Interview with Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri-Duskey-Rinker_1In addition to being our next Wizard of Words, Sherri Duskey Rinker is a working mom turned New York Times Bestselling author with her two big hits: Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train. Sherri developed a passion for picture books early in life and was encouraged in her love for illustration and the written word throughout her childhood.

After earning a degree in visual communications with an art history minor, Sherri has melded her love of poetry, art and the written word into two best-selling picture books. She’s come full circle, and, as she so put it “It feels like home.”


7 Magic Islands: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! As a child, you loved picture books and wanted to be an author, artist and poet from a very young age. Looking back, what was your favorite book, and how did it inspire your current work?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Thank you so much for your interest in me and my books!

Growing up, my favorite book was The Little House, by Virginia Burton. Really, it’s about wonder, adventure, realization and happy endings… Much like life, right? Reading picture books as a child took me to other worlds where anything was possible, where magic was real, where endings were always happy, and where love prevailed. Those are feelings that I like to recapture in my own books.

7 Magic Islands: Reading really can take kids and adults alike to whole new worlds. We know your second son, Zak, inspired your first best-selling children’s book – Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. In what other ways do your children inspire your work?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I’m a writer because I’m a mom. I see the world through the eyes of my boys and through my experiences raising them, and I want to create work and worlds that speak to their passions, vision and interests. I want to create worlds where they would find joy, too!

7 Magic Islands: That’s such a great thing to do for your kids! You studied art history as well as journalism when you were in college. How did the knowledge you gained from earning your degree help you with your books?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I started college as a journalism major because I always loved the written word. Equally, though, I have always been pulled toward visual… so I soon changed my major to visual communications and worked as a graphic designer for about 25 years. I think that my educational journey speaks to my two passions: words and visuals. I find it funny that it took me so long to get to picture books as the perfect outlet for those two passions. When I hear words, I see them coming to life. When I see art, my mind is flooded with words.

7 Magic Islands: It’s great your imagination is so active (we’re all about that here)! You really overcame the odds when it came to creating not only a successful “good night” book, but a rhyming one at that! For those authors and aspiring authors looking to follow a similar path, what advice do you have to offer?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I’m flattered that I’m often asked for advice, but, the truth is, because my experience is so limited and I’m fairly new to being a published writer, I feel woefully inadequate to give any! I will say simply this: be true to yourself, follow your passions and dreams, LISTEN to the inner voice. If you don’t take the chance, you’ll never know.

7 Magic Islands: Absolutely! Life’s too short not to reach for your dreams. The illustrator for your books is Tom Lichtenheld, whose work can also be seen in books like Shark Vs. Train and Duck! Rabbit! Please walk us through the stages of how you and Tom worked together to create your bestsellers.

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Steam Train Dream Train by Sherri Duskey RinkerHonestly, with regard to GGCS, I only met Tom AFTER the book was completed. That’s very common: Chronicle Books bought my manuscript, and they hired Tom. I was allowed feedback on sketches and art through my editor, but there was no direct back-and-forth between us at all.

However, partly because we both come from an advertising background where art people and words people work together and partly because we live in close proximity, we worked much more collaboratively on Steam Train, Dream Train. I made suggestions on visuals, Tom made suggestions to text. I think that the finished work is stronger because of that.

7 Magic Islands: Illustrators and authors can definitely make a great team when they work closer together. It must be exciting to watch parents and adults read your book to their kids! When was the first time you saw someone reading one of your books and what thoughts went through your head?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I’ve used – OVERUSED – the word “surreal” a lot. But it’s a pretty unbelievable experience to see something that I’ve created “out there.” It’s as if the work has left home and gone on to have relationships without me! — It’s (wonderfully) strange.

7 Magic Islands: “Wonderfully strange” is a great way to put it, too! Not only did you pen one amazing best seller, you wrote a second picture book that reached the top of The New York Times list. You’ve talked about your reaction to the first book hitting this unbelievable milestone. How was it the second time around? When you see your first book on the Best Sellers list (as you have for the past 140-odd weeks), does it still feel as good as the first time you heard the amazing news?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: My agent called me while I was sitting on a plane at the gate in Cincinnati. It was the last leg of a pretty gruelling book tour. She gave me the news that BOTH of my books were on the NYT. I was over-the-moon ecstatic (and every other passenger on that plane knew it)! I can’t really describe the feeling of putting so much of yourself into something and have it be well-received. Every week — every, single, solitary week — that I see my book(s) on that list, it’s a complete and utter gift. It’s a different feeling from the first time, but it’s equally wonderful. A charge of energy each time.

