Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Behind the Book. . . with Linda Ashman (& a Giveaway!)

Where do your ideas come from? It's the most common question we cottagers hear at school visits. From first spark, to rough draft, to final manuscript, to finished art—the journey is fascinating, and each book has its own unique path from idea to publication.

Speaking of journeys, we invited the lovely and talented Linda Ashman to the cottage today, to tell us about the inspiration for her new picture book, Over the River and Through the Wood, which follows four families as they venture out to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving.

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

New Books

Over the River & Through the Wood 
Illustrated by Kim Smith
Sterling Children’s Books (October 2015)

★ “Thoroughly relatable and enjoyable.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

Rock-a-Bye Romp 
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House (January 2016)

★ “Gently funny and eminently reassuring.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

Henry Wants More! 
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


  1. What a wonderful ride through your inspiration to the final story. You are reminding me to think back to songs form my childhood. Thank you!

  2. I love your "contemporary take" with diverse families gathering together. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Sometimes we forget that songs are such a major part of childhood. Great reminder and a wonderful update to a classic song from the past.

  4. That sounds like a fun exercise perfect for PiBoIdMo inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story, Linda :). Love the art too!

  5. I absolutely love this idea! Congratulations on a winning story! And I'm motivated to try my own adaptation of a traditional song. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. The ideas that popped in my head when you spoke of the different family members all trying to get to the same place from different areas of the country! This really opened up some ideas for me. Thanks for the read.

  7. Thanks for the interesting peek into your process & link to the first draft. This book looks like a perfect read-aloud for the season.

    Also, I didn't realize that Meredith was your editor. Lucky you! She's great. :)

    Thanks for visiting, Linda!

  8. Loved seeing your process Linda and I can't wait to read "Over the River".

  9. This sounds like a great book! Debbie

  10. I hope I win. This book sounds wonderful. If I don't win, I'll buy it. Thanks for sharing, Linda. I so enjoyed learning what your process looks like. :-)

  11. Oh this is just great! Thanks so much and can't wait to read "Over the River".

  12. Thank you for sharing the story behind the story. :) And yes, the song is now stuck in my head.

  13. How utterly charming. Clever. Fun. Hope I win the book.

  14. Adaptations! It's amazing how many methods of inspiration we can stumble upon.

  15. What a beautiful book! Thanks for sharing your draft.

  16. Evil is sometimes beautiful. Selling us a positive message laced with poison is, in my mind, a criminal act.

    Take a second look: one "couple" is comprised of two male homosexuals. This is NOT a family book.

  17. Dream cabins are arranged and structured essentially for sentimental occasions for honeymooners and couples needing to invest some forlorn energy in harmony and comfort. Mental Capacity Psychiatrist