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The Story Behind The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion Part 1

I'm often asked about how I became an author. It all began with The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide.

I'd been blogging for five years and had taken courses to improve my writing. Writing brought me pleasure, but I had no desire to write a book. 

None whatsoever. 

(The irony here is that as I write this, I have worked with five publishers for 12 published books. Three more books are on the way in 2024. I may have been bitten by the writing bug.)
No dreams for a book. No desires to write a book...until I had an idea for a book. A real book idea! One that I was excited about. One I suspected I would be good at writing.

August 2014: Inspiration for The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion

Inspiration comes from many places for writers. The inspiration for The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion came from a book. Not Wilder's books though.

My kids and I were reading through the Chronicles of Narnia together. (Actually, I'm not sure how much reading I did and how much we listened to the audio books. But we loved it all.) 

As we read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (affiliate links), we read a companion guide to it called Roar! The Christian Family Guide to the Chronicles of Narnia by Heather and David Kopp. My kids (ages 2, 5, and 7) loved it. (At least the older two did.) They wanted to learn more about Narnia characters and places. They loved when we made Turkish delight. Their delighted in the fun quizzes at the end of each chapter. 

We weren't too far into the world of Narnia when I realized I wanted to write a book like Roar. A book about a book (or books). A book to help readers understand a previously-published book and guide them through it. 

It didn't take long for me to know exactly what book series I wanted to write for kids: the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

Why a Guide to Little House for Kids

When I was a classroom teacher, I occasionally read a Little House book to my students. I also read them with my own children. The books are rich with history. Today's readers don't relate to pioneer and farm life like children even fifty years ago did. But they sure are curious and want to know more. And the books are ripe with ideas to live like a pioneer.

But the Little House books also need a guide because of the complicated history and racism readers witness. (I actually like that this perspective was included instead of erased because people really did think like that.)

Some fans of Little House say it is a product of the time. I agree. However, that doesn't mean those actions, words, or attitudes are acceptable today. (Nor should they have been acceptable to pioneers.) In my opinion, those situations from the books need to be discussed. I don't think the books need to be avoided. I wanted to help readers "discuss" it in their heads--or with other people. My book could be part of that conversation--a tool in the discussion. (I also recommend including other pioneer perspectives on your bookshelves to be read with the Little House books.) 

So, I pursued the idea. I asked a book-loving librarian friend if she thought it was a good idea AND if I was the right person to write the book. She was very enthusiastic. 

August 2014-June 2015: First Steps

Next, I studied the publishing world for months and months. I studied children's books, especially recently published nonfiction for children. I also began a blog now called (this blog!) to connect with Little House fans. I even began a Facebook page. I even began teaching/testing out some of the activities I planned to include in the book at the summer camp where I taught.

Of course I researched. I reviewed some sources I already had including a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's unpublished autobiography manuscript called Pioneer Girl. It was just a photocopy--a gift from a dear family member. It was a treasure the first time I read it as well as later during my research. (Wilder's autobiography became a book--complete with annotations in December 2014. You can get it from any of the Little House museums as well as other online resources. Here's my review.)

I used Roar as my mentor text (before I knew what the phrase meant). A mentor text provides a writing model to study. Basically, I used ideas and the structure of Roar to figure out how to format and write a book about Little House. I outlined and created a sample manuscript. (Longform nonfiction books are sold with a proposal and sample manuscript instead of a completed manuscript since a publisher might have different ideas to help your book be its best or meet their publication specifications.) 

June 2015: My First Writing Conference 

Almost a year later I attended my first writing conference after finding one that was a good fit--one that focused on children's literature and children's nonfiction because I knew I was still learning the craft and business. It was the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Writers Conference (unfortunately no longer happening). And this country girl drove into the Bronx to attend! (Yes, I got lost. Yes, I got beeped at. No, driving there was not fun. Yes, it was worth it!) 

I took a sample of my manuscript tentatively titled Little House Companion along with a proper book proposal. I met some nice writers and editors and learned a ton. But of course, no offers.

July to December 2015: Waiting (Part 1)

After the conference, I sent my sample manuscript and proposal to an editor from the conference who worked for the ideal publisher. Eventually I heard back that they would take it to an acquisitions meeting. I knew that was a huge hurdle. I couldn't believe it could be that simple. I was so excited. 

At the conference, I met an editor who worked for an educational publisher. She was looking to work with more writers for their project ideas. I sent her my work-for-hire introductory packet (that I learned how to create at the conference). 

While I waited, I received a contract for my first book about insects from the educational publisher. It was a short deadline, so I got busy researching and writing.

Then in December, I got received an official rejection from the ideal publisher. (Thankfully, I understood this was likely, but it still hurt. A lot.) 

The Story Behind the Book Part 2 >> Read Here.
This blog post is pretty long, so I'm going to stop here. Come back next week (or check your inbox if you're a subscriber) to hear why I almost gave up on this book. Hint: It was not because of rejections from publishers. You can read the rest of the story here. 

Annette Whipple writes nonfiction books for children, including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide which includes history, discussion, photographs, and 75 activities so readers can "live like Laura." Learn more about her books and presentations at

1 comment

  1. Annette, thank you for sharing your journey. We just finished the Write2Ignite Master class on writing queries and proposals with Kim Peterson. I know we will all be interested in learning more about the hurdles you faced.