Author Bridgitte Rodguez, the author of A Walk Through the Redwoods, joins us to talk about her book, her imaginary friend (or lack of!), her inspiration for writing, a very unique skill and so much more. First, the details!
A Walk Through the Redwoods by Bridgitte Rodguez, illustrated by Natalia Bruno, and published by Reycraft Books.
Description from Goodreads:
It’s a perfect day for a walk through the redwoods,” a girl’s aunt tells her one gloomy morning. The two pack a lunch, zip up their jackets, and set off to explore a world of winding creeks, slimy banana slugs, and chittering birds that lives among the giant trees. Vivid imagery paired with factual sidebars bring this redwood forest–and the magic inside it–to life.
Releasing September 12, 2023, A Walk Through the Redwoods is a delightful and informative romp into a magical world of soft fallen leaves, flashes of brown and white, squishy yellow slugs, and the hum of the wind as the forest communicates with us. Each page takes us through a different world within this redwood forest, as we follow the journey of our main character and her aunt. Bridgitte Rodguez uses brilliant imagery to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of the Redwoods, while Natalia Bruno’s vibrant and intense illustrations form the canopy of these silent giants and their mysterious worlds. I have never been to the Redwoods, but reading this book makes me feel like I have.
Peppered throughout the pages are informative text boxes that help young readers understand the Redwood Forest. Rodguez explains the various types of flora and fauna that make their homes among the trees, as well as interesting tidbits about the “rain”, why we shouldn’t kiss banana slugs, and the importance of naturally occurring fires to maintaining the health of these beautiful trees. I was surprised to learn that some trees are over 2,000 years old!
This story is a quiet journey into a peaceful and magical world that teaches young readers that magic is all around them if they take the time to look.
My favorite spread:
My favorite spread features a sudden “rain” in the Redwoods, and the child looks up, eyes closed and tongue out, catching the drops. Not only does this wild, beautiful imagery set me so firmly in the world of this forest, but I learn that the trees collect rainwater and that it falls down from the branches even when the sun is shining.
My favorite lines:
We follow the wind to the edge of the world. The hills and mountains covered with redwoods. “The trees look so tiny from up here,” I say.A Walk Through the Redwoods by Bridgitte Rodguez
Meet the Author
As a kid, Bridgitte hated writing but she loved reading. She remembers getting her first library card at the small trailer that was the Rancho Peñasquitos branch of the San Diego Public Library, browsing the stacks and bringing home books. She always had a book in hand and quickly moved on to grown-up books reading anything by John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Amy Tan, and Isabel Allende.
This love of reading extended into high school and college at the University of California, Santa Cruz. However, the books changed from reading for fun to reading for class. While everyone else was reading online journal articles, Bridgitte would go to the library and bring home stacks of books for her research papers.
While in graduate school, at The George Washington University, Bridgitte again picked up reading for fun and decided that one day she’d like to write a book, but non-fiction. Ideas for a memoir or an anthropology textbook— as that is what she studied both in college and graduate school— filled her mind and random notebooks.
After graduate school, Bridgitte worked in the non-profit world at museums and hospitals. She bounced around Washington, DC, San Diego, and Los Angeles, before making the move back to the East Coast and settling in New York City. While in NYC, Bridgitte began substitute teaching for various private schools mostly with preschool and Kindergarten. She enjoyed being a kid again, surrounded by young kids— seeing the world through their eyes.
In 2020, something clicked, and Bridgitte dived into the world of writing for kids. Combining her interests in kids, learning new things, and writing. She now spends her days writing and reading all things kids books.
Tell us a little bit about how you became a writer.
I never liked writing as a kid. The only writing I did was in school and I disliked having to follow a formula or rules. I thought book reports were boring, I didn’t like analyzing the meaning behind an author’s words, I wasn’t into writing thesis statements and topic sentences for research papers, etc. I simply wanted to write what was in my head. But, I wanted to become a better writer.
I think I watched something on Oprah when I was about 11 or 12, and she said that in order to become a better writer, you needed to write. So I began keeping a journal. Something I did on and off until my mid-20s. In my 20s, I decided that I did like writing, and thought I would enjoy some type of writing as a career. But honestly had absolutely no idea what kind of writer/writing I could do. I didn’t think I could be a fiction writer— I didn’t know how to make up stories. I thought maybe non-fiction, as I enjoyed research and writing about topics I was interested in. Or perhaps personal essays, as I really liked stream of consciousness and writing how I felt about different topics— particularly current events, etc. But I just didn’t know how to go about it! I tried a number of different things: writing my own blog, writing for other blogs, and being a ghostwriter for marketing and travel blogs. I got gigs here and there, but certainly, never anything to support myself— and it was a lot of work to find topics I wanted to write about for not a lot of money.
Then in early 2020, something clicked, and I landed on writing for kids. I thought that was something I could do. I could write about anything I wanted, they were short, so would hold my attention, and didn’t require big words or fancy sentence structure. In short, there were no rules that I actually had to follow
I don’t believe I have ever had an imaginary friend, but I do often talk to myself! It is a way to organize my thoughts and tell myself that everything will be okay. So it’s almost like another person— a person outside myself, that often speaks to me in the third person.
When you first started writing, can you tell us how you discovered your writing community?
