Bestselling adult author Ann Patchett, co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, made her children’s debut this spring with Lambslide (HarperCollins), a collaboration with Fancy Nancy series illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser. The picture book tells the story of a group of adorable, but self-centered, lambs who undergo a civic awakening as they mobilize their farm friends to vote for the titular slide.
“For many of us, children’s books are the foundation of bookselling, the cornerstone, the rock on which this church is built,” Patchett wrote in a 2016 travel piece on bookstores for the New York Times. Her own bookstore also proved to be the foundation of her picture book career: Patchett and Glasser met for the first time when the illustrator dropped by to sign books before heading to a school visit. She asked Patchett about writing a book for her to illustrate. When Patchett demurred—“I don’t do that; it’s not my thing”—Glasser insisted. She held an impromptu picture book–writing workshop for Patchett using the final Fancy Nancy book, Oodles of Kittens, as the teaching text.
Once Patchett tried her hand at picture books, she says, she couldn’t stop. “Everywhere I looked I saw a children’s book.” And, when Democrat Conor Lamb unexpectedly won the 17th Congressional District in Pennsylvania in March 2018, Patchett got a new jolt of inspiration from a photo in the New York Times of someone at a rally holding a poster that said “Lambslide.”
Glasser is also going to act as Patchett’s mentor on the book tour. “My plan is to watch her and follow her lead,” Patchett says. “She is iconic in the children’s section, and the fact that I’ll be doing events with her makes me feel very safe.” But at Children’s Institute, Patchett is ready to go solo. “Children’s authors and children’s booksellers seem to be an especially supportive and bighearted group of people,” she says. “I’m betting if I mess up, they won’t hold it against me. Anytime an author gets to talk to a room full of booksellers all together at one time, that author is incredibly lucky. To meet so many children’s booksellers at the start of my picture book career is a huge gift.”
And, yes, there are more picture books in Patchett’s future. Though Lambslide is her first to be published, it’s the fourth or fifth that Patchett has written since her initial tutoring session. Glasser has served as one of Patchett’s first readers and is, at least for now, her sole collaborator. “Robin is imprinted upon me as the source of picture books,” Patchett says.
But Patchett’s many grown-up fans need not worry. Although the author bio on the jacket flap of Lambslide cheekily notes that Patchett “has written many award-winning books for grownups, but frankly, it was boring,” she has a new novel due out in September, The Dutch House (Harper).
The experience of writing picture books has brought a new concision to her novel-writing, Patchett says. And it has widened her audience, too. “I like the idea of multigenerational readers,” she says. “I can picture a mother reading Jenny Ofill’s Dept. of Speculation with a child on her lap who’s reading Jenny Ofill’s Sparky! I aspire to that.”
Patchett will give the opening keynote on Thursday, June 27, 7:45–8:45 a.m., in the Green Tree Ballroom.