Thursday, December 1, 2016

The 12 Days of Christmas in Kentucky with Evelyn Christensen--by Tina Cho

I'm so happy to have my good friend, Evelyn Christensen and her debut picture book, The Twelve Days of Christmas in Kentucky, on the blog! Welcome back, Ev! (To see a previous interview with Ev, check here.)

Evelyn Christensen

Could you tell the Grog readers how you landed the contract to write this book?

This is definitely one of those ‘don’t give up hope’ stories. I used to belong to a wonderful, online picture book critique group with Tina. Our group moderator at the time was Nancy Sanders. Nancy, a very successful children’s author herself, is incredibly generous in trying to help other authors be successful. About seven years ago, she shared with our group that Sterling was doing a Christmas state PB series. She thought it would be fun if all of us queried Sterling about authoring one of the books, so I queried about Kentucky. I got no response. For more than five years. Crickets. I had long since written that venture off as one of the many things we writers do in this authoring business that don’t bear fruit. Then, just before Christmas in 2014, I got an email—“I know this will be a bolt out of the blue, but do you remember writing a letter to me....” It was the editor saying they were ready to do Kentucky and asking if I wanted to ‘audition’ to be the author by writing a sample page for the book. Of course, I wanted to! I wrote my sample, and several months later was delighted to hear I had been chosen from among all those auditioning.

Did you have to do much research?

Yes. I did online research, book research, telephone and email research, and actually visiting locations. I wanted to be able to do more visits and go to all the places I wrote about, but the tight timeline the publisher gave me simply did not allow that.

Christmas in Kentucky

How did you decide what special Kentucky places and people to include?

That was hard, because our state has so many wonderful places and people. The publisher had some constraints for the series that guided some of my decisions. For example, all the places the children in the book visited had to be places that could actually be visited during the Christmas season. That cut out a lot of our fun state parks, which are closed in the winter or have very limited activities. The children’s itinerary also had to be ‘doable’ in the time frame described, because, as my editor said, some people use these books as travel guides. So I had to calculate mileage between sites and travel time. I also needed to pick activities that were in as broad a range of places in our state as possible, so the whole state would feel represented.

I was really glad for the bulletin board at the end of the book, where I could include lots of the special places and people in Kentucky that I didn’t have space for in the twelve days.

How long did it take to write the book?

As I said, the publisher had a pretty tight schedule for the book. I had one month to decide on the itinerary and all the gifts Marybeth was giving to her visiting cousin Martin. This had to be approved by the editor. Then I had one month to write the letters, decide on the bulletin board items, write the back matter, and write detailed illustration notes with online links to the places being visited. 

Handmade stockings

Did you have to do many revisions?

Not many revisions to the text. Mostly just line edit sorts of things. One funny example of that—I had referred to a basketball ‘goal.’ The editor changed it to ‘hoop.’ That just didn’t sound right to me, so I asked on the SCBWI Blueboard. Turns out most people do call it a ‘hoop.’ But we don’t in Kentucky. I told my editor, if we want universality we’ll go with ‘hoop,’ but if we want to be true to Kentucky, we’ll leave it ‘goal.’ She loved the variation and ended up including both in the text.

I did do several revisions on the itinerary and gift list. I didn’t want the kids to spend so much time traveling to western Kentucky, and had planned for a friend to visit from there and share with them about quilts and the museum. But my editor felt it was important for them to go there, so that necessitated rearranging a lot of the plans.

What has been a special moment for you in the writing of this book?

A very surprising moment had to do with the Newport Aquarium. I had decided from the beginning that I didn’t want to focus on things that were just commercially fun or special. I wanted everything to have a tie in with Kentucky. At first, that ruled out the aquarium, but then I thought, “Oh, I can have the kids see the Kentucky state fish there.” Since my editors had said everything had to be factual, I emailed the aquarium to make sure they had the state fish. They didn’t. BUT—they said they would stock it just so my book could include it! I thought that was really cool.

Christmas in Kentucky: The real meaning

What's your plan for marketing? Does the publisher help?

This has been a totally different experience for me from writing educational puzzle books, which required no marketing. Since the book came out in October and is a seasonal book, the marketing has been jam-packed into just a few weeks. I’ve had 5 book signings, with 3 more scheduled; 3 blog interviews; a Goodreads giveaway; articles/book reviews in print and online state newspapers/magazines, and, of course, I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter.

