Alice McGinty’s sense of wonder is her secret to writing picture books that appeal to children. She describes it as “an amazing sense of awe at the little things in the world. The way the sun hits the snow and it sparkles. How good it feels to dance and to move.”
Children’s literature had a profound effect on McGinty as a child. “I remember my Dad reading Drummer Hoff [by Barbara Emberley] to me. We repeated the phrases together,” she says. “I developed a love of language really early, and I still have that.” When she readCharlotte’s Web, she appreciated the effect of E.B. White’s words. “The power of being a writer wound itself into wanting to be a writer,” she says.
In spite of her interest, she did not connect writing with something she could become when she grew up. Even when she thought she wanted to be a chemist, or make potions, or become a professional swimmer, or break the Guinness world record in pogo sticking, or become a ventriloquist; despite her secret desire, she never included writer. “I never thought I could do it full time,” she says. “I never met an author [as a kid]. No one came to my school.” Yet, the dream of becoming an author nestled at the back of her mind.
Practicality intervened, however, and McGinty graduated from college with degrees in psychology and recreational therapy, and began a career working with disabled people in rehabilitation hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and in recreational programs. The opportunity to write presented itself when she and her husband moved to Sweden. “All of a sudden, I had nothing to do,” she says. “I took a Swedish class, a lot of walks, and wrote a book!”
Many rejections later, McGinty finally met her first children’s author, who suggested she join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). McGinty had been writing fiction, but one of the industry publications suggested nonfiction. Her young son unwittingly provided her with a topic when he wanted to know why he had to eat broccoli. Less than a year later, she signed a contract with PowerKids Press, an imprint of Rosen Publishing, for a series about taking care of your body.
McGinty authored several series for PowerKids Press before striking out on her own with picture books. Her sons came to her rescue again when they refused to go to bed. The refrain, Two little boys who won’t go to sleep. What will they do all night?, popped into her head. “I liked the rhythm of it and started asking what if?” McGinty says. “I spied on them. I invited friends to spend the night. And I watched.” A year and two major revisions later, the boy-characters became lambs and McGinty signed a contract for Ten Little Lambs. When McGinty visits schools, she brings her guitar and sings the book to her audience using a tune she composed.
McGinty wrote Thank You, World before Ten Little Lambs, but it was published much later. One hot summer day she and her young sons visited their public pool. As they stood in line at the snack bar, their feet burning on the pavement, a slight breeze kicked up. McGinty remembers saying, “Thank you, breeze.” The phrase stuck with her and she began to list other things for which she was thankful. “This book got so many rejections,” she says. “One after another. I revised it so many times I felt like I broke it.” She stuffed it in a drawer. About a year later, she revised the manuscript and it sold.
The idea for Darwin, McGinty’s biography about the life of Charles Darwin, came from her agent. “I decided to see what was out there,” she says. Although other children’s books had been written about Darwin, McGinty wanted to “integrate his science with his life in an accessible narrative.” She also loved his writing and incorporated several passages from his work into her book.
Similarly, McGinty’s newest release, Ghandi: A March to the Sea, took about a year to research and chronicles his Salt March. She won an SCBWI work-in-progress grant and traveled to India to drive the roads on which Ghandi walked. “Travel informs your work in ways you can’t possibly imagine,” she says. McGinty based her free verse text and repeating chorus on the rhythm of Ghandi’s favorite spiritual, “Raghupati Raghav.”
Dr. Seuss’ word play inspired McGinty at an early age. “He was an amazing man with words,” she says. “He made me realize early on how much fun you can have with words.” As a published author, she strives to inspire the same feeling in her readers