Today I am joined by my good friend, homeschool mom, and author Sarah Mackenzie. Sarah is the host of The Read Aloud Revival podcast and a brand new children’s book author.
On today’s episode, we talk about Sarah’s dream of writing a picture book, how she got the idea for her first book A Little More Beautiful, and her adventures in starting her own boutique publishing house Waxwing Books. This was a fun episode to record so in lieu of a blog post we are going to just print the transcript below.
Links from today’s show:
- Sign up for the FREE A Little More Beautiful Celebration with Sarah, Pam, Cindy West, and Colleen Kessler
- Visit Waxwing Books and preorder your copy of A Little More Beautiful
- Listen to the Read Aloud Revival Podcast and fall in love with reading to your kids
Pam: One of the most disappointing things to me about the culture that we live in today is the direction that the children’s book publishing industry has taken over the past three to five years. It’s becoming harder and harder to find quality picture books with family values that you can be proud to share with your kids. So that is why I am super excited about our guest on today’s podcast.
Hi everyone, I’m Pam Barnhill and I have helped thousands of homeschoolers create doable systems, beat burnout, and bring more joy to their homeschool days. Welcome to episode 61 of the Ten Minutes to a Better Homeschool podcast. Okay, today’s guest is a very good friend of mine and she’s been on some of my other podcasts before. Her name is Sarah Mackenzie from Read Aloud Revival, and she is not only publishing her very first picture book this spring, she decided, “You know what? I’m gonna start a whole boutique publishing company so I can publish a lot more children’s books.” And I think this is just a breath of fresh air, something that is very, very needed, not only in the homeschooling world, but just in the world of children and parents in general. So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Sarah about how she even got this idea and got started doing this.
Now, before we continue, I wanna let you know that on March 23rd, coming up later this month at [1:00] PM Central Time, I’m gonna be joined by Sarah and also special guests Cindy West and Colleen Kessler. And we’re gonna have a free event to kick off the publication of Sarah’s book A Little More Beautiful. It’s gonna be a fun time with some nature study activities. Sarah’s gonna be sharing the book with us and we’re also gonna have creative thinking activities and some trivia and all kinds of really, really great things to just celebrate this book. It’s gonna be a wonderful event for all of your preschool and elementary age kids and maybe even some of your middle schoolers.
So do come over to the website at pambarnhill.com/beautiful to register for this very special free event. And now on with the interview.
I am joined today by the wonderful Sarah Mackenzie. Sarah is a homeschooling mom of six kids. She lives in Washington with her husband Andy, and two fabulously large, rambunctious, exuberant golden doodles. And she is also the founder of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and the Read Aloud Revival membership and also what we’re talking about today, the brand new Waxwing Books. Sarah, welcome to the podcast.
Sarah: Oh my goodness, thank you for having me. And exuberant, that’s a great word to describe my dogs and my children, actually.
Pam: Well, when I think about Tomie and Gilbert, I definitely think about exuberant and just so much big, goofy fun.
Sarah: Yeah, They’re a lot of fun.
I had no idea. I was not a dog person forever. No idea that having dogs was such a joy.
Pam: Yeah, it really, really is. And you have two particularly good ones I will say. So they are a lot of fun.
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about books. And I think the first burning question that I wanna ask you is when you were growing up as little Sarah Mackenzie, well you weren’t Sarah Mackenzie then, but it’s a little Sarah in Washington State, did you ever think that you were going to be a writer?
Sarah: Yes, actually, I did. Little Sarah wanted to be a mom and a writer and a radio host, like a, like a radio talk show host. And it did not occur to me that I had, I was actually doing all those three things as an adult with a podcast and the writing until I remember talking to my dad about what I was doing, I thought, oh my gosh, that’s just hilarious. Yes, I did. I didn’t know what I wanted to write exactly, but I remember trying to write a spinoff of The Babysitters Club books because I read really high quality fiction as a child
Pam: I love that.
Sarah: Yeah, I tried to ride the counselor’s club about a group of summer camp counselors. It was basically a complete ripoff of The Babysitters Club, but it was, I loved it so much. I loved playing with stories and loved writing, so I did. I didn’t know what it was gonna look like, but…
Pam: It was something you wanted to do.
Sarah: It was always there. Yeah.
Pam: Yeah. Oh, that’s funny. And then you grew up to be a writer, but you started off by writing nonfiction, pretty much homeschooling books, right?
Yeah, first book’s Teaching From Rest: Homeschoolers Guide to Unshakeable Peace. That one I really wrote for myself because I needed it. At the time I was homeschooling a 12, 10, and eight year old.
And we had a one-year-old, barely one-year-old, and then we had newborn twins. And this idea of, of peace that transcends understanding seemed so completely beyond my reality. I wanted to know what it would look like if we could actually teach from rest, if we could have that unshakable peace in our home schools. And then The Read Aloud Family came after that really as an offshoot of the podcast, the Read Aloud Revival podcast, which I had started on something of a whim because I was just loving talking about books so much. The books I was reading with my kids and read aloud time had been so transformative in our own home that I just felt like I had to talk about it. So I talked about it on the podcast and then the next book came from there. Fiction didn’t come until later.
