A few months ago, we spoke to news anchor Willie Geist and his wife Christina about their busy family life with two working parents, their happy marriage, and more. Christina mentioned her upcoming book, Sorry Grownups, You Can’t Go to School!, and now that it’s out and we’re in back to school mode, we wanted to find out more. Here’s a bit more about this accomplished executive, entrepreneur, writer and mom of two (son George is 10 and daughter Lucie is 12), and this wonderful new book.
Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you got to this point?
For as long as I can remember, I have been most comfortable expressing myself with words on a page. I’ve never printed ‘writer’ on my business card, but my entire career has hinged on my ability to capture an idea and put it into words that connect with an audience.
I spent 10 years after college in a progression of news producing, public relations, marketing, branding and design strategy positions inside global agencies like Interbrand, big companies like Johnson & Johnson, and small start-ups.
When my kids were three and one, I took a big time out and spent four years at home with them. In that time, the creative energy I had been channeling into my job had a new place to go. I was inspired by my experiences as a mom, and by all of the hilarious little people around me, and characters and stories began to dance around in my head. The year my kids were three and five and starting preschool and Kindergarten, I promised myself I’d write them all down. Four years later, my first published book, Buddy’s Bedtime Battery, was released by Random House. My second, Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!came out in July and debuted at #4 on the New York Timesbestseller list.
It just so happens that the same year I sold my first manuscript to Random House, I turned 40, and two big business ideas came into my life as well. So, I said yes to everything and crossed my fingers.
True Geist is a consulting firm I run with Todd True, my old boss and Creative Director from Interbrand and Johnson & Johnson. Essentially, we help clients bring their ideas to life. We name companies and products, design their logo and visual identity, create their packaging and help them tell a meaningful story visually and in words.
Boombox Gifts is my passion start-up, inspired by the memory boxes I made for my best friends’ 40th birthdays and my dad’s 70th birthday. It’s an online boutique where you can shop for a beautiful memory box, and then digitally fill it with messages and photos for a loved one, either on your own or by inviting guests through our website. My team designs every message onto 5×7 cards and creates the gift of a lifetime.
The inspiration for this book came the summer my daughter was three, and I was getting her ready to attend her first day camp near my in-laws’ beach house. A few days before camp started, I just found myself saying things like, “Sorry, Grandpas can’t go to camp!” and “Please don’t cry, but camp is not for Grandmas,” and creating this dynamic around the house to make my toddler feel like camp was exclusive and super exciting, and that we were all sad to be left out. It worked! So, I came back to this technique again and again for school and other transitional moments when I needed help coaxing a nervous little person to step into a new situation.
Why does the message in this book work so well?
I think – as parents – we need a complete toolbox of messages and methods depending on the day – or the hour!
It’s great that we have so much expert advice out there today, but at the end of the day, you are the expert on your own child and sometimes you just have to put in the time and reach for a new tool in that toolbox to figure out the happiest way to communicate with each other.
How do Lucie and George contribute to your writing?
My kids have been in my corner since I started writing Lady and Buddy stories seven years ago. They’ve seen these stories develop from my laptop to page layouts to sketched illustrations and finished books. Right now, they’re helping me figure out which story idea to pitch for book #3. As of dinner last night, it’s down to two ideas.
Is there a misconception about how “easy” it is to write a good children’s book?
Before I sold my first book, I spent two years trying to network with people in the publishing industry to understand how picture books are made, and to see if my story ideas had any potential. Like you, I was buying and reading some books that were just terrible!
For me, I try to make sure I write a picture book designed to be read aloud, by an adult, but absorbed and appreciated most by the child who’s listening. From the moment I put words on the page, I read them out loud, and I build a page plan so I can imagine where the pictures will do the work, and where I really need words. Picture books follow a certain page format. So, it helps me to work with an idea from the beginning in a page plan context, so I know how it flows, and how it sounds when I read it with a child.
No audience is tougher than a room full of picture book readers. If you don’t capture them on page 1, they will literally get up and leave the room!
What ideas are you kicking around for your next book?
I see at least one more title featuring Lady and Buddy, and I have some new ideas on my mind that may take shape with new lead characters. Each book I create with Tim Bowers’ illustrations is a work of art with an original painting on every page, so I take my time!
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