the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

Rebecca Van Slyke and LEXIE THE WORD WRANGLER!

Posted by Adi Rule on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 @ 08:04 AM

Yee haw! We're plumb thrilled about Lexie the Word Wrangler, a delightfully clever picture book by Rebecca Van Slyke, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, out now from Nancy Paulsen Books. And other folks are chiming in, too -- Lexie has picked up her third starred review!

Lexie Cover jpeg.jpg

Lexie is the best wrangler west of the Mississippi—word wrangler, that is. On her ranch, she watches over baby letters while they grow into words; she herds words into sentences and hitches sentences together to tell a story. But lately, something’s not right on the ranch. First the d goes missing from her bandana, leaving her with a banana around her neck. Then an extra s is let loose in the desert, turning it into a giant sticky dessert! There’s no doubt about it—there’s a word rustler causing this ruckus, and Lexie’s aiming to track that troublemaker down.

Rebecca Van Slyke’s clever wordplay and Jessie Hartland’s lively illustrations capture the zaniness of life on a ranch full of wild letters and words.

Welcome, Rebecca! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

On Monday, June 17th, 2013, I got a call from my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, telling me that she had sold two books (Mom School and Dad School). As you can imagine, there was much celebration and maybe even a cork popped that evening in the Van Slyke house. On Thursday, Joan called back to discuss the particulars of the contract, and then she said, “Are you sitting down?”

“I could be,” I said.

“I’ve just gotten an offer on Lexie, the Word Wrangler.”

More cork popping ensued.

By Sunday, the news got even better. When she let another editor know about the offer on Lexie, that editor made an offer, too. When the dust settled, I had an offer for a two-book deal. So after years and YEARS of trying to sell a book, within a week Joan had sold FOUR books.

My mother said she wasn’t surprised. “Well, after you get the first pickle out of the jar, the rest come easy,” she said.

As for revising, yes, there were about seven rounds of revisions. (Good thing my advisors at VCFA left me well-prepared for that!)

champagne_glasses_7.jpgNew writer toast: May your pickles always come easy! What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful for you?

Well, it’s not really craft advice, but in the spirit of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.” After years of not having an agent, and then a few more years of being unhappily agented, I was ready to quit, and chalk up this whole idea of being published as an impossible dream. But some of my friends and classmates kept encouraging me not to quit. (I’m looking at YOU, Trent Reedy!)  I changed agents and hung in there, and within the next year things started happening. So be persistent, keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

First semester: Julie Larios. She had wonderful poetry exercises, and had us play with words. I had never considered poetry, but these exercises helped me pay attention to the sounds and imagery of the words in my sentences.

Second semester: Leda Schubert. She taught me to get to the heart of my characters. And also, to “Cut, cut, cut!” all those unnecessary parts from my manuscripts.

Third semester: Cynthia Leitich Smith. She walked me through the scary Critical Thesis and helped me see that it wasn’t so very scary after all.

Fourth Semester: David Gifaldi. He helped me choose the pieces that went into my Creative Thesis. A fellow elementary teacher, we kept each other laughing with stories about our students.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

I can’t say enough about how much I love my Cliffhangers! When we first got to campus, there were ominous whisperings about what would happen to VCFA. They had just gone through a major restructuring and there were rumors that it would close. After we were assured that we would be able to complete our degree, we were able to concentrate on the important things: listening to lectures, sharing our writing and reading, and having deep, after-hour discussions in the Wine Pit. (Fun fact: Debbie Gonzales and I came up with that name when we were sharing a glass one evening in the dank basement of Glover, and it stuck.) We still keep in touch with each other, and are each other’s biggest fans.

What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?

I was SO nervous about coming all the way across the country to start a master’s degree in writing for children in a place where I knew NO ONE. I felt like the biggest poseur; everyone would soon find out what a fraud I was, and I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the work. (I was teaching full-time, too.) What I found was a group of very welcoming people, both in my class and in the other classes, too. Even the faculty was approachable and friendly. In short, I found a community of other writers who feel passionately about writing the best literature for children and young adults, and who are rooting for me to succeed.

Yes! Thanks so much for stopping by, Rebecca. Keep wranglin', Lexie!

Rebecca Van Slyke is a member of the class of summer 2008, the Cliffhangers. She writes picture books, easy readers, nonfiction, and poetry. Rebecca is a second-grade teacher in Lynden, Washington, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two very spoiled dachshunds.

Visit her online at

Topics: picture book, 2017 release, Rebecca Van Slyke, Nancy Paulsen Books, Jessie Hartland

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