The Backstory: HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL
One of my favorite things is when authors return to The Backstory with new books! Back in June of 2021, Becky Scharnhorst joined the blog with her debut picture book, THIS SCHOOL STINKS! And now she is back again with her third pb, HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL (Flamingo Books, 2023) with illustrations by Jaclyn Sinquett. Once again, Becky has paired her sense of humor with relatable childhood experiences to bring us a book that kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love! Keep reading to learn more about this incredible book and if you are interested, click below to read about Becky's first visit to the blog.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
How to Get Your Octopus to School is a humorous back-to-school picture book about a young girl trying to get her octopus ready for his first day. Unfortunately, octopuses are clever creatures with exceptional hiding skills. So first, she’ll have to find him. It’s perfect for any child experiencing first day jitters, as well as any parent who has struggled to get their own little ones out the door.
What a fun way to approach a back-to-school book. And with your school nerves and struggling to get ready hooks you have something I imagine all families can relate to. I know at least mine can!
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
This book was partly inspired by the first story I ever wrote. It was about a little girl who was so worried about her first day of school, she turned into a cuddle monster. Her newly sprouted tentacles allowed her to carry all her family members (and her goldfish Floyd) to school with her. It received some nice feedback from agents, but I eventually shelved it. Two years later, my son and I were googling octopus camouflage videos for one of his school projects. After watching an octopus disappear by expertly blending in with a plant, I became captivated by these fascinating creatures. I knew then I needed to rewrite my story with an octopus as the main character. All the lines are different, but the heart of the story remains the same. Sidenote - If you have not watched any octopus camouflage videos in your life, do that now. You will be amazed!
I love that you were able to give an old manuscript new life. I think this is a great reminder to writers that even those shelved ideas have merit and can resurface and be repurposed with new ideas. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go watch some octopus camouflage videos.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL? 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?
Once I decided to rewrite the original story with an octopus as the main character, it all happened very quickly. I rewrote the whole thing in one sitting and made very few changes before sending it along to agents. That doesn’t usually happen for me, but this story had been lurking around in the corners of my mind for two years. I think sometimes if we allow a manuscript to rest, our subconscious will work out some of the issues. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away for a while.
You are right! That time away from actively working on a manuscript does not mean no progress is being made. Our subconscious is a wonderful place for our WIPS to linger in and sort themselves out until it is time to commit them to the page.
Did HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so, what led you to make these changes?
As I mentioned above, the manuscript did not go through any major revisions once I rewrote it in its current form. However, it is vastly different from the original manuscript. For example, the original manuscript was written in 3rd person POV and it featured a little girl as the main character. How to Get Your Octopus to School is written in 2nd person POV and there are two main characters, a young girl and her octopus. I honestly don’t know why I decided to write it in 2nd person other than it felt right. After watching the camouflage videos, I imagined how hard it would be to find an octopus, and the 2nd person voice just popped into my head.
The 2nd person POV is perfect for this story. It does such an effective job at pulling the reader into the story. This combined with Jaclyn's playful artwork will have the children feeling they are part of the action and giggling their heads off.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I find inspiration everywhere! I can find it in a conversation that made me laugh or in a new plant that managed to survive despite my excessive overwatering. I even found inspiration in a funny seagull video! I think the key to finding inspiration is being open to the world around you.
So true! Being in the right state of mind and being open to those creative sparks is key. And the more we practice the easier it becomes to notice the wealth of ideas surrounding us.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
A few books that have been helpful to me are Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Scott Dikkers How to Write Funny. But the books that have been the most inspiring and the most impactful are other picture books. I get excited every time a new Tammi Sauer, Bob Shea, Ame Dyckman, or Ryan Higgins book comes out. I especially enjoy funny books since that is typically what I write. Some favorites are Not Your Nest, Dandy, Neck & Neck, I Can Only Draw Worms, Ode to a Bad Day, Poopsie Gets Lost, and Vampire Vacation.
You have named some powerhouse authors and amazing books! Reading within your genre is a great way to up your inspiration.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
I always have a glass of ice water next to me and either my computer or a notebook and pencil. The only other requirement is a quiet space. I’m easily distracted, so I can’t listen to music or have anything else going on around me when I’m drafting a new story. If I’m working on revisions, I can handle a little background noise, but it’s not something I ever choose.
I agree with the need for quiet. How am I supposed to hear my characters talk to me if there is other noise? I am always impressed by authors who can create in busy environments. The idea of a coffee shop or park sounds wonderful, but I know very few words would make their way onto the page in those settings.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Focus on the writing! It’s easy to spend hours on social media networking with others because the writing community is full of amazing, wonderful people. It’s also easy to end up taking too many classes or watching too many webinars because there are oodles of great opportunities out there. There were times when I was taking so many classes and watching so many webinars, I never had time to write! So make sure you prioritize the writing. I’m saying that to myself too!
I am sure I am not the only one who needed to hear this. Those writing-adjacent activities have their place, but can easily steal away precious writing time. I can't even count the number of times I have complained I don't have time to write after having just spent a significant amount of time glazed over and looking at my phone.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I don’t have any news to share, but I do have a manuscript on submission I’m excited about. I’m also working on a new manuscript that is different from what I usually write. It’s a lyrical manuscript inspired by a cottage I visited every summer as a child.
Well, best of luck with your submission and on your new manuscript. It sounds delightful. And if you have any free time, I know a class of second-graders who would love to read more about Stuart and his adventures.
Where can people connect more with you?
I love connecting writers, teachers, parents, and librarians on Twitter and Instagram, though these days I’m more often on IG. My handle on both platforms is @beckyscharn. You can also reach out via my website at beckyscharnhorst.com. Thanks so much for having me, Andrew!
Readers be sure to connect with Becky for all her latest writing news! And while you are at it, preorder yourself a copy of HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL (Flamingo Books, 2023) with illustrations by Jaclyn Sinquett.
Becky, thank you so much for joining us and letting us in on your inspiration for HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL. I know this book will be joining my lineup of back-to-school read-alouds and I can't wait to share it with my students.
Becky is generously offering one winner a copy of HOW TO GET YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL. (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 BECKY SCHARNHORST
Becky spent most of her childhood playing in lakes and reading books. Now Becky spends her days writing children’s books and working at her local library. She is the author of My School Stinks (2021), This Field Trip Stinks (2022) and the upcoming How to Get Your Octopus to School (2023). When she’s not reading or writing, Becky can be found hiking through the woods, baking something sweet, or thinking happy thoughts. She currently lives in Central Wisconsin with her husband, two kids, and several silly pets, but sadly, no octopuses.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew Hacket is a teacher by day, parent by night, and writer in the nooks and crannies of life. When it comes to his books, Andrew aims to create stories that tickle the funny bone and hug the heart of readers both young and old.
Andrew is the author of the early reader, CURLILOCKS AND THE THREE HARES (The Little Press, 2024) and the picture book, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024). Additionally, his short story, THE TUNNEL, has been chosen for inclusion in the SCBWI anthology, The Haunted States of America.
Andrew lives in Massachusetts with his wife, three young children, and puppy, Gus.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.