Trick or Treat with Jess Townes!
Welcome to #SeasonsOfKidLit, all you wonderful humans and wizards! Many of us know how fun siblings can be...but how did we feel when they first arrived? The charming Jess Townes is here with her debut picture book Spellbound (illustrated by Jennifer Harney) which captures all the emotions that come with a new sibling. Willow is convinced her baby brother Rowan is indeed a wizard with the way he enchants those around him. Can Willow put a stop to his sorcery? Want to know more about Jess, Willow, and her new baby brother Rowan? Read on...
Q: Hi, Jess. It’s wonderful to have you on #SeasonsOfKidLit! I’m excited you could join and talk about your newly released picture book, Spellbound. First, can you share a little about yourself and your journey to publication?
A: Thank you for inviting me! Fall is my favorite season, so I'm excited to celebrate it on #SeasonsofKidLit!
I am a children's author and bookseller living outside St. Louis, Missouri. I live with my husband and youngest child, who is a sophomore in high school, and recently helped my oldest move to college! Our home is full of pets (our sweet sixty-pound lap dog and two feisty black cats) and music (I play the ukulele and am a vocalist, my husband plays uke, banjo, and mandolin, and our youngest is an avid percussionist/mallet player). I've worn many professional hats over the years, from retail management to non-profit coordinator to birth doula, but I've been a writer since I would pick up a pencil. I scribbled voluminous and embarrassing diaries as a child, wrote fanfic before I had heard the term fanfic, worked as a freelance writer, and now I write for children!
My journey to publication has been an amazing learning experience. I joined SCBWI in 2015, when I decided to get serious about pursuing writing for kids. I jumped in the deep end, attending as many workshops and conferences as I was able to, and became the Assistant Regional Advisor, then Co-Regional Advisor, for the Kansas/Missouri region. I also joined the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge and set deadlines for myself for drafts and revisions. Early on, I read a blog post by Kate Messner about Picture Book Math that really stuck with me, and I knew that I would need a lot of practice drafts, manuscripts that would never leave the proverbial drawer so to speak, before I had something that was ready to share. I joined critique groups, and eventually found my agent, Stephanie Fretwell-Hill, through a manuscript critique opportunity through SCBWI. Fun tidbit, when we first put Spellbound on submission, we received several passes in the first week from publishers who either couldn't take on another Halloween book or had concerns about it standing out in the crowded Halloween market. This was a total surprise to me and my agent, because neither of us saw Spellbound as a Halloween story at all! I tried to read the manuscript with fresh eyes and realized that by simply removing the word "witch" from the story, it would read the way I originally intended, as a new sibling story rather than a Halloween book. It worked, and was an important reminder that in picture books, every word truly counts.
Q: Spellbound puts a charming (and adorable!) new twist on sibling relationships. What inspired you to write Spellbound?
A: I worked for several years as a birth doula and lactation counselor, and during that time I had the privilege of watching many families grow. There is something truly magical about the way that love seems to multiply when we welcome someone new to our homes, and that idea planted as a seed during those years.
Q: Celebrating the magic of love, Spellbound enchants readers throughout with cute spells and funny scenes. What other magical elements can readers expect when flipping through the pages of your book?
A: Since we're celebrating seasons, I'd encourage readers to watch the passage of time in the book. The family lives in a treehouse, which in and of itself feels magical to me, and the natural world around them marks the passage of Rowan's first year of life. Jennifer Harney brought so much magic to the pages of this book; I'm convinced she is an actual wizard! Also keep an eye out for Houdini, who can be found on every spread of the book except one.
Q: Jennifer Harney does an amazing job with the illustrations. What are some of your favorite spreads from the book?
A: I'd share every page if I could! I absolutely adore Jenn's illustrations.
The opening spread with the treehouse is one of my favorites. I always wanted to live in a tree house when I was a kid, and I hope the setting sparks the imagination of young readers!
I also love the spread where Willow takes the binkies. There is so much going on in the illustrations, from her smug expression to Rowan's despair, Houdini's discovery to the very clever portraits on the wall.
Q: What other titles can we look forward to seeing from you in the near future?
A: In January, Groundhog Gets It Wrong (Dial) hits the shelves. I am so excited about this book, illustrated by Nicole Miles. It's about a groundhog who comes from a long-line of meteorological groundhogs and gets his first-ever prediction wrong. It's about perseverance, making mistakes, and trying again, and Nicole's illustrations are fantastic and hilarious.
In fall of 2023, Sometimes I Cry (FSG) is released. I recently saw early sketches from the illustrator, Daniel Miyares, and I did, in fact, cry at my computer looking at his gorgeous work. I can't wait to see the finished product of this book, which is an exploration of all the reasons we are moved to tears.
These truly sound fabulous, Jess! Can't wait to read all of your charming books!
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
A: A treat! I'd love to give away a signed copy of Spellbound to one of your readers!
Thanks for such a magical treat!
Contest Details: To enter to win a signed copy of Spellbound, comment below and let Jess know why you're excited to read her new book! The winners will be announced on or about November 4th.
*Note: Book giveaways will be shipped in the US only.
Reminder: Those who leave a comment on all posts will be eligible to win one (1) of ten (10) Rate Your Story Speed Passes.
About Jess Townes:
Jess Townes is a picture book author and bookseller. A lifelong storyteller, Jess has worked in public education, non-profit development, birth and lactation services, as a freelance writer, an actress, and currently works as a bookseller at Main Street Books in St. Charles, Missouri, but her favorite part of any job is the connections she builds with other people. She believes that there is no better path to those connections than through our stories. Jess lives outside St. Louis with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and a sixty-pound lap dog.
For more about Jess, check out the below links:
Jess’s website: www.jesstownes.com
To purchase Jess's books on Amazon, or to leave a review, click here.