seem so unattainable, feel possible and push me to keep participating and maintain a sense of hope.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now A PENNY’S WORTH? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
I’m a list maker, so I started with a list of every pun and idiom I could find about money––I even made some up! I banked those for later and wrote the first draft. It flew onto the page, but the next day, I scrapped that draft and started again. I felt the need to get this story out, but at times I struggled with making a clear progression from Penny knowing her monetary face value to realizing her self-worth. It ended up taking 6 rewrites, countless revisions, and over a year and a half to form the emotional arc of her story.
I also struggled with how to make Penny move from place to place. In the real world, money is passed from pocket to purse, etc. But I wanted her to have agency in reaching her goal, so she does things like sticking with quarter to get out of a purse and popping out of a hole in a pocket. Mark Hoffmann, the amazing illustrator, also helped by giving Penny and the other money legs––so fantastic!
I wrote a lot of this story in layers, and one of the most fun parts of the writing process for me was going back and editing the dialogue. I absolutely loved infusing each character with their own individual personalities. And I can’t forget the puns! I constantly revisited my list to find the perfect puns and idioms for each part of the story. It was like putting together a puzzle!
Thank you for sharing how this process unfolded for you. We often hear one side of the coin (see what I did there?) or the other in terms of getting a story down on paper immediately versus a lengthier process. I appreciated hearing how you navigated both as well as gave Penny the time she needed to discover that perfect emotional arc.
And I have to mention how incredible Mark Hoffmann's illustrations are. It is always interesting to see how an illustrator approaches bringing inanimate objects to life and Mark executed it perfectly. These characters have so much personality.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
If I open myself up and let my writing brain go wild, I can find inspiration almost anywhere! But the most successful places for me have been outside on a walk, at my desk while googling puns and idioms, and in the shower (this one is the clear winner!).
It's always the shower! It is true that those ideas are everywhere, but I like your acknowledgement that you have to be open to receive them. It definitely takes being in the right mindset to notice those bits of treasure that can blow past us in our daily hustle and bustle.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I could go on and on all day answering this question!
I’m a huge fan of Ame Dyckman’s humor. Reading books like Misunderstood Shark, Dandy, and You Don’t Want a Unicorn made me realize one of my goals is to make kids giggle through my writing.
I’m also inspired by books like Ben Clanton’s Rot, The Cutest in the World! and Jory John and Pete Oswald’s The Good Egg. I really love reading and writing about anthropomorphized inanimate objects!
Some mentor texts I admired while writing A Penny’s Worth were Linus the Little Yellow Pencil, by Scott Magoon, Eraser, by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant, Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture, by Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman, and Oliver: The Second Largest Living Thing on Earth, by Josh Crute and John Taesoo Kim. The last two have an informational spin, another thing I enjoy including in many of my manuscripts.
Such a great list! Ame Dyckman is a favorite in our house, especially Read The Book, Lemmings!
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
The biggest must-have, without a doubt, is coffee. My most-used tools are a Thesaurus, the Idioms by Free Dictionary site, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library app, my overflowing bookshelf, and my TUL colored gel pens. I’m inspired by everyday conversation, wordplay, the occasional bumper sticker, and reading––lots of reading! My furry officemate is always close by to lend a paw (or to snuggle).
Your workspace is so inviting. Having a window to gaze out is perfect and how could you resist such a cute officemate!
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
The best advice I’ve been given seems simple, but it’s what ultimately made Penny’s story what it is today. So that’s what I’ll pass on…Tell the story in your heart. Whether writing humor, lyrical, fiction, or nonfiction, the authenticity will shine through and make your story stronger.
There's possibly no better advice. Thank you for passing that along to our readers. It can be an easy trap to try and write to an agent or editor's wishlist, but I firmly agree with you that writing what is important to you will always lead to a stronger story.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I do! A DOLLAR’S GRAND DREAM (Page Street Kids), also illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, hits shelves spring 2023. In this punny sequel to A Penny’s Worth, Big Bill is a wranglin’ change makin’ dollar. Until he learns about the glitz and glamour of the grand life and wishes he were bigger. But when he gets his wish, he realizes livin’ large might not be as one-derful as he thought. Sprinkled with humor and money math (and more puns!), readers will learn about place values and the age-old lesson that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Congratulations on A DOLLAR'S GRAND DREAM. It sounds like the perfect sequel!
Where can people connect more with you?
My website: www.kimberlywilsonwrites.com
Readers be sure to connect with Kimberly and don't forget to pick up your copy of A PENNY'S WORTH (Page Street Kids, 2022) with illustrations by Mark Hoffmann, which is available right now!
Kimberly, I can't thank you enough for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind A PENNY'S WORTH. It was such a pleasure getting a peek into your process and I look forward to sharing your story with my students.
Kimberly is generously offering a copy of A PENNY'S WORTH to one lucky winner! (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT KIMBERLY WILSON
Kimberly Wilson loves writing punny, funny books for children, is always on the look-out for lucky pennies, and believes wishes do come true. A Penny’s Worth (Page Street Kids, April 19, 2022, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann, is her debut picture book. The sequel, A Dollar’s Grand Dream, hits shelves spring 2023. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two daughters, and their puppy.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
ANDREW HACKET always dreamed of writing picture books, but never believed it was possible. Then one day he thought, “I could. I should.” So he did (with a lot of hard work). And while he hopes no one swallows acorns as a result of his story, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024), he does hope kids will be inspired to grow kindness in their communities and stand up for themselves — without eating anyone, of course.
Andrew lives in Holden, Massachusetts with his wife and three children, all of whom are very mighty.