The Back Story to Monkey Made Dream

I don’t know about you, but I love learning the back story to why a book was written or published. I always feel the story behind the story is just as important as the book itself. I’ve been lucky enough to work with many authors and learn these stories and this month, I was inspired by an author team. What makes this author partnership so unique is the fact it is a father and daughter who wrote the book together. However, the story doesn’t just stop there and it’s one that I hope inspires other parents with young or older children.

The Back Story to Monkey Made Dream. What Inspired The Book.

When my daughter was around 7 or 8 years old, we decided to make up a song one afternoon.  I picked up my guitar and together we wrote a song entitled Monkey Made Dream. 

Monkey Made Dream is a children’s song I have sang at coffee houses for years.  I knew  the words to this song would work for a children’s book and we had talked about turning it into a book for a long time. Last year, I found an illustrator and we spent a year working together on making this story come to life in book form. 

One of the reasons I decided to turn the song into a book was because my daughter Heather got married this summer.  It seemed like a good time to work on the project. So last Christmas, I surprised her with the first copy of the book Monkey Made Dream that she helped me write years ago.

I want to thank you Tom and Heather for being my guest and sharing the back story to your debut children’s book, Monkey Made Dream. Can you also share with us what inspired you both to start writing?

Tom: I started writing just as an outlet to express myself through story telling.  Song writing is the same way for me. I enjoy telling a story that takes a person somewhere that they can relate to.

Heather: I enjoy writing as a way to escape to a different place and look at ideas in different ways. It is fun to see where a story can go.

Can you share with us a little about your current book, Monkey Made Dream?

Tom: This is a story about a little girl who wakes up for school one morning and finds that her little brother has been replaced by a monkey in his bed.  The story takes you through their day as the little girl tries to explain to everyone about the monkey wearing her brother’s clothes. There is a twist at the end of the story when the truth of the story is revealed.

We are a book marketing group here at VBT. Can you share with us what type of book promotion has worked for you and any special strategies you’d like to share?

Tom & Heather: Well, this is our first children’s book that we have written, so we are just enjoying the whole process.  We self published this book ourselves and our publishing company has been helpful.  The book is on several web sites – Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Book World and others.  We are looking into a marketing plan that will feature this book in many avenues.  On the local side, we are having a book signing day in two local communities near us.  We will also use Facebook to get our children’s book out to the public.

How do you see the future of book publishing, both traditional, electronic, and print on demand?

Heather: It seems that self-publishing will grow, because there is an outlet for new writers through the Internet.  Electronic books seem to be growing if looking around at an airport is any indication.

Tom: But there is still something about holding a hard cover book and a cup of coffee.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Tom: Just keep writing every day.

Heather: Enjoy the process!

I thank you for taking the time to share with us the back story of Monkey Made Dream and answering a few questions. We wish you much success.

About the Authors:
Tom Listul wrote Monkey Made Dream with his daughter, Heather Listul Hewitt, when she was eight years old. A farmer from southwest Minnesota, he is also a singer/songwriter. Listul made Monkey Made Dream into a children’s song and has sang it at numerous coffee houses and children’s classrooms. Hewitt is now a speech-language pathologist, who works for a school district with students of all ages. She enjoys helping children develop literacy skills and a love for reading. 

Rewriting a Folktale

When a writer’s muse seems to be on vacation, she may be at a loss for story ideas. While there are a number of sites and tools online to help get the creative juices flowing, one tool that writers might overlook is studying folktales.

Reading folktales is a great way to spin a new yarn, especially for children’s writing. I recently did a review of a children’s picture book published by Sylvan Dell that was based on an American Indian folktale. This shows they are publishable.

Folktales, also known as tall tales, and folklore, are stories specific to a country or region. They are usually short stories dealing with everyday life that come from oral tradition that is passed from generation to generation. Most often these tales involve animals, heavenly objects, and other non-human entities that possess human characteristics.

There is Mexican folklore, Irish folklore, Chinese folklore, as well as folklore from many other countries that have tales unique to their area. There is also American folklore that encompasses stories from each of the 50 states. There is a huge supply of stories to spin and weave.

In addition to reviewing a couple of published children’s books that were based on folktales, I wrote a children’s fantasy story based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Interestingly, prior to receiving an outline of the tale from a Chinese nonfiction writer acquaintance, I never thought of rewriting folktales. But, once given the outline I loved the story and the message it presented. The outline itself was very rough and written with an adult as the main character (MC), which is often the case with ancient folktales.

After reading the story I knew the MC would need to become a child. Every children’s writer is aware that children want to read about children, not adults. And, the MC needs to be a couple of years older than the target audience the author is writing for.

Based on this, the MC became a 12-year-old boy. And, since the ancient Chinese flavor of the story seemed perfect, I kept it and made the story take place in the 16th century China. After this was set, a title and the MC’s name needed to be created.

When choosing a title for your book, it’s important to keep it in line with the story and make it something that will be marketable to the age group you’re targeting. I chose Walking Through Walls.

As far as the character’s name, you will need to base it on the time period and geographic location of the story, unless the character is out of his element. Since my story takes place in China, the MC needed a Chinese name.

To keep the flavor of your story consistent, you will also need to give it a feeling of authenticity. This will involve some research:

How did the people dress during the time of your story? What names were used? What did they eat? What type of work or schooling was available? What locations might you mention? What type of crops and vegetation would be present? What types of homes did they live in?

There are many aspects of the story that you will want to make as authentic as possible. And, it does matter, even in fiction stories; it will add richness to your story.

The next time you’re in the library, ask the librarian to show you a few folktales. Then imagine how you might rewrite one or more of them for today’s children’s book market.

Get Your Copy of Walking Through Walls: 

OR, the better choice is to get it directly it directly from the publisher:

Need a children's ghostwriter / Rewriter? Check out
Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?
By Sherry Ellis

There are many factors that go into the making of a good children’s book.

The first is the story itself.  It must have a plot that appeals to the age of the child it is written for.  It has to be something a child can understand.  It has to be told in such a way that the child falls in love with it.  The best stories are ones that are timeless; where the plot is something that could appeal to a child fifty years from now.

Illustrations are another important factor in the making of a good children’s book.  Brightly-colored illustrations really grab a child’s attention.  The illustrations should accurately portray what is going on in the story.  Really well-done illustrations may even tell a story of their own.  Kids should want to sit down with a book and pour over the pictures.

A book’s cover should be attractive.  There’s an old mantra, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but the truth is, we do judge a book by its cover.  If the cover looks appealing, we are more likely to want to read what’s inside.  The same holds true with children’s books.  Children are naturally attracted to books with interesting covers. 

Finally, there’s the language itself.  Descriptive words are important in painting a picture of what’s going on in the story.  Care must be taken to use words that can be understood by the age of the children the story is written for.

Good children’s book writers have the ability to view the world through the eyes of a child.  They are able to remember the feelings and emotions they had as a child.  All of these factors put together help an author create a book that is not only enchanting to children, but also to the adults who read it. 

About Sherry Ellis: Sherry Ellis is a freelance writer who writes articles for parenting magazines and children’s publications.  Her first book, That Baby Woke Me Up, AGAIN, was published in 2005.  Her second, That Mama is a Grouch, was published in May of 2010.  It was honored as a finalist in the Parenting/Family category of the 2010 USA Book News Awards. 

Sherry is also a professional musician who plays and teaches violin, viola, and piano.  Ms. Ellis lives in Loveland, Ohio with her husband and two children.

Author Website:

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