How Dinosaurs Learned to Dance: An Interview with Children’s Author Judy Cook

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How Dinosaurs Learned to Dance

An Interview with Children's Author Judy Cook

There’s a secret that a great many dino-loving kids and their families don’t know: When Dinosaurs Go Dancing, the award-winning children’s book written by Judy Cook, almost never happened. Due to writing fits and starts, and a stalled collaboration, there were times when it didn’t look like Judy would be able to realize her vision.

But the dancer turned first-time author didn’t give up - she persevered through setbacks and doubt, and families all across North America are thankful she did.

We chatted with Judy about writing, her publishing journey, and the confidence she gained along the way:

FriesenPress: Thanks for appearing on our blog. You’ve had great success with your book. Can you tell us how it started?

JC: I had the idea to write a children’s book that would include dancing dinosaurs with facts about fossil discoveries throughout history. I kept thinking about it. The idea just wouldn’t go away so I decided to try to write it.

I began researching everything I could from other writers and read many, many children’s books, noting which ones I loved…and why I loved them.

Judy cook (left) and illustrator SONIA nadeau (RIGHT) with friends and family at an event promoting when dinosaurs go dancing

Judy cook (left) and illustrator SONIA nadeau (RIGHT) with friends and family at an event promoting when dinosaurs go dancing

FP: How did the writing go? Was it easy?

JC: No, I had several false starts.  

Initially, I tried to repurpose a script I had co-written for a children’s musical, but that wound up being too complex. Then I thought that a character from history, Mary Anning, who at the age of twelve had made some important fossil discoveries, might lead the reader through the book. I tried writing it like that but it just wasn’t working.

Eventually I decided to begin the book with two paleontologists on a dinosaur dig discovering fossilized footprints and wondering what the dinosaurs were doing when they left those footprints.  The paleontologists are excited by the idea that the dinosaurs must have been dancing, and that idea became the springboard for writing the rest of the book!

FP: So even though this is a children’s story, it was important to draw on your own life experiences?

JC: Yes. The first half of the book is fiction and based on a song from the musical and the second part is non-fiction including facts about fossils.

FP: What was the most challenging part about the writing?

JC: After figuring out the premise, the biggest challenge was deciding how to connect the two parts of the book. Finally, I got the idea to write a middle section of dance facts with tongue-in-cheek comments about the dinosaurs doing the dances, and that helped to bridge the two sections.  

If you want to write a children’s book, don’t second-guess yourself. Have faith and just go for it!

FP: What has this experience taught you about writing?

JC: I’ve learned that if you want to write a children’s book, don’t second-guess yourself. Have faith and just go for it! For me, the satisfaction of finishing my project has been totally worth the effort.

FP: Why did you choose to work with FriesenPress on your project?

JC: There were times in my writing journey where the project was stalled. I waited two years for assistance from a talented friend who had promised to help with the book layout.

The finished product

The finished product

The illustrator and I were both getting frustrated that the project was taking so long so I decided to begin researching self-publishing companies. FriesenPress stood out as one of the best, so I called them. I’m so glad I made that phone call.

FP: That’s great to hear! Do you have any tips for other writers?

JC: I can’t overstate how important it is to have a good editor and to keep writing until you get your work into a draft of what you think the book should look like. It’s your book so you get to call the shots. That’s wonderful but at the same time kind of scary. FriesenPress took my rough draft and helped me create a polished, professional book.

FP: How has your publishing experience impacted your writing career?

JC: It’s taken me awhile to feel confident in calling myself an author, but now that I’ve written my book and had it published, I am much more confident.

I have now joined the Manitoba Writers’ Guild as well as several other organizations for children’s writers and illustrators. There are so many wonderful books written for children. You can learn a lot by reading what is already out there, but remember there is always room for a new book with a fresh approach. My advice to anyone thinking about writing a children’s book is to go ahead and finish writing your story, because it’s important for your unique voice to be heard.

FP: That’s so good to hear. Thanks Judy!

Judy’s book, When Dinosaurs Go Dancing, is available here.