SELECTIONS FROM SHERRI DUSKEY RINKER’S LIBRARY
Steam Train, Dream Train, Chronicle, 2013.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, Chronicle, 2011.
Since There Was You, Balzer and Bray, TBA.
Sherri Duskey Rinker’s parents divorced when she was in first grade, and she recalls spending time with her grandmother. “It was my favorite place,” she says. “Peaceful, quiet, tidy.” Rinker’s grandmother heaped attention on her and Rinker adored her for it. “She colored with me, read to me, made my favorite breakfast. Those memories fill my heart,” she says.
When her two boys were born, she was reintroduced to what she describes as “that luxurious, beautiful combination of words and pictures that picture books provide.” About this time the relentless pace of advertising began to wear on her. Although Rinker did not consciously decide to become a picture book author, she says the idea for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site jolted her “like the answer to a prayer.” The concept and many of the rhymes for the text came to her so completely she felt it was a gift and wrote the story within a week.
Unlike most authors who struggle with rejection, Rinker’s manuscript was accepted by the first publisher to whom she submitted it. With years of visual advertising experience, she also enclosed sketches for possible illustrations. “The publisher completely ignored the sketches,” she says with a laugh. Although her concept was an instant hit, her text underwent extensive revisions to improve her rhyme and rhythm. “I had to count the syllables [in each line] and make them match,” Rinker says. “It was painful!”
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site quickly rose to the number one spot on the New York Times Best Sellers List for children’s picture books, and she believes part of the book’s success is its relevance to boys. In spite of trying to fill a specific niche, Rinker received some nasty mail accusing her of gender bias (all of her trucks are male) and keeping women out of the construction industry. In response, she describes her book as “unapologetically boy. My boys were the inspiration for this book and their trucks are boys.” Additionally, she wonders whether the authors of the many girl books with hearts, flowers, butterflies, and sparkles receive similar kinds of mail.
Emboldened by success, Rinker again drew from her boys’ interests in Steam Train, Dream Train. “My boys are fascinated by the organization of trains,” she says. And they are quick to point out when train books do not have the proper cars. Rinker challenged herself to write a rhyming picture book that not only incorporated train cars found on real trains, but that celebrated a sense of magic. This time, however, Rinker counted out her syllables and made sure the meter in each line matched before submitting to her editor. “I’m learning!” she quips.
Rinker admits to having a preconceived notion about how her books will look once they are published. “I did not imagine [illustrator Tom Lichtenheld’s playful] animals in Steam Train, Dream Train,” she says. “In my mind, the hero was the train. But when I saw the sketches come together, I fell in love.” The combination worked because Steam Train, Dream Trainalso topped the New York Times Best Sellers List for children’s picture books.
Since There Was You, Rinker’s third picture book, does not yet have a release date because the publisher needs to sign up an illustrator. Rinker hopes this new book has a comical streak. Written from a parent’s perspective it provides a slapstick look at how life changes when kids are added to the mix. The smells, the noise, the avalanche of toys. Rinker hopes the book will be laugh-out-loud funny for her readers.
Rinker writes from her home in the Chicago suburbs. Although she does not adhere to a specific writing schedule, she dictates snippets of verse into her iPhone when they pop into her head. “I [sit down and] write when I feel I have something to say,” she says. “When I’m in the mood I’m very obsessed. I let the laundry go. I let the house go.”
Motherhood is a rich source of inspiration for Rinker. “Kids think outside the box,” she says. In each book that she writes she tries to recreate the warm anticipation of Christmas Eve, a birthday, the last day of school, or standing in line for an ice cream cone. “We all have those feelings,” she says, “but children make us remember.”