If you’ve been writing or illustrating for a while, you’ll understand how important of the unfailing support of critique partners is. They become an integral part of your creative process and are always there to cheer you on. That is how I feel about my dear friend and critique partner, Dawn Young. We have known each other for years, and she is always there to lend an ear, share advice, or hug the doubts out of me.
Meet the fabulous Dawn Young!
Dawn graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering, and later with an MBA. For years, Dawn worked as an engineer and, later, a manager at a large aerospace company, until her creative side called her to pursue her dream of writing children’s books. After reading and writing hundreds of corporate documents, none of which were titled The Little Engineer Who Could or Don’t Let the Pigeon Fly the Airbus, Dawn is thrilled to now be reading and writing picture books instead. Some of her best memories include reading to her kids while they were plopped in her lap, all giggling at silly, clever picture books.
Dawn lives with her husband, three children and golden retriever in sunny Arizona. Dawn is an active member of SCBWI and many other children’s writing groups.
Dawn’s books include COUNTING ELEPHANTS (March 2020) Running Press Kids, Hachette Book Group, and THE NIGHT BAAFORE CHRISTMAS (Oct 2019), THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER (Jan 2021), THE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (June 2021) and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS (Fall 2021) all to WorthyKids, Hachette Book Group.
A little something about Dawn:
Tell us a little about your background. What made you want to be an engineer?
When I was in high school, I loved math and science, so I decided to pursue a STEM field of study.
I considered architecture, but I chose engineering instead because it seemed broader with options for electrical, mechanical, civil and chemical engineering.
How was the transition from engineer to picture book writer?
I loved working as an engineer and particularly as an engineering manager, but with three little ones at home at the time, I felt it best to leave the corporate world temporarily (or so I thought) to raise my children.
My kids and I visited the library all the time, and after reading them story after story after story, I became obsessed with children’s books. My creative side combined with my picture book obsession compelled me to pursue a career in writing.
I feel like my background in engineering, and particularly all the math it entails, complements (pun intended) my career as a writer. I see rhythm, which is key to good writing, as mathematical, with its beats and sounds. I see rhyme, in particular, as mathematical, with its stress patterns and metrical feet. When I began writing, I was strictly a rhymer. Maybe it was the engineer in me that liked the structure, but I truly believe that starting out as a rhymer helped me develop an ear for rhythm and sound.
Also, in the stories we write, we attempt to resolve our main character’s issue. Some attempts work and some don’t. Engineering is like that. We have a problem and attempt to use root cause analysis and math, with formulas and equations, etc., to find the best solution given the situation.
What inspires you/ drives you?
My passion for writing stories that kids, and even adults, want to hug because they love them so much! What drives me is a desire to always learn and grow and raise the bar. With any particular story, if I get that unsettling, “something’s missing,” “if you stop now you’re cheating,” “you can do better than that,” feeling, the one that keeps me up at night, I feel compelled me to keep working on it until I get that “yes!” feeling.
Something readers may not know about you?
What most people don’t know about me is that I’m a math enthusiast. I love math! When I’m not busy writing and reading, I can be found doing math problems, sometimes just because… In high school, my dream was to have a math equation named after me, but now, I believe having my name on the cover of books is a million times better!
Do you have a writing community? If so, what does that look like?
I do. I feel very fortunate to be a part of such a fabulously generous and thoughtful kidlit community. The support and encouragement are incredible. No one knows a writer’s life like a writer does. I have two on-line critique groups and critique partners that have become much more than writing buddies; they are some of my closest friends.
What is part of your creative process/support system that you can’t live without?
For me, critique groups/partners are key to the process. We look to our critique partners for feedback to help us revise our stories, and their suggestions are invaluable. I find that I make a great deal of progress with my manuscripts when I, not only consider the feedback I get, but also the feedback I give. When I do a critique, I think my inner self is trying to speak to me through someone else’s work. Often, I find myself saying, Wait I just did that same thing! A critique you’re doing for someone can act as a mirror, enabling you to reflect on your own writing as well.
Have you ever thought about giving up? If so, what kept you going?
