Perseverance Pays Off: One Mom’s Journey to Create a Children’s Picture Book

The other day I was trying to articulate why the kids’ app marketplace is such a creative entrepreneurial outlet for parents. In hindsight, I wish I would have had this testimonial handy, because it illustrates the point so vividly. Thanks Melissa for sharing your story here at Moms With Apps!

From the time my daughter, Kate, was about six months old; we would spend hours at our local children’s bookstore looking at all the wonderful books.  I was so inspired by all of the fun and colorful illustrations and stories – I decided I wanted to write a children’s picture book. I think many moms are inspired by their children as they have such a magical way of looking at the world!

Kate went through a period of loving anything yellow, so I think we looked through just about every book that featured yellow – yellow ducks, baby chickens, balloon’s – if it had yellow on the cover, we looked at it! You know how kids can get fixated on certain things. Well, when she went through her period of loving pirates, my husband and I would come up with funny stories to tell her at night.  One night, my husband was talking about Red Beard and his adventures across the high seas.  It was in that moment I realized that I would write a story about a little redhead who has adventures with her friends.  I wanted to create a strong and feisty character that is a bit of a tomboy – much like my daughter.  That is how Penelope the Purple Pirate was born!

I went about finding out what I needed to do to make this a reality.  I joined our local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attended several of their functions.  I had my story critiqued by fellow writers and editors.  I found a local writer’s critique group who also helped me to fine tune my story.  The whole while, I heard from other writers how difficult it is to get your book published.

I soon found out that most publishing houses only publish maybe twenty new picture books a year out of literally thousands of submissions.  The odds were definitely not in my favor.  The whole idea to do a storybook app came about from a conversation with a mom at my daughter’s school.  This mom was talking about her new app that she and her husband developed for children with learning disabilities.  She thought it might be a good fit to make an app out of Penelope!  I started doing some research into the industry – this was back in September 2009 and the market was really just opening up.

Luckily for me, my father-in-law had a friend whose husband is an illustrator.  Paul Johnson is originally from England and had recently married and moved to the states. We spoke on the phone about the possibility of doing a storybook app together.  We worked on getting Penelope just the way I had envisioned – which wasn’t too tough as I sent him a picture of my three year old in pigtails… He did such a fantastic job of bringing out Penelope’s personality in the illustrations!

In September of 2010, I decided to send Penelope to storybook app developer PicPocket Books.  When I received an acceptance email from PicPocket Books, I was so excited to share Penelope as I felt she was a good role model for young children!  Penelope the Purple Pirate was released January 2011 around my birthday.  It was definitely one of the better birthday presents that year!  The storybook app has gone on to be chosen as a Top 10 Must-Have eBook by lilsugar of, a Top 10 Educational iPad App by Digital Storytime and last week was in the Top 25 iTunes Book Apps.

This is such a great time for writers and developers!  There are nearly 200 million iPads, iPhone and iPod Touches in the market as of August 2011.  Just this past January, Apple reached the 10 billion app download mark.  This technology really has opened up the global marketplace.  Imagine Penelope has been in the Top 100 in over 20 countries.  She has fans in Turkey, Indonesia, Australia and even in Slovenia where she made it to #6 in the iTunes book store!

I wanted to share my story with other parents about going after your dreams.  If you have a dream of making children’s picture books, with this new technology at our fingertips, it can become a reality.  Just do your homework, edit and fine-tune your story, and just go for it!  I am so glad I did and that I didn’t listen to the naysayers who said that the route I was taking wasn’t the “usual” path to getting published.  Well, I obviously didn’t listen to them, and now we are working on Penelope’s next adventure and have another storybook app Gerry the Giraffe, illustrated by Jennifer Mercede, coming out this fall with PicPocket Books.  Just remember that anything is possible if you set your mind to it!  Thanks for listening to one mom’s story.

About the Author:  Melissa Northway is a mom, writer and has her Masters in Human Nutrition.  She enjoys writing and is a regular contributor to Mom It Forward.  Please check out Penelope the Purple Pirate Facebook Page to see how you can enter to win some pirate booty in honor of September 19th Talk Like a Pirate Day!  You can read more about Melissa and Penelope’s TLAP Giveaway at:

Penelope the Purple Pirate will be discounted from $1.99 to $.99 from September 16th until September 20th in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day!

4 Replies to “Perseverance Pays Off: One Mom’s Journey to Create a Children’s Picture Book”

  1. Hi Sarah and Dorian,

    Thanks so much for the kind words. Yes, it can seem a bit complex, but believing in your book helps move you along! Congrats to both of you on your picture book apps! Keep me posted!


  2. Melissa,
    This is EXACTLY how I feel…you articulated it perfectly. I’m in that phase with my stories where I’m really tired of letting the naysayers in my head…I’m ready to just go for it, as you say & not take the “usual” path.
    You just gave me the extra va-va-voom I needed! Thank you!

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