History of Thought Soup
Thought Soup began as a “Book for Young Illustrators”, a concept I pioneered with my first self-published book, Put the Picture Down, Henry. By offering a book with blank pages of heavy paper, I encouraged the reader to also be the illustrator and at the same time, I avoided the costs of hiring an illustrator. But I lacked any knowledge of how to effectively promote such a new concept in that time before widespread use of the Internet. An amazing review in the large circulation area paper propelled my first book to a short term best seller status in our area, but the review for Thought Soup was given to a reporter with much less talent. It prompted few sales, but I was inspired to read an article adjacent to my review introducing a new book series about Harry Potter!
I had mailed queries to major publishers after finishing Thought Soup, and miracle of miracles, I received a letter from Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic Press, requesting a copy of my manuscript, Can’t Never Sweat. My first positive response for an important book and they ask for a story I didn’t write! After days agonizing over what to do, I finally gambled on calling the publisher, an act insiders tell new writers may result in immediate rejection, and asking why they requested a story I hadn’t written. After all, some other writer was waiting for that letter erroneously sent to me. The employee I spoke with was clearly embarrassed by the mistake and blamed it on a computer glitch. Then I hesitantly asked if they wanted to see my story. She insisted, a bit effusively, indeed they did. I hung up the phone wondering, really? But I did send them my manuscript.
I continued work on Thought Soup and eventually committed to spending $6000 to have it self-published. On the cover I expanded “A Book for Young Illustrators” with “and Young Actors and Actresses” since it trialed so well as Readers’ Theater. Several weeks after I returned home with my huge load of 4000 books, I found another letter from Arthur A. Levine in my mail, an apology for taking most of a year to make a decision about Thought Soup, but rejecting it because of “some reservations about the young audience’s ability to appreciate the cognitive concepts that drive this message” despite finding “your imaginative story’s point of reinforcing the importance of thinking pleasant thoughts is well taken and results in a manuscript with a gentle, positive structure.” So close, but the easy rode to wide spread circulation wasn’t to be.
Thought Soup sat on book store shelves all overWestern Montana and I soon realized it would not sell without a huge investment in marketing, which I couldn’t afford. I had been invited to be the featured speaker at the 1999 Big Horn Reading Council Young Authors’ Conference and they had ordered copies for their participants. That constituted the bulk of my sales. So I committed to giving away the book at teacher conferences. Hundreds of books transferred to teachers’ hands. Maybe someday I’ll learn how many actually reached students and if those students remember the story.
The most fun I have with my story centers around classrooms. Thought Soup turned out to be a natural for Readers’ Theater. In as little as an hour I can share the story by letting kids read their respective parts. I’ve created a special set of books with each part highlighted, so after assigning parts to willing volunteers, I just sit back and watch their theatrics. As all teachers know, many kids are natural born actors. And our fun continues after their performances when we talk about the story and why it could be important to them.
My greatest privilege connecting kids with my story enfolded in Spring 2000. I convinced the Pablo Elementary PTA to let me present the play Thought Soup, using local kids as actors, as their spring fundraiser. After many weeks of learning on everyone’s part, we presented our version on March 31. The kids impressed me with creative solutions to production problems and perfect resolutions of problems with individual parts. Two kids shared the stranger’s part and another wrote her entire part, much of which restated a previous actor’s line in her much louder voice! I recently reconnected with one of the actresses, who had also been my student, and early in our conversation she told me she had been sharing Thought Soup with her young son. Thank you, Tyra, for this precious endorsement of my story.
During the following years, I continued to share the story every way I could imagine. One teacher asked for copies for all her students and spent much of the year teaching them how to illustrate it. Her patience was well rewarded and someday I’ll visit the school library to see if any of the copies still remain there. Several teachers in my home town have distributed well over a hundred copies to their students over the years and it’s always great fun to visit the classrooms to enjoy the creative efforts of the youngsters. One mom shared with me that her son slept with his copy, he was so attached to it!
In 2011, after many years of despair over the lack of distribution of what I believe to be an important story, I contacted an amazing illustrator who had so professionally illustrated my only contracted story, In Grandma Rita’s Garden. With her work on Thought Soup in hand, I’m now ready to offer my story as the kid’s book it was meant to be, courtesy of the e-book revolution.