By Jean Daigneau
Published by Chicago Review Press, October 1, 2019, Grade Level: 4-7
Jean Daigneau’s work has appeared in a number of publications, including Highlights for Children, My Friend magazine, The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and The Guide to Literary Agents. She has sold educational testing material, poetry, greeting card text, and crafts. She currently writes a quarterly column for Children’sBook Insider called Genre Spotlight and serves on the Northern Ohio SCBWI board. She and business partner Gloria G. Adams own a critique editing company, Two-4-One Kid Critiques, LLC, that offers two critique edits for the price of one. Jean is represented by Vicki Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency.
What was your reason for wanting to write Code Cracking for Kids?
Honestly? I wanted to sell a book! But really, Six Pens author Lisa Amstutz and I were talking about her recent projects. She mentioned Chicago Review Press as a place to send a non-fiction query. I know a couple of other CRP authors, who have written specifically for CRP’s For Kids series, so I did some homework. I’m a bit of a math geek and love just about any kind of puzzle, including jigsaws and math and word puzzles. And, I had started an early reader book that used historical secret codes as the premise to time travel, so codes and ciphers seemed like a good fit.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
This is the first non-fiction book I’ve done. Although I love research, I didn’t have a clue about formatting that involves subheadings, photo placement, and photo captions. Then, too, I was responsible for getting all of the photos. I had to speak to the editor by phone to understand what specs were needed to find high resolution photos that were the right size. The entire project involved a huge learning curve.
What was it like to write for Chicago Review Press?
Horrible. Just kidding! I only said that so everyone doesn’t query them! They were great. The editors answered questions patiently and in a timely manner. But while there was not a lot of major rewriting, it was interesting to see how much back and forth there was, especially after I was moved from the senior editor to the development editor at that phase of the project. And, like other non-fiction writing, sometimes the response time for me to get back to the editor was pretty short.
What was one fascinating secret code or spy story you learned from researching this book?
Actually, for me, it wasn’t always a code or cipher that piqued my interest, but other fascinating stories. I happened upon information about Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, who disguised military fortification information in drawings of butterflies. Then too, imagine being a Roman slave and having a message tattooed on your shaved head. Pity the poor guy who had to take back a response!
What tips do you have for authors who are interested in writing nonfiction books for kids? Document, document, document! Obviously, keeping track of research and where you find information is crucial, as well as using reliable sources. If a fact needs to be double-checked, it can save tons of time to be able to get your hands on an article quickly. Then, too, things happen in the best of circumstances. At one point, my entire project and photo permissions got lost in the shuffle. Fortunately, I had backed it up. In the case of two photos I was purchasing to use from Siberia, I never did hear back from my contact to actually make payment. I was so glad I had a signed CRP form that gave me permission to use the photos, because they were two images I really wanted to include.