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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage: Author Joanna Cook tells ...

an enchanting tale about a bird community that blends fiction with aviary facts.
The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage
Author and illustrator - Joanna Cook

Do you know what a wren is? If you said it’s a bird, you’re correct! Mr. and Mrs. Wrenolds, who are wrens, have returned to Elm Tree Cottage.

Mr. Wrenolds performs his annual ritual of finding seven prospective residences from which Mrs. Wrenolds will choose. For the past several years, they have lived in the tulip tree, but due to winter ice storms, part of it is gone.

Grandma Wrenolds wants to try the oak tree, but Mrs. Wrenolds decides to go back to the tulip tree. They meet all their old friends from the cottage yard, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, Axel B. Jaymes, Tony and Mary Hummingway, Alfred Ousley, and Sir Al Cardin.

Will the tulip tree prove satisfactory when the Wrenolds’ two children, Jake and Jackie, come along? And what will they all do when a tornado happens through?


Many early readers have predictable stories, however, this bright and cheerful book looks to be a delightful change. Youngsters will be fascinated by Joanna Cook’s easy-to-read tale and colourful drawings that brings the bird community to life. Kids will enjoy reading about the characteristics and habits of the various kinds of birds including wrens, robins, blue jays, hummingbirds, blackbirds and cardinals.

Not just for bird lovers, but for pure enjoyment too. Look out for the sequels to follow the adventures of Mr and Mrs Wrenold.


Joanna Cook, author and illustrator of The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage is a resident of Joplin, Missouri, which is in the Southwestern part of the state. She recently retired after teaching elementary music in the Joplin School District for 32 years.

Joanna earned a Bachelor's in Music from Missouri Southern State University and a Master's in Music from Pittsburg State University. She has been writing children's stories and musical plays for over 25 years. She loves running and walking, reading, drawing and painting, and playing the piano. She is the organist at her church.

The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage is the first book in a series of children's books.
Click below for the interview:

What inspired you to write your book?  
My inspiration was my love of writing and love of nature. My children's book is about birds, so I tried to combine my interest in birds with a tale that was able to teach children aviary facts and facts about animal behaviour. I have always been intrigued with birds. Both my parents gave me a deep regard and appreciation of nature, but my mother loved birds. She would watch the birds and wonder if they were the same families that would migrate to our house each year. I really enjoy watching and feeding the birds in my backyard.

I am also very interested in the part birdsong plays in the composing of many famous composers’ music.  Haydn and Mozart, among others, drew much inspiration from birds for their compositions. I am doing presentations with the book at schools and at our Audubon Center. We will also help the children make wren houses after the presentation.

So what is The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage all about?
The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage is the first book in a series that is a whimsical tale blended with facts about birds and animal behaviour. This early reader is intended for ages 7-11, or grades 3-6.

I wondered, because your drawings aren't dissimilar from the great Beatrix Potter, did she inspire you in any way?
I have a great regard for Beatrix Potter. She was a very talented and resourceful woman. I also like William Steig’s humor, and Arnold Lobel’s art and stories. But  I am inspired most from nature and how it is a reflection of human life. I get inspiration from reading about other authors and how they have gone about their writing.

How many will there be in the entire series?
I am not sure how many books will be in the series, yet, but I have hopes for at least 4 more. I also have written a story about a boy who grows up during the Civil War era. His two older brothers enlist into the Confederate Army and he tries to find a way to get into a brigade even though he is under age. This story would be a chapter book as well and intended for about the same audience as the “Wrenolds “ series.

Was there a character you struggled with?
Yes. The character of Grandma Wrenolds. I knew how I wanted to develop her character in the story, but drawing and painting her was a challenge. I am able to more easily write a story, but I am finding the artwork is a very rewarding challenge. It’s nice to feel like you had command over the whole creation of the book. I do have trouble with human faces, but I guess that works fine if you are drawing from a bird’s perspective.

How did you find your publisher? Would you recommend them?I researched publishers using “The Writer's Market.” I spent a lot of time at the library going through it to find children's publishers that were accepting new manuscripts. Mirror Publishing was one mentioned and I sent off a synopsis to them. I was really excited when they phoned and told me they thought it was a “neat concept.” Yes, personally, they have been great to work with.

What's the best/worst part of being a writer?I enjoy all aspects, but the most surprising part was finding how much work it is to market your book. Also, since I am the illustrator of my books, sometimes it is a challenge to depict the artwork with a particular part of the story. I have redrawn and painted some illustrations as many as 6 times, only to find at the very end I made a mistake and needed to start all over. The artwork has been the biggest challenge but also it is very rewarding. There is some experimentation at first as to what watercolour paper to use, what colors will transmit electronically, etc.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
The most productive time of the day for me is early in the morning when my mind is not as cluttered from the day's activities. I like to run or walk in the mornings, then come home and start my projects. Being outside helps me sort out things.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I always write my stories down on paper first. After a time to reflect, I add or take away until I am satisfied. Then I transfer it to the computer so I can e-mail it to my publisher.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
No, I really don't set goals for word count. I just keep writing until it seems I need to start a new chapter or some new developments.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
My second book in the series is what I am working on now. It is longer than the first book, “The Wrenolds of Elm Tree Cottage” and will be a chapter book.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
My first attempt at sending out manuscripts was in 1989. I was really disappointed when I sent it to 4 publishers and didn't have good news from any of them. But I will have to say that I didn't do any research back then to find out who was accepting new manuscripts. I just copied publishers' names and addresses and sent them out. After those 4 attempts, I put the book up and thought someday I would try again. This time (over 20 years later) I was better informed about the publishing business.

Do you have a critique partner?
No, not a formal critique partner. I use my family for a sounding board and later to help with some of the editing.




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