I learned of Laura Murray when THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL became a Crystal Kite finalist for 2012, and it’s easy to see why — it’s full of fun and school lesson opportunities! In fact, as a former teacher, Laura has provided the treasure hunt and teacher’s guide on her website. I think you’ll enjoy both the book and getting to know Laura, so here she is!
Q: Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
A: I was a teacher before becoming a writer, and The Gingerbread Man Loose in the Schoolwas inspired by a Kindergarten Gingerbread Man unit I taught at the beginning of each school year. At the end of the unit, our freshly baked Gingerbread Man always managed to escape from the classroom. We hung missing posters and searched the halls, discovering crumbs and dropped candies, as we asked school staff where he might be. But he always found his way back to our classroom on his own – one smart cookie!
My students absolutely loved this unit and would come back years later asking if the Gingerbread Man had escaped yet. Even though we read many versions of the Gingerbread Man story during the unit, there was not one that mirrored the fun of our school Gingerbread Man chase. So I decided to try and write a new version.
The story took me about 2 years to write because I was also learning how to write for children and how to write in rhyme. SCBWI conferences and local critique groups helped me a great deal. Eventually, I started to research and send my manuscript out to publishers who seemed to be a good fit. After many rejections, it was pulled from the slush pile by an editor at GP Putnam’s Sons and acquired. Needless to say I was giddy with happiness and still am! After many more months, the illustrator, Mike Lowery came on board with a very fresh, endearing, child-friendly style to match the story. What a thrill it was to see the Gingerbread Man come to life through Mike’s illustrations. It is a bit like Christmas or your birthday when you first get sketches of your characters!
Q: Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
A: Kids inspire me – their imagination and belief in the possibility of magic and wonder, is something I want to retain myself. It’s also something that I try to sprinkle into in my writing, along with a good dose of humor. I clearly remember the look on my students’ faces as we chased the Gingerbread Man through our school (and the look on my own children’s faces when we did the same thing at home) – that look and feeling is what I strive for when I write.
Q: What’s an important “nugget” that you’d like readers to take away from your book?
A: At the heart of the Gingerbread Man’s journey is the need to belong… to be a part of his class. We all need to feel that acceptance and belonging. So, I’d love to encourage readers to go out of their way to be friendly to any new kids in their classes or anyone who looks like they need a friend. This simple gesture can make huge a difference in another person’s life.
Q: When do you write? Where do you write? What helps you write?
A: I have three young children, so I work my writing time around our family time. But when it is “writing time,” I stick to it. My brain seems to work best in the morning, when things are quiet. I have tried to make my writing environment fun and cozy, filled with children’s books, writing quotes, pictures, a big window to stare out of, a warm cup of coffee, and of course – my friend and occasional enemy – the computer. (Although, plain paper and a pen work just fine as well!)
I try to break writing into bite-sized pieces that are doable in the time I have and not to go back and “fix” my work while I am writing. It is never perfect the first, second, or even third time I write it – I don’t expect it to be – I just try to let the ideas and story come out and turn off my inner critic.
One of my favorite “must-haves” for writing is a big gingerbread-colored coffee mug that my children and I made on Mother’s Day at a pottery place. It says “Imagine” on one side and “Mischief” on the other. I always try to keep those two words in mind when writing for children.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote?
A: I love to collect quotes that are inspiring. Two of my favorites are:
• “A professional writer is just an amateur that didn’t quit.” – This quote hangs above my computer, and I heard it quoted at an SCBWI conference. Although I have researched it, I can’t seem to find the author of the quote.
• “Watch with glittering eyes, the whole world around you. Because the greatest secrets are hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Ronald Dahl
Q: Is there a sequel?
A: Yes, I’m super excited about a sequel-of-sorts coming out summer 2013, called The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Fire Truck – the same dapper and determined smart cookie takes a field trip to the fire station with his class. And, OH – the adventures that ensue when he has to escape from the station’s crumb-snatching Dalmatian!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on two more picture books and am in the middle of a Middle-Grade adventure/mystery as well.
I also just finished a Book Trailer for The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School with the help of the wonderful children’s writer and motion graphic designer, Carter Higgins. I hope to add it to my website along with lesson plan ideas on how to connect it with curriculum-linked skills. Plus, I just want it to be fun for kids to watch! Here’s the link.
“Getting to know you” questions:
- • Tea of Coffee? A little coffee, with a lot of milk and sugar – (aka – a warm, super yummy vanilla latte)
- • Favorite Season – Fall. The cool weather, the colors of the leaves, Halloween!
- • Can you deal better with wind or rain? Wind – I love to hear the sound it makes rustling through the trees.
- • Deciduous or Evergreen – Deciduous. Love the cycles and changes. Deciduous are usually easier to climb as well .
- • What’s always in your fridge? – Peppermint Patties (thank goodness my kids don’t know where they are!)
- • Favorite form of exercise? – Dance, Jazzercise, or Zumba., although I also like to run if I have good book downloaded on my iPod. I get a lot of books “read” that way. I just finished John Green’s, The Fault in Our Stars – really wonderful!
- • Skill you’d most like to acquire – Being an extrovert .
Please feel free to visit www.LauraMurrayBooks.com for fun activities, a curriculum-linked teacher’s guide, and extension ideas for The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Thanks for stopping by, Laura!