The Backstory: I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP'S COLOSSAL JOURNEY
I love the opportunity to feature debut authors. It brings me so much joy to help celebrate the momentous occasion of their first book baby. And today we have just such an author. Kelly Rice Schmitt is here with her debut picture book, I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP'S COLOSSAL JOURNEY (Lerner Books, 2023) with illustrations by Jam Dong. Keep reading to find out how this story came to be and for your chance to win either a copy of I SHIP or a non rhyming pb manuscript critique.
AH: Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration
behind I SHIP: A CONTAINER SHIP’S COLOSSAL JOURNEY.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
KS: I Ship is an informational fiction picture book offering a behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating world of container shipping! It follows a mega container ship’s journey from load to discharge—with all the joys and struggles of this life at sea along the way. Narrated by Ship herself, the book showcases the technology and people that keep our global supply chain moving. It’s estimated that more than 85% of the world’s goods move via ship, but most of us never think about how our items get to our doorsteps.
AH: What a fascinating topic! The idea that 85% of goods move via ship is one that will blow kids' minds and have them hooked to learn more about this idea.
AH: What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea
KS: My background is energy supply and trading, and my first two jobs had “ship tracker” in the title. I followed ships’ movements to estimate U.S. imports and their impact on global supply balances. In my third role, I scheduled barge movements along the Mississippi River. After these experiences, I knew I wanted to do a book about shipping and trade. The idea hung out in the back of my brain. In 2015 I wrote the idea “Eric Carle’s 10 Rubber Ducks process focused on a cargo ship.” In 2019 I wrote down “Ox Cart Man meets container shipping industry.” Despite the fact that I SHIP has a lot in common with those ideas, at the time, I couldn’t make those work!
AH: Talk about writing what you know! I love seeing how your work experience informed this inspiration.
AH: How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now I SHIP? 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?
KS: This story seed definitely needed time to grow. For years, I knew I wanted to do a picture book about shipping, but I couldn’t figure out the angle. Then in 2021, when the Ever Given container ship got stuck in the Suez canal and caused logistical ripple effects worldwide, my wonderful critique partner, Christine Abely, suggested that was the picture book approach. I later combined this idea with the first person narration style I had created in another manuscript to create I Ship. It took ten years from the seed of the idea to a written first draft, but once I had my angle, it was something undeniable I had to write and it came through quickly, ready to submit within a few months.
AH: Wow! This is the perfect example of giving an idea the time it needs to grow. I think many authors can relate to having an irresistible concept, but not seeing the path forward. I am glad this idea continued to hang out in the background of your mind until that perfect path revealed itself.
AH: Did I SHIP undergo any major changes/revisions from the original version? If so,
what led you to make these changes?
KS: Yes! My editor, Carol Hinz at Lerner, and I connected in an amazing SCBWI Ohio North remote conference called the Triple Scoop Retreat, which included live editor feedback on your manuscript. You then had the chance to do a written critique follow up with your editor. (I highly recommend this conference if it’s ever done again!) Carol loved my initial idea of a container ship book told in the first person, but felt that my initial story of the ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal was too narrow. She asked that I widen the book’s focus to be generally about shipping instead. She also wanted to not further anthropomorphize the ship beyond being the narrator to be able to keep the focus on container ships and people that run them. From, there the bones of the final I Ship were born. The other changes worth noting came after the book was acquired during my work with U.S. Merchant Mariner Bryan Boyle, who helped us ensure the text and art were accurate to real container ships. If you enjoyed the book, check out his beautiful YouTube channel (@bryanboyle) on container shipping life.
AH: I am a huge proponent of authors taking every opportunity for which they have the bandwidth. It can feel like there is such a small chance of success coming from them, but your story proves otherwise. And while I know we can't all count on conference opportunities turning into published works, we can embrace the idea that each opportunity we pursue opens us up to further potential opportunities. The learning, community, and possibilities make it all worth it!
AH: Are there any books/authors that you feel influenced your work on I SHIP?
KS: I was inspired by Water is Water by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin for it’s brevity and use of figurative language. I also studied these attributes in Candace Fleming’s nonfiction works.
AH: As writers there are so many amazing resources available from books to webinars
to organizations. What kidlit resources have been the most beneficial to you?
KS: The first resource is your library. Before you decide to write picture books, read at least 100 published in the last 5 years. Analyze them. What do you like, not like? What are their themes? Structures? What do they all have in common? After better understanding the product, 12X12 and SCBWI are my top 2 recommendations for
anyone looking to jump into writing picture books. I also love Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul for writing craft and the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market to understand the market. I also loved and benefited tremendously from #pbchat and that mentorship program (Hannah Holt was my incredible mentor), but it is no longer active. However, the KidlitHive from #pbchat founder Justin Colon has AMAZING class offerings on specific subjects as does The Writing Barn. They are fantastic to dive deep into a certain topic. AND although #pbchat retired, there are new mentorship programs like #KidlitRisingStars that I always encourage everyone to apply for. What have you got to lose?! My last plug is to take advantage of the many FREE writer-run kidlit writing contests and challenges Tara Lazar’s #Storystorm, Vivian Kirkfield’s #50preciouswords, the Fall Writing Frenzy, and Susanna Leonard Hill’s contests to name a few. You can learn a lot by reading others’ entries and by forcing yourself to fufill a prompt. And Storystorm is a surefire way to get new ideas!
AH: You have compiled an impressive list of resources! I don't know if I could put together a better one. New writers take note of the opportunities listed above and check them out!
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
KS: I am able to share that I SHIP is the first in a series of picture books releasing over the next few years but I can’t yet say much more. Get excited for more STEM industry fun! I also have another informational fiction book under contract with Knopf that is not yet announced.
AH: Yes, to vague publishing responses. Congratulations on having more on the way and thank you for continuing to write STEM focused books that can be added to homes, classrooms, and libraries.
Where can people connect more with you?
KS: My website is www.krschmittwrites.com and readers can subscribe to my quarterly newsletter there too. On social media, I am @krschmittwrites. Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, X (RIP Twitter), Threads and Bluesky. Let’s connect!
AH: Readers, please connect with Kelly on social media and check out her website for more information about I SHIP. And while you are at it, please consider supporting I SHIP in any way you can.
This could include:
- ordering from your favorite indie
- marking as want to read on Goodreads
-leaving a review
- making a library request
Kelly, thank you so much for joining us! It was wonderful learning all about how I SHIP came to be.
Kelly is offering readers their choice of a non rhyming PB critique MS up to 800 words or a copy of I SHIP.
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 social media and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT KELLY RICE SCHMITT
Kelly Rice Schmitt is a former energy trader and children's writer who loves getting small humans excited about big ideas . . . like container shipping! Although she has scheduled ship logistics and tracked energy shipments around the world, she has never worked on a container ship. Kelly lives in North Carolina with her husband, young children, and many stacks of books. I Ship is her debut book.
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 books, OLLIE, THE ACORN, AND THE MIGHTY IDEA (Page Street Kids, 2024) and HOPE AND THE SEA (WorthyKids, 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.