I’ve dreamed of publishing children’s books since I was in the first grade when my teacher Mrs. Kosinki wrote words of encouragement in red pen on my first creative story. She wrote phrases like “So creative!” and “How romantic!” in the margins of my unicorn romance adventure.
That encouragement planted a seed of hope in my heart that I could one day be an author. Of course, my first-grade aspirations did not include the steps for taking my stories to publication. I had no idea how long that process might take.
In college, I pursued a degree in English Literature and Journalism. I worked as the editor of the student newspaper because it was a sensible thing to do with my writing skills. In that season, I grew an appreciation for the art of interviewing and telling stories. Eventually that landed me a job as a features reporter for a daily newspaper in California.
While reporting was a day job I loved, I still held fast to my little-girl dream to publish children’s books. I would write stories in the cracks of time and attend workshops. I sent stories off to dozens of agents and editors, but didn’t receive any bites.
After several years, I got a call from an editor who said she found the manuscript I sent and wanted to publish it. When I checked my records, I discovered I sent the story to this particular editor two years earlier. She said they moved offices and just found it in a closet.
The following year, my book Cora Cooks Pancit was published and won several awards. I thought I was on my way to a career in children’s book publishing. I had half a dozen other stories in the works, including a sequel to that first picture book.
In a series of events, my first publishing company was bought by another publisher. I sent manuscripts to other editors, but received rejection letter after rejection letter. Some editors encouraged me that the stories were good, but not the right fit for them. I worked with an agent for two years, but she couldn’t land any contracts for me either.
Month after month I attended meetings with my writing group. My friends signed multiple contracts, and I genuinely celebrated with them. The disappointment deep in my heart stung. In the quiet, I questioned why God would give me inspiration for these children’s stories and then let them sit in a file.
Then one January day – eleven years after my first picture book was published – I received a message from a children’s book editor through Instagram. She said she was interested in talking to me about writing more books. My heart leaped.
Was this the meeting I had been waiting for all those years?
My agent and I met with the editor and discovered she was interested in so many of the themes and types of stories I had been writing for years. She valued the stories I valued. I didn’t have to convince her to embrace my ideas. She was already on board.
Eventually, she invited me to meet with the editorial board. I tried to hold back the tears as they praised my writing and creativity. They offered me a two-book contract with interest in some of my other book ideas as well.
The first book to be published was Chasing God’s Glory, which released this past April. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know this book carries my heart message that we are all invited to chase after God’s glory through our everyday experiences. I first wrote about this message in my Bible study Glory Chasers published in 2015 for adults.
The second book was originally written as a sequel to Cora Cooks Pancit. I reframed the story with a new little girl, but with the same nod to Filipino-American culture and still including the traditional Filipino dance, the tinikling. Kailani’s Gift is a celebration of family, Filipino heritage, and dance that showcases the value of patience, perseverance, and blessing others with your gifts and talents.
As Kailani watches her siblings practice a traditional Filipino dance for their grandparents’ anniversary party, she longs to join them. But keeping up with the rhythm and hopping in time with the beats of the tinikling is much harder than Kailani imagined! With Daddy’s help, Kailani practices the motions of the dance step by step. But will she be able to learn the tinikling in time to surprise her Lolo and Lola?
I was thrilled when my publisher Waterbrook Multnomah Kids (part of Penguin Random House) also offered a contract to award-winning illustrator Lynnor Bontigao. I’ve admired Lynnor’s work from afar and love how her illustrations are colorful, imaginative, and true to her own Filipino-American heritage. (You can pre-order a copy today. The book releases in April 2024!)
Sometimes you wait for something for so long it feels surreal when it finally arrives.
I have the privilege of looking back and tracing all the ways God was working underground all the while. He needed time to get this specific editor in place, during this particular time in history, when more people are seeking out multicultural children’s stories. While I was waiting and working on other projects, she was gaining experience as a teacher in the classroom. I am deeply grateful now for the wisdom Bunmi Ishola was gaining in that space.
In the meantime, I also signed with my agent Cynthia Ruchti with Books & Such Literary Management. When I met Cynthia at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in 2015, I felt seen and welcomed. Cynthia understood my passion for glory chasing and leading others to chase God’s glory as well. She has prayed over and nurtured all of my books before they were birthed into the world. I’m grateful for her doula powers and steady hand in negotiating contracts.
Friend, maybe you’re waiting for a spouse or a child. Maybe you’re still longing for that dream job or to get into the college of your choice.
Waiting can be so hard. And when waiting extends beyond months and years it can feel downright demoralizing.
I started to wonder if God even remembered I was still waiting. I doubted if writing books for kids was really part of my calling at all. I wondered if I should bury that dream and look for a new one.
One passage that anchored me in the long years of waiting in Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path” (ESV).
The key word for me here is “trust.” Will I trust Him with my dreams? Will I trust Him with my future? Will I trust His sovereignty when the waiting gets long and those around me seem to be receiving answers to their prayers?
It’s scary to surrender our understanding of a situation, but I am confident that He knows better than I do. When this proverb says “he will make your path straight,” it’s a reminder that what feels like the long way may be the straight path to that place He wants us.
All in His timing.
*This article was originally published at Propel Sophia.
*For more details on my new book, Kailani’s Gift, check it out here.