Farm books | Feb 01, 2021

An Interview with Book of the Year Author Viola Butler

2021 Book of the Year Author Viola Butler tells us how "Chuck's Ice Cream Wish" came to be!

2020 Book of the Year 1

How did you come up with the idea for the Dairy Godmother?

I was talking to my best friend about story ideas and I asked her this question: “What if a kid wished for all the ice cream in the world and then gets granted a dairy farm?”

She said, “that would be my kind of fairy godmother! ”

And can’t you just see how the story fell into place from there? There are several nods to Cinderella in the book including Chuck washing the floors in a ballgown and him getting a special spoon at the end of the book for doing a good job. He actually keeps this spoon when he gets sent back home, just like Cinderella got to keep her shoe.

Tell us about submitting your story.

After I wrote my original draft, I submitted it to the Feeding Minds Press open submission page. I was very surprised and delighted when Feeding Minds was interested in perusing the book.

*Did you know you can submit a manuscript to Feeding Minds Press for consideration too?*

How did the editing process go?

Oof the editing process is a real process! Chuck’s Ice Cream Wish started out as over 1500 words – which is way too long for a picture book. Picture books today run about 500 words or less.

I owe a big thank you to the editor, Emma Dryden. She really helped me get Chuck’s voice right and pare down the story to what would best for young readers. For example, while the longer edition of the story talked more in depth about things like what milk is being tested for and specifically what kinds of grains and forages cows eat, but at the end of the day those details (while interesting and important), didn’t add much to the story as a whole. Those worked much better as links to more information on the book webpage so curious readers could explore more on their own.

There is also a fun detail about Chuck. My original character was named Billy. Then I learned there was a farmer in Maryland who called himself an “ice cream farmer.” His name is Chuck. We thought it could be fun to rename the character Chuck so that readers might be able to “meet a real farmer named Chuck” at the end of the story – making the story come to life in a way.

There is a video where you can meet Chuck on the Feeding Minds Press website as well.

Do you live on a dairy farm?

No, but I have visited several dairy farms. I truly appreciate the hard work and care dairy farmers put into their products. Farming isn’t an easy job, especially dairy farmers who have to wake up early and milk several times a day.

What is your favorite part of the book?

My favorite part of the book is when the Dairy Godmother gives Chuck the shovel. I went back and forth over using the word “poop” in the story, but at the end of the day I think young readers find that word really funny, so I had to add it in!

I also love that instead of stars in the “POOFS” Ward added little cheese wedges – that makes me smile every single time.

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

It is really funny that I wrote this book because I don’t actually like ice cream all that much. Cake is my dessert of choice. If I had to choose a flavor though, I would pick soft serve vanilla with sprinkles.

Do you have any advice for accurate ag book writers?

Yes, join your local SCBWI chapter! They have all of the resources you need to start writing. I would also suggest trying to tour some farms, meet some farmers, and read other accurate ag books. The Ag Foundation has a recommended list on their website.

Check out Tales of the Dairy Godmother: Chuck's Ice Cream Wish for more dairy fun!

I’m so grateful for this [Book of the Year] award. I hope the story can help young readers understand the hard work that goes into making our meals possible.

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How do you use AFBFA resources? We are always looking for ways to create resources that are more impactful.