Sophie’s Squash author interacts with students Print
Written by Jane Lepeska Grinde, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Nov. 07, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
St. James fourth-grader Jazmine Braxton shares her art project -- a decorated squash -- with author Pat Zietlow Miller.
St. James fourth-grader Jazmine Braxton shares her art project -- a decorated squash -- with author Pat Zietlow Miller. (Photos by Shine Photografx

MADISON -- Children's book author Pat Zietlow Miller spent the day at St. James School on a recent Friday in October, reading her book, Sophie's Squash,

and helping the children decorate butternut squash as Sophie does in the book.

The mother of St. James sixth grader Sonia and Edgewood High School Junior Gwen felt right at home as she shared her own story of becoming a published author with the children in each of the classrooms, PreK to fifth grade. The sixth graders joined their first grade "buddies" for the story.

How to write a book

To the pre-kindergarten students, the author introduced herself. "I'm Pat. What is your name?"

The children quickly responded. She continued, "Now I know almost everyone's name. My daughter is Sonia, and she is in sixth grade here. I want to tell you a little bit about how I wrote the book."

Then, she asked, "What do you need to write a book?" In rapid fire, the answers came: paper, pencil, crayons, a printer to put out the words, markers, and crayons (again).

"You also need an idea. My idea came from Sonia. Sitting in front of the cart, getting ready to check out at the grocery store, I saw Sonia holding the squash I had selected for supper that night."

Interrupting her, a student said, "Do you know what I had for dinner last night? Squash, butternut squash."

About Sophie's Squash
On a trip to the farmers' market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents' gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes . . . What's a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble? With absolutely delightful text by Pat Zietlow Miller and downright hilarious illustrations from Anne Wilsdorf, Sophie's Squash will be a fresh addition to any collection of autumn books.
Book Promotion on Amazon

Pat acknowledged the little girl and then went on to explain that not everything in the book is about her daughter, so she named it Sophie's Squash instead. Later, she told the fifth graders that saying Sophie is easier than Sonia.

Lyrically, she read the book, and then she asked the children what they liked about the story. One quickly said that Sophie now had two friends, and another said he liked the fish part. "I like when she went out into the leaf pile." Others agreed.

Children decorate squash

Following the story time, the children decorated butternut squash. Names were put on the bottom of the squash so voting for the favorite designs could be done anonymously.

The next week, the children used coins to vote with the money going to UNICEF. The winning artist in each classroom will receive a copy of Sophie's Squash.

Children also got washable tattoos as an incentive not to use the markers on themselves.

More about the writing process

When she spoke to the fifth graders, she heard different answers to her questions. What do you need to write a book? Inspiration. What does main character have to have? A problem.

Miller told them that while her idea came from the experience with her daughter almost 10 years ago, she needed to create a problem to be solved to complete the story.

The author showed the kids notebooks that she carries with her to write down her ideas. A student shared, "My dad also does that. He has five notebooks!"

Miller said once you have the idea, you have to sit down and write. She showed the students the Word document that she submitted to the publishers. "Do you think it is perfect when I send it?"

As she interacted with the students, listening to their answers and telling more about the process, she emphasized the importance of editing and revising and finding other people to critique the writing.

"It doesn't hurt anyone’s feelings since we want to do well. Finally, I know it's done and send it off to an editor to look at it.

Getting book published

"The publisher can say three things: No, which is most common; maybe, not quite good enough; and finally yes. Even with the yes, it is still not done. I get a list of things to change, some very minor and sometimes, the editor may say she doesn’t understand something."

Miller told her fifth grade audience and guests in the classroom that it took one and half years from the time she sold the book to the publisher until it came out in hard copy. The process included the publisher selecting an illustrator for her book.

Miller complimented the illustrator, Anne Wilsdorf. "She made the book even better. She didn’t change any words in the story, but she added so much with the illustrations, including a family cat." Because Wilsdorf lives in Switzerland, Miller hasn't met her in person.

Finally, this summer, Miller got to see the results of her work when she received the "folded and gathered" copy of the book, which she showed her audience. A parent in the room asked what it felt like to get that, and Miller said, "To get the F & G copy was the most exciting moment."

Librarian LuEllen Childers invited Miller to read the book during library time for the children, and "the whole thing kind of snowballed with great collaboration," said Childers.

The idea for the squash project was Miller’s, who also offered to spend the day at school. Julie Grosse, mother of four, secured the squash, and teacher Steffanie Williams suggested the UNICEF fundraiser.

Miller welcomes invitations from schools and libraries to share her story. She read her book at St. Dennis School in Madison and has been to several libraries in the area. Find out more about her at


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