In 2017, my (then) agent, scaling back on her client list, dropped me. I was devastated, to say the least. I didn’t know if I had it in me to continue, so I threw myself a pity party and invited some of my writer friends. Luckily, my incredible critique partners RSVP’d NO and instead, (kindly) kicked me in the butt. And I’ll never forget this, on that very same day, one of my critique partners sent me an encouraging message on Facebook that said, “I believe in you.” Afterward, I went outside and noticed that a plant that I had written off as dead, spouted. A beautiful little flower, a sign of hope ̶ my sign of hope ̶ appeared.
I regrouped and emerged more determined than ever to pursue my dream.
Shortly after, I subbed to an agent that I thought would be a good fit for me. Fortunately, she felt the same, and I signed with her. In 2018, after years of reflection, revision, and rejection (and tears, can’t forget the tears), I sold my first picture book, COUNTING ELEPHANTS to Running Press Kids, Hachette Book Group, which released March 2020 and, then sold THE NIGHT BAAFORE CHRISTMAS which released Oct 2019, THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER (Jan 2021), THE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (June 2021) and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS (Fall 2021) all to WorthyKids, Hachette Book Group.
What has been the most helpful thing about marketing or publicity that you have learned that you could share with other new authors/illustrators?
I’m still trying to figure it all out. I do know that the writing community has played a huge role in spreading the word and sharing news about my books and can’t thank everyone enough for their support. I’m grateful to the bloggers who featured me on their blogs to share my journey and the book’s journey. I’m a part of a wonderful writer’s group called Reading Fun in 21. We all have books coming out in 2021 and the support is priceless.
About Your Current book:
The Night Baafore Easter
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
Published by WorthyKids, January 2021
How did THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER come about?
After THE NIGHT BAAFORE CHRISTMAS was released, my editor asked my agent if I had written any other Night Baafore stories, and in particular, if I had an Easter one. At the time, I had a Halloween version and a birthday version but no Easter story, so of course, I got right to work on THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER.
In the beginning, I struggled a bit. Christmas gave me so much material to work with – a tree, ribbons, bows, cookies, milk, wreaths, presents, caroling, and more, but Easter seemed somewhat limited. Then, I thought about all things related to eggs, and I remembered that when my kids were young their elementary school had an egg to chick club and the students loved it. That gave me an idea. I went into the school and talked to the teacher who ran the club. I learned about how the process worked, and soon the egg-to-chick idea found its way into the story. I researched Easter traditions and things began coming together. I added Easter bonnet selfies, egg dying, hippity-hopping, and before long I had an Easter draft written. Egg dying gave me the opportunity to add colors to the story, so readers could practice color recognition as well as (sheep) number identification. After I got some feedback from my wonderful critique group, I made some more edits and then sent THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER to my agent.
My agent sent the story to my editor, and she loved it. I had a few minor changes to make, then the story was ready. Pablo agreed to do the illustrations and, once again, he did an incredible job. THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER couldn’t have been in better hands!
Which is your favorite illustration in the book?
Pablo did such an amazing job with this book that it is truly hard to pick, but the one page that I always linger on a little bit longer is sheep 8’s Easter bonnet selfie page. I love her confidence. You know she thinks she’s rockin’ that bonnet!
During the creative process, was there anything that you had to let go of before THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER was published? You know, did you have to kill some of your darlings?
Fortunately, I did not.
The illustrations are incredible. Did you have any input regarding the visuals?
My publisher gave me the opportunity for input, but I had very little to offer since everything was perfect.
What do you want your readers to take away from reading THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER?
I want readers to laugh and have fun. The sheep are like children on a holiday morning, filled with excitement and wonder, minus the mess (or maybe not).
Adult readers may find that Bo’s night with the sheep resembles life with toddlers – full of good-spirited chaos!
Give us an interesting fun fact about your book?
I met with one of the teachers at the elementary school where my kids went. She helped me with the egg hatchery and shared her egg to chick club experience which helped me set the stage for sheep 6 and his egg nurturing.
What is next for you?
THE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL releases June 22nd and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS comes out this fall.
Any upcoming events?
Zoom school visits, a book signing event at Barnes and Noble and hopefully much more to come for COUNTING ELEPHANTS (March 2020) whose release was greatly affected by Covid, for THE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL (June 2021), and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS (Fall 2021).
How can readers connect with you?