By Laura Anne Bird | Photography by Hillary Schave
For 10 years, Pat Zietlow Miller’s award-winning picture books have comforted and delighted children across the country.
“I get flashes of inspiration everywhere,” the New York Times bestselling author says of her creative process. “Bits of people’s conversations I overhear, news stories I read, memories from my life or my kids’ lives, and odd phrases that run through my head and stay there until I pay attention to them — they all give me ideas for books.”
“Sophie’s Squash” was Zietlow Miller’s debut, in 2013. “I’m thrilled that this story about a girl and her squash, Bernice, has endured in print for a decade now. I’ve started meeting people who still have the copy they bought when their kid was just a baby,” she says.
Since “Sophie’s Squash” launched, Zietlow Miller has written an astounding 24 more books — and she has no plans to slow down.
This past spring, she and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo released the book “A Girl Can Build Anything,” which they co-wrote for children who love to design, build and fix things. Zietlow Miller says the book features girls because females aren’t traditionally encouraged to pursue occupations in the skilled trades. “Less than 9% of construction jobs are currently held by women, so e.E. and I hope readers find the motivation to create something, even if their first attempts don’t go particularly well.”
After that book release, Zietlow Miller and Charlton-Trujillo, who’ve authored four books together, published “Lupe Lopez: Reading Rock Star,” in summer 2023, which centers on a musically-gifted first-grader. Lupe struggles with reading and is tempted to quit, but she learns that real rock stars don’t give up. “This book, which is available in English and Spanish, is based on e.E.’s child- hood in rural Texas,” Zietlow Miller says. “We worked hard to ensure the characters accurately represent the demographics of that area.”
Although Zietlow Miller has built a prolific — and, in her words, incredibly satisfying — career, she admits that her writing process is far from glamorous.
“I work at my kitchen table in Sun Prairie, often surrounded by laundry, bills and daily debris. I usually have four projects going at the same time. If I get stuck on one, I move to another.”
Zietlow Miller worked in corporate communications for many years before heeding what she calls her early midlife crisis.
“I’d always loved picture books and knew that I wanted to publish one someday. But at age 39, I accepted the obvious fact that if I didn’t actually sit down and write one, it would never happen, and I would deeply regret it.”
She committed to utilizing every scrap of free time she could find, which wasn’t always easy because she had two young daughters, a husband and two cats. But she stuck with her writing and completed “Sophie’s Squash” and several other stories — only to receive 126 rejections over the ensuing four years.
She wasn’t deterred. “I can be pretty tenacious. I decided I was going to write and get better until I wrote something good enough to sell.”
Now that her stories are out in the world (such as at Mystery To Me, where she was photographed for this story), encouraging children to think, dream and wonder, Zietlow Miller says she’s exceedingly happy. “Kids deserve safety, love and acceptance no matter who they are or where they live, and I want them to find these things in my books.”