When I first got the idea for writing for kids, I didn’t know anything about current children’s literature. I remember all the books I had read as a kid, and a few of the more popular books, but didn’t have a great understanding of what was out there. I quickly did a google search on writing for kids; the first thing that popped up was SCBWI— the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The annual membership was inexpensive, and they seemed to offer a lot, so I joined. That put me on a path to understanding the basics of children’s publishing. I then joined Storyteller Academy, which offered a bunch of classes on writing craft and on learning how to draw— something I had always been interested in. I loved the approach to art and that anybody could be an illustrator. The writing craft classes provided a great foundation for learning about what a picture book actually is, how it is physically made, the structure/theme of picture books, and what goes into a typical story. It was a wonderful overview. I then discovered 12×12 which exclusively focuses on picture books. Their community and webinars have been invaluable in continuing to learn the craft and see what others are working on. Through all these various groups I have also joined critique groups and discovered critique partners and learned about other resources in the kidlit writing community. Later on, I joined Inked Voices where I belong to an accountability group and a number of other critique/review groups as well as participate in their webinars.
Other resources/groups that I have participated in are The Writing Barn and The Writing Barn’s Courage to Create program, courses and retreat center of The Highlight’s Foundation, Tara Lazar’s blog and Storystorm, Vivian Kirkfields blog, and 50 Precious Words, various Twitter Pitch events, Stimola Live events and of course, following other writers/illustrators.
This is tricky. I think both would be sort of scary. But if I had to choose, I would pick the ocean. That seems a little more known like I could go to the bottom and then come back up to the surface. Whereas space, I just imagine drifting out to the unknown and being lost forever!
Can you tell us about your journey from inspiration to publication of A Walk Through the Redwoods??
After I wrote that first draft on my phone, I typed it up in a document and shared it with a few different critique groups that I was in. I received feedback and continued to revise it. That fall, I participated in a Twitter Pitch event and submitted a tweet about the book. It received a like from an editor at Beaming Books. I followed up with the full pitch and sent the manuscript as requested.
A few weeks later, I heard back from Beaming Books, they were interested in the story. We talked back and forth a couple of times, but they ultimately passed as they weren’t quite sure where to fit the story or how exactly to market it, even though they loved it. So I went back to the drawing board with more revisions.
Then in May 2021, I submitted the manuscript to Reycraft Books. I had sent them something else earlier and received a nice pass from them. After receiving the pass, I looked again at their submission guidelines and what they were looking for and thought that my Redwoods story might be a better fit. So I sent it to them. And then promptly forgot about it. I moved on to other stories and continued to work on my craft.
Then in the fall of 2021, I received an email from Winsome Bingham and Reycraft, asking me if I would be interested in speaking with her about my story. Of course, I said yes! And we scheduled a Zoom. The first thing that she said on the call was that she loved the story, but that since they were small and only had four editors, all four of them needed to agree before they took something on.
Though she loved the story, the other three editors just couldn’t quite see a vision for it. They thought it read too much like a magazine article. But Winsome was a true champion for my story. She asked them, that if the author was willing, could she work on the story with me, and then resubmit it to them for consideration. There was no guarantee, just that they would relook at it. So that is what we did.
She was hugely instrumental in improving my writing, by showing me how to make engaging text for the reader. In short, she helped me become a better writer. We went back and forth a few times working on the text. During this process, the other editors asked to see the story— Winsome said we were still working on it, but they wanted to see it anyway. So she showed it to them. Then she contacted me.
She said that they loved it! That they could now see the vision and that she should offer me a contract. We went back and forth a few times on the contract, then it was signed. I delivered a final manuscript in early 2021. Then they went on to find an illustrator and now the book will be out in the world in September 2023.
When I was in college, I learned to stuff birds and small rodents for the natural history study collections.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was sitting on a bench in Central Park in August of 2020. I was looking out at the trees, not thinking of anything in particular. It was the first covid summer. The park, normally teeming with people, was quiet, peaceful. Though the bench I was sitting on was tucked away in the trees— you’d be surprised at how many tucked-away spaces you can find. In any case, something about looking at those trees— the furthest you could get from actual redwoods— inspired me to write what would become my debut picture book, A Walk Through the Redwoods.
I pulled out my phone and wrote a first draft of the story while sitting on that bench. I started writing about a little girl and her mom on this walk, then changed it to a little girl and her dad, but then realized, that I wanted to be in the story. I don’t have children but have several nieces and nephews, so it became a little girl and her aunt.
The experiences written about in the story were all from experiences I had as a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The campus is nestled among a redwood forest. It was during my four years there, that I developed an appreciation of nature and love of the redwoods. I wanted to share that experience with others— especially since redwoods are only found in a small portion of coastal California and Oregon.
The 1960s. I like the music and the clothes, and there seemed to be so much social change going on. I think I would have liked to be a part of that. Also it was before the internet! I sometimes wish I could back in time to being a grown up before the distractions the internet provides.
Is there any advice you learned that you want to share with other writers?
Initially, I wasn’t interested in getting an agent. I didn’t need to be published by a big five publisher, and many of the smaller publishers— of which there seemed to be plenty, didn’t require an agent to submit to. It was easy enough to send your materials directly to them through the query manager or by email.
Having now gone through this process without an agent, I have changed sides. It’s not that it was difficult, but I have now better understood and learned what an agent provides— and that they are well worth their 15%. An agent is your advocate. They do the contract negotiations— an activity I would have preferred not to have done on my own— though the Author’s Guild does provide contract review services if you join, which I did, and found really helpful. But an agent would handle all the back and forth, etc. The agent would also handle the communication with the editor, and be able to provide an overview of how the entire process works and any concerns that may arise. Overall, an agent makes the process run smoother. Therefore, I am on the hunt for an agent!
Chocolate. Because I like chocolate. It’s predictable, but no two chocolate ice creams are exactly alike.
Bridgitte would like to send a special thanks to editor, Winsome Bingham, and to everyone for their love and support of her debut picture book! Be sure to share your love and support below.