Peoria resident and author Dawn Young never thought she would become an author of children’s books.
“I actually went to school to be an engineer,” she said. “I have a degree in mechanical engineering and have always loved math. “
That all changed when she and her husband had their three children and took time off from her work in the company. Reading them inspired her to write.
Now she is getting ready to release her new book, “Once Upon a Christmas”, on October 19th. Her editor asked her to write a “vacation story with fairy-tale and mythological creatures”. Young wasn’t quite sure how to do this, but the idea hit her: everyone’s at a Christmas party.
“Once Upon a Christmas” features characters from the gingerbread man and Santa to mermaids and aliens, all in a mad race to remedy a failed holiday party.
“I love humor and I love how in picture books you can just make funny lines but make the art also fun and just that chemistry together,” Young said.
Having children turned out to be an inspiration for Young, whose temporary leave became permanent.
“I was fascinated by picture books and the language,” Young said.
“I’ve always had that interest, because there was always this page in the magazine that said ‘Learn to write a children’s book’ in Good Housekeeping. I always pulled it off, but never did anything with it. I still haven’t done anything with it.
Young took it upon herself to study the ins and outs of writing a children’s book. From perfecting his rhyming patterns to finding the best way to hold the attention of young readers throughout the book, Young has attended lectures and retreats and retrieved books from the library. .
By the time her kids reached kindergarten, she was ready to take writing seriously. Young wrote all day and found an agent, but that time was short-lived.
“We had made a few submissions and things were going well. I got great feedback and then she let me down, ”Young explained.
“I think she decided she wanted established authors. She had another child and she wanted to work less, and I hadn’t been released yet.
Initially devastated, Young almost quit her barely-started writing career when her life changed. A supportive critic group told him to continue.
“I went out – it was August, and we had a flowerpot,” Young said. “Everything in August is brown and crisp, but there was this flower that was always there, and it was just beautiful. I was like, ‘Okay, that’s a sign. There is hope. I have to do it.'”
From that point on, Young made a game of submitting his work and battling rejection. For every “no” she received, she sent another copy of her book.
Eventually, she landed her current agent and sold her first book, “The Night Baafore Christmas”, in 2019.
In the following years, she added “Counting Elephants”, “The Night Baafore Easter” and “The Night Baafore the First Day of School” which were released in June.
“Most of (my books) are inspired by my kids,” Young said. “In my ‘Night Baafore’ series, the sheep are actually like toddlers. It’s this little group of toddlers who are so excited for Christmas, Easter, and the first day of school that they are kicking things off.
Young said his books focus on the “wonder and excitement” that is seen through the eyes of a child. Between decorating for Christmas and creating crafts, the sheep have fun getting into things.
“So many times you try to see things through their eyes because you forget,” Young said. “You take things for granted, and things don’t shine and shine as much as they did when you saw them for the first or even the second or third time.”
The sheep series was inspired by Young’s experience of helping his daughter fight her fears.
“My daughter had a hard time falling asleep because she was watching Barnyard and there were coyotes in that movie. They terrified her, ”Young said. “I go there every night and I say to her, ‘Think about all those fun things. Think about the carnival, a fair and the zoo. It just wasn’t working.
The Sheep Series helped allay these thoughts.
Young said writing children’s books is not as easy as it sounds.
“I know a lot of people think it’s easy because it’s 32 pages, less than 500 words,” she said. “It’s not. It makes it harder, because your words have to be sparse. You don’t want to tire a poor child, and you only have a little time for their attention.
When not writing, Young spends her time making monster puppets with the kids at the local Barnes & Noble or telling students about her books.
“It’s incredibly rewarding when you get a photo of a kid hugging your book or with the monster puppets,” Young said. “I’ve had moms write to me on Instagram with the photos, and the kids are in love with their monster puppets reading their book to them.”