Welcome, readers, writers and jack-o'-lantern lovers, too! We have the extremly-talented, multi-published Nancy Churnin on the blog with us today sharing her and Anneli Bray's newest book, Lila and the Jack-O'-Lantern: Halloween Comes to America. When Lila leaves Ireland for the US, she misses many things but especially Halloween. When she finds there's no turnips to carve she must look for something else to use to bring Halloween to life in America. Will she be able to find the perfect replacement? Want to know more about Nancy, her new picture book that received a Starred Review from SLJ, PLUS want a chance to hear an awesome trick and win an amazing treat from her? Read on...
Q: Thanks so much for joining #SeasonsOfKidLit! We’re thrilled to have you Trick or Treat with us, and hear all about your book Lila and the Jack O’Lantern. It’s the perfect book to share this season! Please share a little about its journey.
Readers, click here to read SLJ's Starred Review of the book, too!
A: Halloween has always been a favorite holiday for me and for my kids. And I started wondering – as I do – about how these traditions started in America. When I learned that this was a gift from Irish immigrants who gave the holiday an American twist when they came to this country, fleeing the Potato Famine, I wrote a draft in 2013, excited to share this story of the gifts that immigrants bring us. But no one seemed interested. I kept working on it while my picture book biographies started coming out. I knew this had to be historical fiction because while the history was key, there was no way you could point to a particular person responsible for bringing Halloween to America. But I had to get comfortable with the flow of historical fiction. I had a lovely critique from award-winning author Leslea Newman on another historical fiction manuscript in 2019 (a manuscript which has yet to find a home), but her notes – which addressed the differences between historical fiction and nonfiction – helped me tremendously as I went back to this manuscript. When I finally sent it out again in 2021, it found a home right away with Albert Whitman. Lila was looking for a home in America and I’m so happy to share the story of how she found a home, a friend and a new way to keep beloved traditions alive in this book!
Q: This story is based on the myth of the Jack O’Lantern which was passed down from generation to generation in Ireland. What kind of research did you have to do for this myth, and what sources did you tap into?
A: I am a big fan of world mythology. I had studied and written about the Samhain celebrations that had been renamed All Hallows Eve and then Halloween, but I didn’t want to delve into that part of the holiday history. I wanted to stay focused on the Irish myth of the trickster Jack and the Jack-o’-Lantern that people carved and lit to keep him away. I found some good background on this from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the History Channel. The challenging part was to give just enough of Jack’s story to be fun and not too scary – just a little shiver for kids like Lila and young readers to enjoy without tapping into the Jack stories that adults might tell.
Q: When you get a story to the place where an editor falls in love with it, is your part done?
A: NO. Stories can always be better, sharper, funnier, faster, more insightful, more heart-tugging. If you are lucky enough to work with an editor who is honest and perceptive about places that need work, be grateful. You’re on this journey together to create the best and most enduring version of your story for children.
Q: Excellent advice!
Can you tell us more about some of your award-winning books? What other tiles of yours can we be on the lookout for?
A: This has been a very busy year for me with three picture books, my first board book and two-chapter books! Mama's Year with Cancer, co-authored with Shayna Vincent, is narrated by a child sharing what she learns about cancer, about helping and being helped when her mother is diagnosed with cancer, and comes out the same day as Lila and the Jack-o'-Lantern. In November, Valentines for All, Esther Howland Captures America's Heart tells the story of Esther Howland who started the first valentine card company in America in the early 1800s-- out of a bedroom in her parents' home. Counting on Shabbat is a rhyming board book about Shabbat, counting and kindness as a senior who starts out celebrating the holiday alone is greeted by a family that brings food and cheer. Counting on Shabbat comes out Nov. 7, the same day as Valentines for All.
My chapter books are biographies of Thomas Edison and Elizabeth Freeman. I am very grateful that I have many award-winning books that continue to be popular, including The William Hoy Story, on the 2023 California Reads list, Martin & Anne, the Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the 2024 California Reads list and Junior Library Guild selections Manjhi Moves a Mountain, winner of the South Asia Book Award, and Dear Mr. Dickens, winner of the National Jewish Book Award and Sydney Taylor Honor, which is the subject of an educational program at The Charles Dickens Museum in London.
Q: What an amazing list of titles and awards. Thanks for sharing those with us!
What is one of your favorite things about Halloween (or fall)?
A: I love the changing leaves of fall and how Halloween gives us an opportunity to change along with those leaves – to be someone else for an evening, to be creative in our costumes, our decorations, and the way we carve our pumpkins. Most of all, I love how it encourages generosity and community. It’s amazing, when you think about it, that we have set a day aside where people open their doors to kids they may not know and give them candy and treats. What a lovely message for kids that the world can be a kind place!
Q: BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite Halloween Candy? OR What candy pairs the best with your book?
A: Dark chocolate or dark chocolate covered almonds! As for what pairs best with my book, I hope kids will be inspired to try barmbrack or colcannon (there’s a recipe in the back) or maybe follow the Irish tradition of slipping a clean coin or ring in games or treats to see if the finder will find luck or a new friend in the new year.
Thanks again for joining us, Nancy! We can't wait to check out your new book!
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
Trick: Don’t give up! I always loved and believed in this story and was willing to wait and keep working and revising until Lila was ready for the world and the world was ready for Lila!
Treat: A signed copy of Lila and the Jack-o’-Lantern, Halloween Comes to America, with a matching bookmark
Thanks for such an amazing trick and treat!
Contest Details: To enter to win this amazing giveaway, make sure to 1) share this post on social media and 2) leave a comment below thanking Nancy for stopping by.
#SeasonsOfKidLit's Trick-or-Treat Winners will be chosen on or about November 5th.
*Books will be shipped in the US only*
Note: Those who leave a comment on all posts will be eligible to win one (1) of ten (10) Rate Your Story Speed Passes, perfect for quick MS feedback, provided by Agent Mentee Lynne Marie & Author Heather Macht.
About Nancy Churnin:
Nancy Churnin is an award-winning children’s book author who writes books that inspire kids to be curious and kind. Among her honors: the National Jewish Book Award, Sydney Taylor Honor, National Federation of Press Women's 1st Place, South Asia Book Award, Junior Library Guild selections, Silver Eurekas, Bank Street Best Books for Kids lists, National Council for the Social Studies Notables, A Mighty Girl picks and starred reviews. All her books come with free teacher guides, resources and projects on her website, nancychurnin.com.
For more about Nancy, check out the below links:
Facebook: Nancy Churnin Children's Books
For more about Anneli Bray, check out the below links:
To purchase Nancy's books on Amazon, or to leave a review for them, click here.
A special thanks to David Rodriguez Lorenzo for the amazing custom-signatures!