Watch on YouTube:
How fiction impacts our lives
Pam: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about this idea of fiction for like you writing fiction. Where did that come from? Like did you just wake up one day and say, I wanna write fiction, which that’s how you do things. So…
Sarah: That is true. That is, that is sort of how I live my life. Yikes. My poor husband, really, you know what, I always wanted to write stories like in my mind I think that’s, that was like the writing I was really wanting to do. But for me, writing fiction is so much harder than writing non-fiction. So just writing sort of like about my life or the struggles or questions that I’m thinking about, like for Teaching From Rest for example, or how to read aloud and how to make more time to read aloud, and the best books and writing about those experiences, that felt very, that felt a lot easier to me than coming up with this story where you have so many options. You know, there’s like, there’s, that’s limitless. And then the other piece there is knowing I wanted to write for children and I have such like this high value for the power that children’s stories have on our children’s formation, that it feels like the stories weigh more in my mind. They need to be not like heavier or like filled with messages or anything, but they need to be really, really good. And, and so I think I’ve got like a sort of imposter syndrome sort of thing.
Like really you think you can do write this and this is like, this deserves a place in somebody’s childhood that feels like a different kind of writing.
Pam: Okay. That’s so interesting to me because for me, like to hear homeschoolers talk about Teaching From Rest and the impact that that book has had on them and then subsequently their children’s lives and then it’s, your view of children’s literature is so much fun and so profound because like I’m sitting here going like, oh, Teaching From Rest has such a huge impact on homeschoolers and you’re sitting over here going, well I have to be really careful writing this picture book because it’s gonna have such a huge impact on all of these kids. But you really do you take it so seriously.
Sarah: I think it’s cuz I see the impact that books have had on my own children’s lives and I know that the impact they had on my life, you, I did not read a lot of good quality literature as a kid. But the books, I remember them, you know, like, I remember them in the kind of way where if I saw some of those old school book covers, you know, walking through a library bookstore, like they would stop me in my tracks because I know I remember the way I felt, I remember that they shaped part of what I felt like my place might be in the world or like what I was here to do or I don’t know. I mean that feels really big, like big hoity toity.
And I don’t think I felt like that as a kid. It just felt like me snuggling under my blankets reading a book I loved. But yeah, there is a, to me it feels like, I mean all of the books that I’ve written so far have been hard in their own way. But the picture books feel harder than the others and also more joyful in a different kind of way too. I feel like I’m just very excited. They’re very collaborative. So all writing is collaborative because like when you’re writing Teaching From Rest, Read Aloud Family, you have an editor and you’re revising. And I love that process so much of like iterating on something.
But with a picture book, you’re only telling half of the story with the words if you’re doing it right, the other half of the story should be done through the illustrations. And so then you also are bringing in like an art director. And so you’ve got your editor for the words and the art director is like an editor for the illustrator and then all these different voices and you’re shaping something that really truly is greater than the sum of its parts because none of us could have made the book on our own.
So that really feels like, I don’t know, this is probably the extrovert in me that just loves the fact that we can make something better together than we could have done on our own.
Pam: I love it. I love it. Well you know, it’s so interesting you say that because I was on the Waxwing books website earlier today as we were getting ready to do this podcast and I was looking at the cover of the book and A Little More Beautiful. It really truly is beautiful. And I noticed that where your byline was, I don’t know what they call it on books, I’m a old journalist, but it said Words by Sarah Mackenzie. And I thought, that’s so interesting that it doesn’t say like by Sarah Mackenzie and then illustrations by Breezy Brookshire, it just says words by. And I thought, that’s so neat because there really is more in a good picture book than just the words.
The, the pictures also do such heavy weight pulling in telling the story.
Sarah: Yeah. Our, my art director that I’m working with who has worked for all the big publishers and just done amazing work in the past, one of her books won a Caldecott a couple years ago that she directed. She will say that the book shouldn’t work, in a really good picture book. It shouldn’t work if you took away one or the other. I mean, unless it’s a wordless book. And then it should work obviously with just the illustrations with most picture books, if you took away the words and just looked at the pictures, you should kind of get sense of it, but still be left with a few questions like, “wait, I don’t really get it.” And the same thing is true if you took away the illustrations and you just read my text without any illustrations. And A Little More Beautiful is a good example of this because there are several key things that happen in this story, especially toward the end that are really important that I don’t say anything about that you don’t see in the words.
So if you’re not looking at the illustrations, you really truly won’t know how the little girl made the world a little more beautiful. Cause I never say it in the text.
What makes a book a good read-aloud?