Publisher help? My Sterling publicist set up the Goodreads give-away and the four out-of-town book signings. The Marketing Team did a great job of creating an Activity Kit to go with the book that included five puzzles I sent them. ( They also designed very attractive cards with ordering information on the back that I can give out to managers of gift shops and bookstores when I visit them.

Christmas in Kentucky

What’s it like to have your first picture book published?

It’s been a wonderful experience! People have been amazingly enthusiastic about the book and so encouraging and supportive. I think a large part of it is that it’s not about me. It’s that the book is about their beloved state. And they want to share what’s special about Kentucky with the children in their lives. I handed a signed copy to one friend who’d gotten it for her out-of-state grandchildren, and when she read the inscription, she whispered, “Perfect!” and hugged it to her with tears in her eyes. I’d written, “Hoping this helps you to cherish your Kentucky roots.”

What are you working on now?

Mainly, marketing this book. I did just sign a contract with an ESL publisher for a chapter book. They’ve asked for other books from me, so I’m cogitating on that. I’m also trying to digitally format more of my out-of-print puzzle books so I can make them available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. (

"On the 5th day of Christmas, my cousin gave to me....5 golden bars..."

For fun:

Favorite color: yellow
Food: Turtles (chocolate, caramel, pecans)
Children’s author: Dr. Seuss
Children’s book: The Cat in the Hat

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
New Zealand, because lots of my family have visited there and it sounds beautiful!

A former teacher with a doctorate in education, Ev loves to make learning fun for kids. She has designed several math games and authored more than 40 educational puzzle books. She’s also editor of the ezine Writing for Children’s Magazines. Ev lives with her husband Ralph (who’s always been super supportive of her writing career) in Lexington, KY and delights in playing with her five pre-school grandchildren. 


  1. Congratulations Ev! I am so happy to hear about your debut PB and your success story! Tina, this is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing Ev's journey.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Diane, and for your kind comments. I cherish the memories of those years with you and the others in that special critique group.

  2. Tina, I really appreciate your hosting the interview of me on this wonderful blog. It's always fun to share things we're excited about as authors. And, who knows...maybe one of your readers will get to author Sterling's book for a state they haven't yet done. I'm wishing everybody a happy holiday season!

    1. Thanks, Ev. I loved reading your interview answers. How cool you even wrote/designed the puzzles for your book! And congratulations on your chapter book contract. Hope that goes well!

  3. Congratulations! Such a fun addition to the series. Glad your query finally "bore fruit"!

    1. Thank you, Cathy! It was definitely a fun book to write.

  4. Ev, great news for you and your book! I live in Ohio and visit KY often. I will have to look up your book and the series. Congrats!

    1. Glad you get to visit KY often, Kathy. We travel through your state on our way to MI to see our kids. Thank you for the congrats!

  5. What a fun post to read! Congratulations on your book, Ev and enjoy all the accolades! Hope this will increase tourism in your beautiful state. =]

    1. I appreciate your post, Anne. It will indeed be a happy bonus if more people choose to visit KY because of the book.

  6. Replies
    1. Thank you for reading the post and commenting, Patricia. Wishing you a happy holiday season!

  7. Ev and her book are beautiful, and so good to see together! A perfect Christmas present <3

    1. Hugs to you, dear Mirka. Thank you for all your encouragement and support!

  8. Congratulations and much success, Ev! Many thanks for sharing your your story.

  9. Thank you for your congrats and wishes for success, Robin. I'm sending the same to you for your own books and writing.

  10. Great story - and what an interesting & roundabout way to get into writing a book. Thanks for sharing.

  11. You're very welcome, Sue. It was definitely an interesting and fun experience, and my editor at Sterling was wonderful to work with.

  12. Hello Dr. Ev!
    I love the word "cogitate."
    Your book does make me want to visit your state.
    Appreciations for all the insider pre-publishing/editing details.
    What a funny detail, about the state fish!
    Kudos for your Kentucky book. I hope it leads to many more.
    Thank you Tina for yet another well-informed, helpful article.

    Jan Annino

  13. Thank you, Jan, for your detailed comments. Regarding 'cogitate,' my mom was a Latin teacher and our family joking refrain was always, "That comes from two good Latin words." Of course, this word only comes from one good Latin word, but I'm sure you get the gist. :)

  14. Ah, I thought you had the wonderful cast of a Classical Language gal.

    Our daughter is a Latin-language competitor (actually, was. now she's in college with other areas of competition) so a tiny bit of it rubbed off on me.

    Have a great Kentucky Christmas!