“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” – Madeleine L’Engle
When Lezlie Evans was growing up she wanted to be a lot of things: an actress, a doctor, a criminal investigator, but a writer “was never on the list.” Lezlie chuckles as she recalls, “I was actually placed in a remedial English class when I was in the 7th grade. Writing has not always come easily for me. It took me hours to come up with an idea and even longer to get the words out of my head and onto the paper […] it wasn’t until I took several creative writing courses, while earning my degree in Broadcast Journalism at BYU, that I developed a passion for writing.”
Lezlie shares, “I chose to stay home with my children […] and when they were little we would go to the library and check out stacks of books and we would read together every night. I remember sitting on the couch one night and thinking I want to do this.” She laughs as she continues, “I finally knew what I wanted to do when I grew up!”
The idea of writing for children seemed to be a perfect fit for Lezlie. She shares, “I wanted to write picture books specifically for ages 4-8 years old because those years are when an amazing time of growth takes place in a child’s brain. Not only are they exposed to early language skills, especially when you take a child upon your lap and you read a story together; they are also exposed to all kinds of vocabulary. They develop curiosity and are able to build reasoning skills, predictive skills, and memory. If you think about it, children can always remember a story or a character from a book they read.” You can hear the passion in Lezlie’s voice as she continues, “I’m going to give you a few statistics here because I feel that they are really important, foundationally, for young parents and care givers to know. The greatest amount of brain growth occurs between the ages of birth and age five. In fact, by the time a child is three years old about 85% of the brains core structure is formed. Another really interesting statistic is: the single most important activity for building eventual success in reading and in school is reading out loud to your child every day. The experts say just twenty minutes a day will increase their success in academics by leaps and bounds.”
In our world full of modern devices and technology so readily available, we are often battling with devices from an early age. Lezlie offers some great advice to parents and caregivers: “Start reading aloud from the time babies are in the womb to just days old. It’s that simple. Put down your devices for 20 minutes every day and help children fall in love with reading and books. Books can be pricey so go to the library often and check out as many books as you can.” Lezlie also shares a unique way to keep books readily available. “When my kids were young we had a basket in every room that we put books in. We’d read at lunch time, sometimes we’d even read in the bathroom when we had a captive audience in the tub. We read a lot! I believe that foundational reading, when they were young, helped my children to have very good verbal skills and success in their academic pursuits.”
When it came to writing for children, Lezlie wanted her books to help as many children as possible develop a love for reading and enjoy success. However, wanting to write children’s picture books is very different from actually writing a book and getting it published and in the hands of children. But, sometimes the stars align or in Lezlie’s case a thunder storm ushers in a dream come true. Lezlie shares, “One night there was a huge thunder storm; lightening was flashing and the trees were thrashing against the windowpanes. It woke me up and these words started coming to my mind — trees are thrashing — big boom bashing — I grabbed my writer’s journal to write them down because I knew I wouldn’t remember them in the morning. The only place I could go to not wake anyone up was my walk-in closet. I sat there on the floor and wrote what would become the text of my first children’s picture book Rain Song.” Her manuscript landed on the desk of an editor with Houghton Mifflin who loved it. “It was my second manuscript I sent out which is unbelievable, that doesn’t happen in this industry. The editor just happened to pick it out of the slush pile — she loved it and wanted to publish my story. The rest is history from then on. It was a little bit of a miracle. But, to give balance to that — it’s not been that easy ever since. It has taken a lot of “Nos” to get another “Yes” for my other picture books.”
Over the years Lezlie has published a plethora of children’s books and each one has had its own unique challenges and its own wonderful rewards. She shares, “I love to go into schools and present and share time with the kids and help them understand how important the skills of reading and writing are. Especially, since as a child I was a reluctant reader. Reading didn’t come very easy to me and it still doesn’t. I need to be captivated by a book in order to get through it. So, I really love that I can connect with children […] and help them want to build their reading and writing skills, and know that it’s not always going to come easy, but to keep persevering. I want them to know it will be worth it.” Her advice to all readers: find the kind of books you love. If you’re having a hard time, ask a librarian for some recommendations based off of your interests. “If kids don’t love to read yet, it’s probably because they haven’t found the kind of book that speaks to them or inspires them.”
Books are portals to the imagination and for writers it’s very much the same. Inspiration for stories can come from myriad life experiences, people, places, and others’ stories. Lezlie shared that when her children were younger their antics often inspired her tales; especially The Bunnies’ Picnic & The Bunnies’ Trip. Now, that her children are grown, Lezlie’s grandchildren provide a lot of ‘fodder’ for artistic creation. Her rambunctious four-year-old grandson was the inspiration for Lezlie’s newest book: Vroom! Vroom! Beep-Beep!: A Crash Course in Kindess. “My grandson would crash through and forget to say ‘excuse me’ or ‘please’ he was on a mission.” She laughs as she recalls, “I started visualizing him as a little off-roader, a little red jeep, and this phrase ‘Vroom! Vroom! Beep-Beep!’ came to my mind and that is where the whole concept for the story began.”
I had the opportunity to read an advanced readers copy (ARC) and it is an adorable story with a very good lesson. The fun illustrations by, Kate Chappell, feature a rural countryside complete with sheep, ducks, and a cow! One can easily imagine the scenes taking place right here in Wasatch County. In fact, Lezlie shares that living in Midway among the beautiful mountains, lakes, farms, and wildlife offers a huge scope for the imagination. “All I have to do is look out my window and I’m inspired!”
Lezlie’s goal is to continue inspiring young children to never give up and to develop a love for books and reading. Sometimes the road can be a bit bumpy. Just like little red jeep, Lezlie has experienced many obstacles along her journey to becoming a children’s picture book author, but she’s also learned a lot of lessons, and gained a community of friends along the way. “I love writing for children. I have a lot of passion to keep going and keep pursuing the next book. The opportunities I have to put my stories in the hands of little ones is such a blessing. I’m so grateful, and hopefully my books can help them to spend some time in their day on the happy positive side of life.”
Vroom! Vroom! Beep-Beep!: A Crash Course in Kindness
Released on March 21, 2023. Come and celebrate with Lezlie at the Wasatch County Library’s Author Family Fun Night, Friday, April 14, at 6:30pm. Enjoy treats as Lezlie talks about the book and then reads aloud. You can check Lezlie’s books out from the library or purchase her books in advance at Kringle’s in Midway or at the event.
Advice to Young Readers Who Want to Write:
- Writing takes a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance, and probably some luck too, but don’t give up.
- Everybody has a story to tell and we need stories.
- Write – even if it’s just for yourself – you’ll never know what adventures await if you don’t.
- Keep a writing journal by your bedside and write down the ideas that come to you at night.
- If writing is difficult then just jot down a few words at a time.
- Your stories will make a difference in someone’s life so go for it!
- Record your ideas and thoughts on your phone or hand-held recorder.
- Writing is personal – your writing doesn’t and shouldn’t be like everyone else – don’t compare – just have fun and write what you want.
- Be bold! Be courageous! Be yourself and write!