By Nora Heston Tarte
According to Danna Smith, writing children’s books is more than her career—it is her calling. Inspired by her early love of writing as well as the creatures she was exposed to as a young girl through her father who trained, bred, and rehabilitated animals, becoming a children’s author was always in the cards for Danna. “I have written for as long as I can remember,” she says.
The Salt Lake City-native made her home in Lodi with her husband and two children 15 years ago when they relocated for his job. Since then, a cocker spaniel named Peanut has joined the family.
Her quest to become a children’s author really took shape when she was in high school after a creative writing class reintroduced her to picture books. “I knew then that I wanted to write children’s books one day,” she admits. However, it didn’t happen right away.
Danna continued to write for her own enjoyment after college as she focused on being a wife and a mother. But in 1998, she got more serious about her pastime. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), attended conferences, found a critique group and furiously began working toward her ultimate goal—to get her works published. Fast forward to 2004 after years of practice and rejection, one of Danna’s manuscripts, A Wild Cowboy, caught the eye of an editor at Disney-Hyperion Books, and the rest is history.
As a young girl, Danna’s favorite toy was a pen—though she has more recently traded it in for a keyboard—and she wrote her first poem when she was just six years old. Now her affinity for rhyming has spilled into her work. “Many of my books are written in rhyme and have an interactive element,” she explains. “Which makes them great for reading aloud as well as encouraging reader/listener participation.”
Since 2004, Danna has added six more stories to her award-winning collection and this fall she will welcome an eighth—Swallow the Leader, a colorful, underwater counting book for toddlers. In 2017, Hawk of the Castle, a unique story about the art and sport of falconry set in medieval times, will follow.
With two children of her own, Danna is no stranger to child rearing, and each of her written endeavors has been like raising another child. “I created them, spent time with them, worried over them, and waited two to four years for each to become illustrated and published,” she shares. “They are all my babies.”
Over the years Danna’s works have been revered and recognized for their appeal to early readers, but one of Danna’s most rewarding achievements so far came when Two at the Zoo was chosen as a special edition “Raising Readers” board book. This means that approximately 30,000 copies were made available to children free of charge through their birth hospital and well-baby visits. “What a great way to get children excited about books and reading at an early age,” she exclaims.
“Writing books for children (and only children) is my passion. I honestly believe this is what I was born to do,” Danna shares. And her favorite quote about writing just about sums it up: “I write because creating something that didn’t exist before is as close to magic as I’ll ever get,” (whyiwrite.tumblr.com).