Pam: So this is definitely a book you wanna snuggle up and read with your kids and everybody’s sitting there looking at the pictures and and that kind of stuff, which brings me kind of to my next question because you say, you talk about with Waxwing books, we make books that your kids will love to read and that you’ll love to read aloud. So I love that so much. Why is it important for these books to be read aloud and not just you hand it to a kid and say, here read, this is good.
Sarah: Well, first of all, we all know that the books that we have to read again and again to our kids cuz they ask for the same one over and over, like they better be good or else we’re gonna accidentally lose them. Right? They’re like, they’re like the books that when you’re, you have a child who wants to read the same thing over and over and you can recite it in your sleep.
So it’s really important to me that the book has something for the adult too, because it should be like this shared experience and C.S. Lewis has this fabulous quote that I’ve got to memorize, but I haven’t, something about how the best children’s stories are equally enjoyed by children and by adults. And I really feel that. So, but really the read aloud experience, it’s like a third kind of, I was gonna say dimension, that’s not the word I’m looking for though.
There’s something that happens that’s really special when you’re reading a book on your own and there’s something that happens that’s really special when you’re snuggled up with your mom or your dad or your grandma or whatever. But there’s something else, like a whole other layer of connection that happens when you’re sitting there experiencing something out loud together.
And the really, really good picture books are musical to your ear. And so when we read they beg to be read aloud. I love it when I’m reading, I do a lot of previewing of picture books for Read Aloud Revivals book list. And I love it when I’m sitting in my own chair by myself flipping through a picture book and I can’t help it. It’s like the words will start, I’ll start saying it out loud because it feels like they need to be said. Yeah. And that is a kind of literary quality that I think we don’t get in a lot of children’s books, but you do get it in a really good picture book. And so that’s really important to me and I think that’s why we’ve kind of taken on that tagline at Waxing Books that your kids will love to read, but that you’ll love to read aloud. And it’s got, they’re kind of aiming toward books with an eye toward that read aloud ability, which I think should be a word, but I’m pretty sure isn’t.
Pam: Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s almost a musicality to a good picture book, you know? Yes, Yes. Very much so. Very much so.
Okay. Well in true Sarah fashion, you didn’t just say, well, I’m gonna self-publish a book. You said, I’m wanna start a publishing house.
Sarah: Aye, Yai, Yai, I know, right?
Pam: So, tell us what’s coming down the road for Waxwing Books, what you can reveal.
Sarah: Okay. We have four books that are in various parts of this pipeline, which has been such a fun learning process. And also I think maybe the steepest learning process for me yet in my life as far as like waking up and being like, okay, we’re gonna do stuff today and I have no idea how to do any of it, so let’s figure this out as we go. That’s what this whole process has felt like.
We have four books. So far, the four books we have been processed are all written by me and they’re illustrated by different illustrators. But we are in the process of working toward acquiring some books written by others. And really the idea behind the publishing house, rather than just self-publishing is that we really wanna put more quality read alouds into the hands of families, and at Read Aloud Revival, we’re constantly hearing from families. We know the kind of books that they are looking for, they’re having a harder time finding. And we also like, it’s really fun to make them. It turns out, I’ll tell you, I wasn’t sure if I thought, I would think the whole bookmaking process was up my alley.
Like maybe I just like the writing piece, but I know this will shock you, Pam, but the collaborating teamwork piece is really fun for me. And so I really am loving the whole process of like, how do we make this book the kind of book that’s worthy of a spot on your child’s bookshelf as an object, like as something that they’re holding the good quality of it as a feast for the eyes and for the ears to be read aloud and a book they’ll wanna revisit over and over.
It’s like a special kind of challenge. So I didn’t wanna just do it once. Of course. So we’re gonna keep doing it over and over.
Pam: Yeah. Well and the hardest one, you know, I’ll just be practical here cuz that’s what I do. The hardest one is the first one, and then after that it’s gonna get a lot easier.
So, yeah. I’m excited to see what you guys have coming down the road and so do go and check out A Little More Beautiful. You can find it at waxwingbooks.com. It will be coming out this spring and you can pre-order it right now. And we’re just super excited to see everything, all the wonderful things that Waxwing has in store for us for the future.
So Sarah, thanks for coming on.
Sarah: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Pam: And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed that one as much as I did. So do not forget if you have elementary and preschool aged kids, come and sign up for our Little More Beautiful special event that’s happening on March 23rd at [1:00] PM. We cannot wait to have you join us, it’s just going to be a fun celebration of the book with so many just exciting activities for the kids to do. So much fun. This free live event, you can find it at pambarnhill.com/beautiful and we cannot wait to see you there.
Okay. I will be back again next week. Next week. We are starting a three part series on juggling multiple kids while you homeschool. I know so many of you out there are like me and you are doing this every single day and you’re wondering, how can I make this easier? So we’re gonna have some tips for you in this three part series. I’m gonna have a special guest and we are going to break it down and see if we can make your life just a little bit better. So join me for that one next week.
And until then, keep on homeschooling.
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