7 Magic Islands: Oh, that must be so thrilling! The books you’ve written so far seem to showcase the virtue of hard work and the rewards of a job well done. What are you hoping your readers take away from your books individually and collectively?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I’m a pretty basic person: belief, family, friends, pride, work, love, peace, joy. Those are the key pieces that I want from life. I hope that bits of those ideals sprinkle out of my books.

Sherri-Duskey-Rinker---visit-to-school7 Magic Islands: In addition to writing picture books, parenting and working, you also take time for classroom presentations. During these presentations, you go through your journey as an author, how an idea becomes a book and why reading is such a wonderful thing. If there’s one lesson anyone watching one of your presentations should take away, what is it?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Read, read, read!!!

7 Magic Islands: We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! With your work in classroom presentations and as an author, you must be very busy. When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I have a very hard time sitting still. VERY. (I think I may be a little ADD!) I love to collect art (antique oil paintings are a passion), I love gardening (still learning), cooking, hanging out with my family and friends… But I think it’s important for me to add that I’m at a point that working IS fun. How awesome is that?!

7 Magic Islands: If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life! On your website, you talk about all the memories you had of reading to your boys – from Goodnight Moon to Curious George and other classics we all grew up on as children and have endured through the generations. What would it mean to you if your books were to join the pantheon of classics? What are you and your boys reading right now?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I can’t imagine the idea of “classic” associated with my books. It would be a blessing and a wonderful legacy to leave… but I think that only time will tell.Sherri-Rinker-with-her-son

My oldest son is almost 14, and he’s amazingly brilliant. He’s reading Tale of Two Cities right now, a book which (I’m ashamed to admit) I never got through. His room is also filled with Scientific American, Wired and Mac User magazines. He loves science and math and gets very frustrated with me that I don’t “get it.”

My youngest son has a giant, thick book called, The History of Nascar. He loves that. He also just finished the second book in the Stick Dog series, and he’s started on Andy Griffiths’ 13-Story-Treehouse. Sometimes we read them together.

I’m reading Wonder right now. Pathetically, I started it early this summer, but could not manage to get through it with the boys off school and keeping up with the gardens. I’m back on it!

7 Magic Islands: You definitely set a good example for them, and your kids share your love of books. Having two bestsellers under your belt is amazing! What are your future plans as a children’s book author?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: I have five picture books in the works, currently, including a book coming out with Balzer and Bray in 2016, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, titled Since There Was You. I also have several books coming out with Chronicle Books, including a Christmas book called The Twelve Sleighs of Christmas, and a silly tribute to my childhood visits to West Virginia called It’s Sooo Quiet — and a few other things. It’s a busy time… but it’s great! Stay tuned!  [emoji white smiling face]

7 Magic Islands: We can hardly wait to see what’s next! Looking back on your life as a working mom and author, what do you feel has been your most rewarding moment so far?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Seeing my boys happy and well around the dinner table. No question.

7 Magic Islands: Isn’t family what it’s all about? Obviously children’s books are a huge part of what you do. As an adult, what is your taste in books now and what are you currently reading?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: It really depends. I’ll go from David Sedaris to Kate DiCamillo. Right now, I’m reading Wonder. I’m rather enjoying reading middle-grade and young adult (The One and Only Ivan, Flora and Ulysses, etc.) — and it’s nice conversation starter with the kids at school visits.

7 Magic Islands: Adults definitely shouldn’t shy away from those kinds of books, too. At 7 Magic Islands, we are all about exploring reading and all of the worlds it can open up to children and parents alike. What advice would you give parents trying to encourage children to read more?

Sherri Duskey Rinker: Goodnight Goodnight constraction site by Sherri Duskey RinkerRead to kids when they’re small — until they absolutely insist that you stop. You’ll never get that time back; it’s not just about the books and those amazing journeys in the stories, but also it’s about time spent together, winding down and relating to each other. The books and those close moments will hold memories for both of you forever.

Once they’re older: Unplug, unplug, unplug.



You can learn more about Sherri Rinker at www.sherriduskeyrinker.com. Be sure to check out her Amazon Author page for even more information.


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