How a Tucson-area mom became a children’s book author | Books

Bill Finley special for the Arizona Daily Star

The standard children’s picture book is 32 pages, less than 400 words, short sentences, and a simple, straightforward plot.

Writing one should be child’s play, right?

“Well, you can’t believe how hard it can be to make a book simple,” laughs Lori Alexander, and she should know that.

Her ninth book, “Mini Mighty Sweeps,” was published this month by HarperCollins. Title #10, a hardback titled “You’re Sleepy,” will be available from Scholastic next month.

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Ten books, none as simple as it looks.

“It’s not rocket science, but there are pretty strict requirements, in terms of structure,” Alexander said. “There are mechanisms that need to be in place. Every word counts. I have to make sure there are enough picture opportunities, interesting page turns, a little humor, a little suspense. There was a lot to learn. »

The apprenticeship started 12-13 years ago, shortly after her children started going to school in the Oro Valley. While they were learning to write sentences, Alexander was learning to write books.

From the start, she focused on writing for children.

“When the kids were little, it seemed like we spent our whole lives in playgrounds and libraries,” Alexander said. “We loved the Oro Valley Library, especially the picture books. They were beautifully illustrated, they were fun, they were funny. … They have become these little jewels that have brightened up our days. Even then, I began to wonder if I could write one. So later, when I had more time, I started scouring the internet to find out how everything worked.

One of the things she learned: the majority of picture book authors are writers, not illustrators. If an editor likes a story, the editor will hire an artist to provide the visuals.

“It was important to me,” Alexander said. “I’m not an illustrator, not even close. It was liberating to learn that I didn’t have to be.

Eventually, she started to write a little. And bounce his text on other writers. And listen to their suggestions on his work.

“It’s really hard to know when your story is done, when it’s ready to submit,” Alexander said. “I was lucky. I found some critical friends online that I’ve worked with ever since. They’re some of the best author friends I have, and I’ve never even met them!”

She also received help at home. His first book, published in 2012, was “Backhoe Joe”. She was born out of her young son’s love for trucks.

“A Sporting Chance,” a story about the Paralympic Games, touched on a subject close to her daughter’s heart.

“All in a Drop” grew out of a conversation with her scientist husband, Nelson, about microscopes and imaging.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when my young editorial assistants leave home,” Alexander said with a smile. “Honestly, they were usually more interested in the illustrations than the words I was writing. They loved seeing what was coming back from the illustrators. But I can definitely hear them in my books.

Example: While working on “Backhoe Joe,” Alexander’s editor suggested that the backhoe should have steps. His son, then 5 years old, put his foot down.

“My son knew that tracked backhoes don’t go down the street. They only go in the dirt. I had to tell my editor, “No, my son says there are no steps!”

One of Alexandre’s gifts is his dexterity in the genre. Five of his projects have been hardback books. Three are fictional picture books, two are non-fiction chapter books. She has four other books under contract and in the works.

Spoiler alert: look for more non-fiction. In 2019, the New York Public Library named “All in a Drop” one of the top 100 children’s books of the year, and parents these days definitely have a STEM education about the brain.

One thing is certain. Alexander will find ways to keep busy. In addition to writing various types of books for a variety of young audiences, she spent the summer as a writer-in-residence for the Pima County Public Library. In the next school year, she will visit schools and read to children as part of Literacy Connects’ Reading Seed program.

Child’s play? Tips for kids? Well, yes and no.


Readers of this space might be interested to learn that Bookmarks organized a community book drive to help Salpointe Catholic Secondary School rebuild an English department library that was destroyed in a fire on July 17 . Several hundred books were lost, including about 100 on various books. lists for the upcoming school year.

This “Together Tucson Book Drive” invites gifts of contemporary classics. Salpointe’s wishlist can be viewed at, but all significant contemporary novels are welcome. They can be new or used, bound or paperback.

Donated books can be left at any of these drop off sites around Tucson: Mostly Books, 6208 E. Speedway; the Book Stop, 214 N. Fourth Ave.; Make Way for Books, 700 N. Stone Ave.; Literacy Connects, 200 E. Yavapai Road; and the Salpointe Thrift Store, 1705 E. Fort Lowell Road.

This independent community book drive will run until September 12.

It’s official: the next Tucson Festival of Books will take place March 4-5 at the University of Arizona. Planners promise an all-inclusive event on par with the record festival held in 2019 – which included 345 authors and drew 140,000 to the AU campus.

With the resumption of classes last week, the UA bookstore has resumed its normal hours. The store will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Browse previous Bookmarks columns and keep up to date with the Tucson book community by following Bookmarks Arizona (@BookArizona) on Twitter.

Grover Z. Barnes