Peggy Archer is a children’s book author who brings her “life to life” in her books. Take one of my favorites, Name That Dog, which was inspired by the journey of giving a name to her new dog “Snickers.” In addition to writing adorable children’s picture books, she also writes poetry for children. Her latest book, A Hippy-Hoppy Toad offers a rhyming peek into the little toad’s journey as he ventures away from all the people and animals moving into his space.
It’s no wonder she’s on the New York Times bestseller list.
Peggy is a retired nurse from Gary, Indiana and now lives in Valparaiso with her husband. But she still connects with her writer friends from O’Fallon, Missouri where she lived for nine years. Her writing fills her busy schedule but so does time with her husband and family and her 14 grandchildren. She is also a busy speaker, and her success with her books and her contributions to Chicken Soup for the Soul books allows her to connect with her adult readers in a new way. When she’s not writing or speaking, she enjoys reading mysteries, the outdoors and walking, country line dancing and spending time with family. Thankfully, I was able to catch Peggy between projects (and her busy life) to answer a few questions about her life, her works and her craft.
Did you always want to be an author? Being an author never entered my mind until I had children of my own. My mother read lots of books to me when I was a little girl, and my favorite was a Little Golden Book called NURSE NANCY. Before I even started school, I wanted to be a nurse and help people who were hurt or sick, like Nancy. That stuck with me, and after high school I went to school and became a nurse. I loved working as a nurse, and I also loved reading. Like my mother, I read lots of books to my children. That’s when I started to think that maybe I could write books that children would love the way that I loved NURSE NANCY.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? My newest book is A Hippy-Hoppy Toad illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. It was inspired by a walk in the park in early spring. My husband and I were walking along the path when there, in the middle of a big wet spot in the middle of the path, we saw a very tiny toad! Words started popping into my head, and I kind of smiled, thinking—‘In the middle of a puddle, in the middle of the road, sat a teeny tiny toad…’ Later at home I wrote down a rough first draft of a poem called Toad in the Road. The second inspiration came the following spring, when we walked at the same park with our grandson. We stepped off the paved path onto a dirt trail and suddenly hundreds of teeny tiny toads started hopping around our feet! That was the push that I needed to put this story at the top of my writing list. It went from a poem to a picture book in verse, and much later A Hippy-Hoppy Toad came to life.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? I hope that readers will find A Hippy-Hoppy Toad to be a story that’s fun to read, from Toad’s adventure in the park, to the rhythm and rhyme and other fun language throughout the book. I hope they find unexpected twists and turns in the story as well as in the illustrations. And I hope it inspires them to love reading and books the way that I do.
What are you most excited about with this book? I’m excited for the recognitions that A Hippy-Hoppy Toadhas received such as the Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Award, runner up for the Indiana Firefly Award for Literacy, and receiving the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award (see my website for more). But what excites me the most, as with any of my books, is watching as kids get excited when reading or listening to it, or when they ask to ‘read it again.’ That, for me, is what it’s all about.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry? Write! Don’t worry about not ‘getting it right’ the first time. Revision is where the best story comes out. Expect to do lots of revising! Focus on writing a good story that kids will love. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it will come out in the heart of your story. Love your story! If you love it, someone else will love it, too. Roll with the punches. Don’t worry about rejections. It’s part of getting published. Read lots of children’s books. If you write picture books, read lots of picture books. Finally, join SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). You’ll find everything you need to know about writing (or illustrating) for children here, as well as links to webinars and other programs. And you’ll meet the nicest people, those who can relate to you and writing for children.
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? Critique groups are the best! I listen to what others have to say. I try not to comment if I disagree and have found that sometimes what they say makes more sense after thinking about it for a while. And I do think about all of it! In the end it’s up to me whether or not to use their suggestions.
Rejections come with the territory, and although I’m always disappointed, I watch for any similar comments in the rejections to think about when revising. I also know that there are many reasons besides the manuscript itself for rejection. The timing may be wrong— ‘we have another bear/fox/Halloween book coming out.’ ‘Your story is very well written, but it’s just too sweet’… (later another editor said ‘I love this! It’s so sweet!’). Or the editor you submitted your hamster story to doesn’t like hamsters! So, I move on to find the perfect editor for my story. It helps that while I’m waiting for a reply to a manuscript submission, I’m always working on something else.
How do you structure your day and make time for writing? I’m retired from nursing now, so I try to spend time writing every day, at least during the week. It hasn’t always been that easy. When my kids were growing up there were lots of ‘distractions.’ I read some advice once that said to find something that you enjoy as much as you like writing and spend the same amount of time writing as you do on that other thing. I liked my job as a nurse, and I worked two days a week at the time. So, my goal was to write two days a week. I often found myself writing beyond my goal. This past year has been a challenge. COVID played a part in that, but mostly because we moved from Missouri to Indiana, and we also have a new granddaughter. I’m getting back into a new routine. But if my writing has to take a backseat on some days, that’s okay. I just start over the next day.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? I love reading, and I love working with children. I love playing with words and language, and poetry, especially poems that rhyme. What better career (besides working with children as a nurse) is there than writing for children! I enjoy talking with kids in schools and libraries. Their questions are always interesting and fun. I enjoy reading other picture books, too. The writing is tight, and whether written in verse or not, it’s very poetic.
Readers, connect with Peggy Archer via her website and get your copy of her latest book A Hippy-Hoppy Toad.
Images courtesy of the author