Cows & dinosaurs, dogs & frogs

News | April 6, 2018

On a sheet of lined notebook paper, a girl named Jill put her pencil to work. She was 7 years old at the time, and she decided to write about the wind and an owl. Even at that young, young age, her words were lyrical, full of wisdom and whimsy.

On a computer, Jill Esbaum put her fingers to work on a keyboard. She was 39 years old at the time, and she decided to write stories for children. Even with the full support of her family, the camaraderie of a writing group, and a pile of writing books checked out from the library, it was difficult to get back into the swing of putting words onto paper.

Her mom found 7-year-old Jill’s story about the wind and the owl and shared it with her. “I remembered who I’d been,” Jill said, “a child who loved creating stories, also a motor mouth.” A book of original hymns written by her paternal grandmother also showed Jill that writing is likely nestled somewhere in her genes.

“I believe we’re born to do certain things,” she said. “And I’m forever grateful to have rediscovered my love for writing…better late than never, right?”

First yeses
At first, her writing met with rejection. Letters with a message of “no thank you” landed in her mailbox. The silence of no response at all was hard to take, too. But then! One of Jill’s pieces was accepted by Country Woman magazine. She started collecting credits in children’s magazines like Cricket, Highlights for Children, and Teen.

Her first book yes came four and a half years after she began. Stink Soup is the story of a skunk, a visit to grandma’s farm and canning tomatoes. The story uses a little bit of reality (yes, a skunk really did get into a friend’s basement) meshed with some stories from a farm (yes, she really did throw tomatoes into a fence as a child).

Then came Steamboat A’Comin, Estelle Takes a Bath, To the Big Top, and Stanza.

Stanza is a dog. He bullies everybody. He eats chicken pot pie. And . . . he writes poetry. On the sly. At night. Because he’s extremely afraid his bully brothers will find out. But Stanza doesn’t let that stop him from entering one of his poems into a jingle contest. Does he win? Well, what if he did . . . not?

It’s a page in Stanza that best describes Jill as an author, she said.

He scribbled and scrawled.
He wadded up papers.
He pondered.
He paced.
He scoured his thesaurus.
He struggled for rhymes.
He started from scratch at least eighty-two times.

A distinctive voice
Today, Jill writes fiction and nonfiction from her sunny office on her family’s farm in northern Scott County. She travels, mostly in the Midwest, to speak and teach about writing. She enjoys visiting schools — “I go on school visits whenever they ask me.” Because of the flexibility in her schedule, she is able to spend time with her family, including her grandchildren.

Readers will notice Jill’s work is centered on animals — both real and imagined. Her book publishers include Harcourt, Holt, Sterling, Dial, and National Geographic. She connected with a National Geographic editor who came to a writers’ conference in the Quad Cities. Jill recently sold three picture books. Where’d My Joe Go? is the story of a dog lost from his truck-driving owner, Joe. Frog Boots is the story of a boy and his favorite new rainboots — and what happens when kids make fun of them.

Her advice for hopeful children’s book writers?

Good writing has a distinctive voice and sticks to the relevant details. A story must have humor and heart, and the shorter, the better. Jill’s fiction books, for example, are as few as 200 words, no more than 800.

But most importantly, she said:

“Whatever your goal, enjoy the process. And never give up. As it turns out, Mom was right. Practice really does make perfect.”

Jill Esbaum online:
Follow Jill Esbaum on Twitter @JEsbaum or on her blog, picturebookbuilders.com

One comment on “Cows & dinosaurs, dogs & frogs”

  • Sue Leopold

    April 14, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Not only do I admire the many books Jill has created and written, I admire her. Thank you for featuring Jill on this blog post, along with her writing journey that began at age seven.

    Read, write, and create every day.

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Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”