Welcome, Linda! What's the story behind Over the River and Through the Wood?
So happy to be here at the cottage. Thanks for having me!
As a writer, the hardest part for me—always—is starting something new. What if it’s a stupid idea? Or it’s been done a hundred times already? So I’m thrilled on those rare occasions when an editor tosses an idea my way—which is how Over the River and Through the Wood came about.
Three years ago my Sterling editor Meredith Mundy asked if I’d like to write a contemporary take on this holiday song, with family members traveling to Grandma’s house using various modes of modern transportation instead of the traditional horse-drawn sleigh.
Would I? Of course! In discussing the idea further, we agreed that the characters should reflect most families today—not only far-flung, but also diverse in composition.
So, for starters, I had to decide how many adult siblings there were (four), where they lived (all over the country), and how they might make their way to Grandma’s house—which, in my mind, was somewhere in New England. Here’s the summary:
• Urban family—subway and train
• Suburban—by car
• Far Away—airplane and shuttle van
• Adventurous—ferry and hot air balloon
Those four families added up to 16 people. So, to help readers keep them straight, the siblings and their kids are introduced early in the book in this spread by illustrator Kim Smith.
Then off they go to Grandma’s house, in various ways, all to the tune of the original song (which, I learned, has a somewhat unfortunate way of sticking in your brain). Here’s the Urban family on the start of their journey.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t problems, so each family must endure some sort of travel glitch—e.g., an empty gas tank, a flat tire on the shuttle van—that leaves them stranded.
How are they rescued? Well, just when they think they’re going to have to tromp through the snow the rest of the way, a farmer and his trusty horse show up—repeatedly, at exactly the right moment—allowing each additional family to pile into the increasingly crowded sleigh (and allowing me to work in a horsey refrain: NEIGHHH!). Turns out those old-fashioned modes of transportation can be useful after all.
Whenever I write about inspiration or process, it tends to sound very straightforward and linear. Of course, most creative endeavors are anything but. If you’d like a more accurate sense of my “process,” feel free to take a look at a very messy, mostly incoherent draft of the manuscript here on my website along with the final version.
Linda is kindly GIVING AWAY ONE SIGNED COPY (US residents only please!). To enter the giveaway, leave us a comment letting us know you dropped by. We'll announce the on Tuesday, November 24th. Good luck!
And one last treat: scroll down or click here, to see a special Holiday Edition Literary Lunch, inspired by Linda's book, brought to us by the one and only Nina from Mambelly's Lunches with Love!
Linda Ashman’s many picture books have been included on the “best of the year” lists of The New York Times, Parenting and Child magazines, the New York Public Library and many others. She’s also the author of The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how-to” ebook. She lives with her family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more, visit lindaashman.com.
Illustrated by Kim Smith
Sterling Children’s Books (October 2015)
★ “Thoroughly relatable and enjoyable.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House (January 2016)
★ “Gently funny and eminently reassuring.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
Illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes
Penguin Random House (January 2016)
★ “A wonderful illustration of the exhaustion and joy that is life with a toddler.” School Library Journal, starred review