The Backstory: COUNTING TO BANANAS
Prepare to go bananas for this week's backstory feature! Today we have Carrie Tillotson joining us with her picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book (Flamingo Books, 2022) with illustrations by Estrela Lourenço. This book has it all and is sure to be a favorite. Keep reading to find out what inspired Carrie and for your chance to win a copy.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book.
Thanks so much for having me, Andrew!
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book (Flamingo Books, April 2022) is somewhat obviously a picture book about counting—and fruit! It’s also about an opinionated banana who’s ready to be a star. But when the narrator can’t find rhymes for all the fruits and inserts animals into the story instead, Banana feels bruised. When will it be time for bananas?! This book has counting, fruit, animals, rhyme, metafiction, and amazing art by illustrator Estrela Lourenço.
What doesn't this book have?! There is so much for kids (and adults) to love. And if the concept wasn't incredible enough, Estrela's artwork brings it to a whole new level. The two of you made a perfect team.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from an interaction between my son and his swim instructor several years ago. Every lesson, my son had to perform a starfish float, which is a skill where he lay on his back and floated for ten seconds. The instructor counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” One day, my son gave her a hard time about not counting to ten, and she said, “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?” I knew in that moment, a picture book title was born.
Your inspiration is the perfect example of always being open and alert for new ideas. I love these instances where an author can pinpoint the exact source of inspiration.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book? 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 let the idea simmer for about a year before I even started writing it, because I had no idea what the story was about. When I finally started to write it, I only did so because I’d been sending my critique group the same old story for months, and I needed something new to share. Once I committed to it fleshing out the idea, I first journaled with a stream of consciousness approach to see what ideas bubbled up, and from there, the bones of the story were born!
I think many authors, myself included, can feel a sense of urgency when a new idea strikes. Your example here is a great reminder of giving our ideas and ourselves space to breathe until the time is right. Had you tried to write BANANAS after that swim lesson it may have been a different story entirely.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Well, clearly from my son’s swim instructor! I have some nonfiction manuscripts I’ve worked on that are topics I’m just fascinated with on my own. And my other fiction ideas tend to bubble up a lot with my son. But sometimes I get ideas from the news, walking in the park, or listening to the radio. Kind of a bit of everywhere.
Conversations with children or better yet, eavesdropping on children is such a treasure trove of inspiration. They are so free and uninhibited with their thoughts that it can lead to the best and most ridiculous ideas.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
It’s hard for me to pick the most inspirational or impactful, but one book might be Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, which I read repeatedly, sitting in a chair with my friend when we were five years old. I loved all the silliness in it, which seems to carry over into the things I like to read and write now. Also, one particular phrase from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear was instrumental for me, which I’ll paraphrase here: Perfectionism is fear in high heels. I have dealt with perfectionism for much of my life, and realizing that it is actually a form of fear was a huge breakthrough.
Thank you for sharing that. I am sure many readers have had similar struggles and I hope the words you have shared can help them take steps toward overcoming those fears.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Hmm, well I don’t know that I have any must-haves, but some preferred-haves are a notebook and pen, and a cup of decaf coffee with cinnamon and cream, or a cup of Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea. I occasionally will build a blanket fort to write in, which is my ultimate favorite, but I need some better seat cushioning to be able to sit in there for long.
A blanket fort?! You have just raised the drafting game and helped me set a new career goal. I had never thought of it before, but perhaps all picture book authors should be writing in forts. What better way to get into a childlike mindset?
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
My best advice is to get out of your own way. If you feel like there’s something you want to try in your creative life, consider what’s stopping you. I wanted to be involved in making children’s books for years. Once I realized the biggest thing stopping me was myself, I dove in and haven’t looked back. I realize there may be different obstacles and challenges for everyone, but sometimes we are our biggest block.
YES!!! We can't make any progress towards our goals until we set our minds on achieving them. I love, love, love this advice. And you are right, there will be obstacles, but I think once our mind is set on our goal we then have the motivation and perseverance to overcome those obstacles.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Yes! I have a second Banana book, B is for Bananas: A Going Bananas Alphabet Book (Flamingo Books, Spring 2023), illustrated by Estrela Lourenço of course. In this sequel, our opinionated banana returns to disrupt the conventions of a bedtime alphabet book. I can’t wait for readers to discover more about this new banana adventure!
How fun! I am so glad Banana is returning and the premise of this one is just perfect. Congratulations!
Where can people connect more with you?
Readers be sure to follow Carrie on social media for the latest updates on her writing. And don't forget to check out COUNTING TO BANANAS (Flamingo Books, 2022) with illustrations by Estrela Lourenço.
Carrie thank you again for taking the time to chat and share the story behind the fabulous, COUNTING TO BANANAS. I loved learning all about it and your process.
Carrie is generously offering a copy of COUNTING TO BANANAS 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 CARRIE TILLOTSON
Carrie Tillotson is a biostatistician turned children’s book author, whose debut picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, arrives on bookshelves in April 2022.
As a child, Carrie loved to read, paint, and draw, and thought books were written by dead people. She later met a real-live author and realized she could be an author one day, too. After getting a master’s degree in public health and working as a biostatistician for more than 10 years, Carrie now sculpts her interest in science and fun into playful picture books. When not reading and writing, you can find her running, playing games, and eating ice cream (though usually not all at the same time). She lives in Oregon with her husband and son, two dogs, and two chickens. Carrie is represented by Tracy Marchini at BookEnds Literary Agency.
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.