Where do writers find ideas? All around us! The idea for my forthcoming picture book took over my brain as I was in the middle of writing an utterly unrelated biography.
In the fall of 2013, I got serious about my long-term plan of writing books for children. I focused on nonfiction picture books. That same time, we moved out of our house in town and into a new home in the country next to a beautiful hayfield. As the months passed, in between bouts of research and writing a pair of picture book biographies, I watched the beauty of the change of seasons around me.
In winter, the landscape was covered with a blanket of white. Snowshoeing across the hayfield, I spotted the footprints and snow tunnels of various critters making their homes in, on, and under the snow: foxes and mice and owls and more. In spring, the snow melted and the squashed brown grass emerged in the mud. In a surprisingly quick transformation, that dead-looking ground cover greened up, the birds arrived, and the field filled with tall grasses waving in the warm breezes.
When the grass grew high enough, on a dry and sunny summer day, it was time to hay. I found the haymaking process fascinating—and charming. First, the big farm tractor pulled the giant mowers that cut broad swathes up and down the field and left the long grasses flat on the ground. Next came the whirring tedders, which "wuffled" the cut grass to aerate it and facilitate drying. When the hay was dry enough, the tractor pulled the big hay rake up and down the field to form long windrows—piles of cut grass running the length of the field. And finally, the baler arrived to roll up the windrows, creating neat bundles out of the loose hay. Mower, tedder, baler, hay! The process had an air of magic to it – making hay was storing summer's grasses so they'd feed the animals all winter long. The rhythms of all these machines seeped into my mind, and I started to hear these lines running around in my head:
"Listen and I'll tell the tale/of storing summer in a bale."
At first, I thought I would write it all down in a poem. It soon became clear, though, that this story wanted to be a book—a rhyming picture book. Many people in my area (including the kids) are involved in haying and know all about it. But I realized that in most of the country, people aren't familiar with what hay is or how it's made. I researched children's books and couldn't find any about haymaking. And so I decided to write one. My book would be informational, and include the facts about hay—because, after all, I'm a nonfiction writer. But I invented a young narrator to tell the story of how we make hay.
Now, with the help of the beautiful art of master illustrator Joe Cepeda, my farmgirl narrator and her mother will soon come to life on the page. I am excited to bring Hey, Hey, HAY! from my country hayfield to kids near and far.
HEY, HEY, HAY! (A Tale of Bales and the Machines that Make Them) by Christy Mihaly, illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Holiday House, coming August 14, 2018.
Available for Pre-order now. See details on www.christymihaly.com/hey-hey-hay.