Meet Two Hopewell-Based Children’s Authors, Rayner and DiLorenzo

Meet Two Hopewell-Based Children’s Authors, Rayner and DiLorenzo

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The Hopewell Public Library will feature two Hopewell-based children’s authors, Abigail Rayner and Barbara DiLorenzo, its summer reading series kick-off at the Hopewell Train Station on Saturday June 30 from 2-3pm.

Rayner will read her debut picture book The Backup Bunny, and DiLorenzo will read her latest picture book, Quincy. Children will have the opportunity to do book-related crafts after the readings. Copies of the books will be available for purchase and the authors will be happy to sign them.

MercerMe was lucky to interview both of these amazing children’s writers and is excited to share with you more insight into their inspiration!

Abigail Rayner is a British export to Hopewell, New Jersey. Her debut picture book The Backup Bunny was released in March by NorthSouth Books.

Can you tell me a little about your background and how you became a writer?

I grew up in the UK. I was always writing and drawing as a child, but I didn’t think little British kids like me could grow up to be authors. Brits are not the cheerleaders that Americans are, and my friends and teachers suggested I needed a “proper job”. Since I loved writing so much, I became a journalist and had a lot of fun working for journals and newspapers such as The Financial Times and The Times (of London). My work sent me to New York and allowed me to meet lots of new people, and I loved it, but I still dreamed of writing fiction.

I joined a creative writing group at the West Side YMCA in NYC. I was always late because I was updating my stories for the final edition of the paper. But one evening, one of the members of the group asked me if I’d ever thought about writing for children, and handed me a copy of The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner. It was so kind of her, but I was slightly offended because I considered myself a serious writer! But when I thought about the things I wrote, and how the main characters always seemed to be kids, I thought she might have a point.

Abigail Rayner

It wasn’t until I’d had a baby myself that I actually started writing for children. One of the things I did with my little girl was read tons and tons of picture books. I loved them as much as she did, and when she (occasionally) napped, I sat down at my computer and started to write.

My first manuscripts were pretty terrible—far too long, and not as funny as I thought they were. But I found a critique group—online this time—with members all over the country, and even as far away as Belgium. We started to exchange manuscripts and develop friendships.

I also joined lots of writing groups and writing challenges online. I became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and started going to writers’ conferences. It was at a conference—the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature—that I met my editor Beth Terrill of NorthSouth Books. Over lunch, Beth asked me what I was working on, and I told her about The Backup Bunny. She loved the sound of it, and asked to see it. A few weeks later, we were discussing illustrators!

How did you come up with the idea for The Backup Bunny?

When my son was one year old, he was given a soft floppy bunny that he quickly bonded with. He wouldn’t sleep without Bunny, and I worried that he’d lose it. I decided to acquire a backup and hide it away, like so many parents do. I started thinking about what it would be like to be the backup—we’ve all been one at times! It was when Henry discovered the existence of this second bunny—and demanded that he keep both—that the story came together.

What has been the best thing about publishing the book?

All the stories that parents have shared about their kids and their backup lovies. It’s great to see kids and parents make a connection and really relate to the story.

How did you end up living in Hopewell? 

Shortly after I met my husband in New York, he was offered a job at Princeton. We were both ready to settle down, and decided to take the leap together. We had five happy years in university housing before buying a house in Hopewell. We loved the rural setting and the great schools. It seemed like the perfect place to raise a family. It also turns out to be a great place to meet other creators, and I was thrilled to discover that Barbara DiLorenzo, author of Renato and the Lion and Quincy, was my neighbor!

Abigail Rayner will be reading The Backup Bunny, and Barbara DiLorenzo will be reading Quincy on June 30th at The Hopewell Train Station. Children will have the opportunity to do book-related crafts after the reading. Copies of the books will be available for purchase and the authors will be happy to sign them.

Barbara DiLorenzo is the author and illustrator of the children’s books Renato the Lion (Viking Children’s Books, 2017) and Quincy (Little Bee Books, 2018). Currently, Barbara lives in Hopewell with her wonderful family who constantly inspire new stories.

Can you tell me a little about your background and how you became a writer?

To be honest, I am more of a visual storyteller than a proper writer. I begin my ideas with sketches, observing what develops from my artwork before I ever type a word. I usually imagine a story arc, and then set to work creating thumbnails, or tiny drawings, of how the picture book will look across 32 or 40 pages. My agent, Rachel Orr, is very skilled at helping me integrate the text into the visual narrative once I have a solid plot with an interesting main character. Even so, editors have a lot of work to do once they acquire one of my books. My visual storytelling is something I’ve worked on since I was a little girl. I created my first picture book dummy in 8th grade, and went to the Rhode Island School of Design to study illustration. I teach at the Arts Council of Princeton, and draw everyday. I write everyday as well, but that part of my craft has room to improve.

How did you come up with the idea for Quincy: The Chameleon Who Couldn’t Blend In?

I was Quincy. I was not someone who ever fit in socially in school. I had a few close friends, who were a lifeline in those early years. We loved to laugh and be adventurous. And we had so much fun together. But when I was in the company of the main group of socially accepted peers, I would get painfully shy–or blurt out something lacking in confidence. More than anything, I just wanted to blend into the group–wear the right things, say the right things, have a family that seemed in line with what other people experienced. Instead, I was a bit of a mess. Perhaps I had ADHD–every report card until 5th grade commented on my daydreaming or chatting with other kids in class. Perhaps my brain just worked differently. It wasn’t until I found my ability in art, that I finally found some confidence. And a bigger tribe of people who understood me.

Quincy Drawing Sheet from Barbara DiLorenzo’s website (click image to go to her page)

What has been the best thing about publishing the book?

The best thing about publishing a book is visiting students during author visits. I enjoy sharing my books, and hearing what kids have to say about the stories. I also love encouraging young writers and illustrators to believe that they too, can become professional bookmakers someday. My mantra is “just don’t stop.” I tell them I was terrible at drawing as a student. But I loved horses, and drew them obsessively. With enough practice, I was good at drawing that one thing. That’s when I realized that art isn’t necessarily a talent you are born with. Many of the skills are learnable. And mastering different mediums allows an artist to fully realize their individual voice. When that happens, things get exciting!

Barbara DiLorenzao

How did you end up living in Hopewell? 

The boring answer is that job changes led me from Massachusetts where I was born, to New York City, then New Jersey. But another answer is that as a mermaid, I was tired of living by the ocean, and wanted to see what the country life had to offer.

You can see my portfolio of work at www.barbaradilorenzo.com.

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Binghamton and a Juris Doctorate from Seton Hall Law School. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, creative endeavors, and photographing mushrooms. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), holds a seat on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, and is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance.

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