Interview and GIVEAWAY with author Margaret Aitken and her editors, Erin Siu and Rachel Diebel, chatting about Margaret’s debut picture book, OLD FRIENDS, illustrated by Lenny Wen

Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,

I’m over-the-moon excited to introduce you today to the team that’s part of the very first book we sold on team Sanchez: OLD FRIENDS, which comes out July 26th!! Please join me in welcoming Margaret Aitken (author), Erin Siu (editor), and Rachel Diebel (editor) for OLD FRIENDS, illustrated by Lenny Wen!

Book description from Macmillan’s website:

Paired with colorful and vibrant art by Lenny Wen, Old Friends by Margaret Aitken is an inventive and heartfelt debut picture book that celebrates found family, caregiving, and the value of intergenerational friendships.

Marjorie wants a friend who loves the same things she does: baking shows, knitting, and gardening. Someone like Granny. So with a sprinkle of flour in her hair and a spritz of lavender perfume, Marjorie goes undercover to the local Senior Citizens Group. It all goes well until the Cha-Cha-Cha starts and her cardigan camouflage goes sideways. By being true to herself, Marjorie learns that friends can be of any age if you look in the right places.

Kaitlyn: Hi, Margaret, Erin, and Rachel, thanks for joining us today! To start off, Margaret, can you share how this story came to be? 

Margaret: Yes, absolutely! 

I am nostalgic and love vintage style movies and books. One morning, an idea came to me about a child who was an “old soul”—someone who liked doing things often associated with older people e.g. gardening, knitting etc. I thought it could be a great opportunity to address the stereotypes of older people we often see in books and the media. 

From my reading, I knew many picture books that celebrate the grandchild/grandparent relationship, but fewer that feature a friendship between a child and a senior.  

I had been fortunate to experience first-hand the benefits of young children socializing with seniors through my son’s preschool trips to a local care home.  

Then, as I wrote my first draft, my mind drifted to a memory of my brother who, as a boy, dressed up as an elderly lady for Halloween one year (he won first prize!) This memory sparked the idea for Marjorie, my main character, to disguise herself as a senior. 

I combined all of the above and my story idea was born!

Kaitlyn: Haha! I totally dressed up like an elderly lady for Halloween one time, too! We’ll have to exchange photos! And readers, I know you often hear to find more hooks to make your story more desirable; this is a great example of how you can find them from the start. Erin, can you share what you thought when you first read this story and what made you want to acquire it?

Erin: I knew I wanted to acquire Old Friends as soon as I read it. It was so sweet, unique, and focused on something that I wasn’t seeing a lot of in picture books – the power of caregiving and intergenerational friendships. Margaret’s voice and humor also captivated me!

Kaitlyn: That is amazing! Especially because this wasn’t the story we planned to submit first to editors, but when I spoke with Erin on the phone, she mentioned enjoying intergenerational stories, so I pitched this story, but as many of you know, a pitch and a story are different, so the fact that Erin loved it immediately is a true testament to Margaret’s writing power.

Now, readers, as in all great stories, we have a twist! Erin recently stepped away from editing at Feiwel and Friends, so Margaret has a new editor in Rachel. Note, this happens in the writing industry, and sometimes, it can be a difficult transition, but we were super lucky in that the Feiwel and Friends team is so collaborative and efficient that this was a very smooth transition. Now, on to Rachel!

Rachel, can you share what you thought when Erin first shared the story with you and how you felt becoming the official editor for Old Friends when that occurred?

Rachel: I remember when Erin first brought this story to the team - we all fell in love with how sweet the narrative is! I was delighted to take over as Margaret’s editor, since I’d adored the book from the beginning, and excited to make sure everyone’s hard work paid off. 
Words by Margaret Aitken, Art by Lenny Wen

Kaitlyn: Wow, that’s so lovely to hear. It’s one thing to hear your editor tell you that the team loved the book, but to find out all these years later that a new editor will be helping you (something that can be very disorienting) and to hear how much they loved it from the start, is not only wonderful but it helps the transition become so much smoother, too. I know how much we all love this book, can each of you share why you think this is such a great book for kids?

Erin: There’s something magical about finding your community, where you feel you can be 100% yourself without any judgment. I think what makes this story so special is that it shows age has no limits and you can connect with people from all over, no matter how old or young they are.

Kaitlyn: Yes! I completely agree, and I know many of you have felt this way in your lives – I know I did when I found the math community in college and the writing community as an adult. That “ahh” feeling of relaxing into yourself is just one of the most powerful things I’ve ever felt.

Rachel: For me, it’s the intergenerational friendship aspect and the finding your community that makes it so great for kids. I think we often forget the importance of connecting with other generations, and I love that Margaret does that so beautifully in this book. I know that when I was a kid, finding people who loved what I loved, finding my community, was so important to me and my sense of self as I grew up, and I think that’s what’s really special about this book.
Margaret: Yes, I totally agree about how important it is to find a community where you feel ‘seen’. With regards to OLD FRIENDS specifically, I liked the idea of a character who is confident in who they are and doesn’t let societal expectations stand in their way! In western society, we tend to keep generations separate, which I think is a missed opportunity. I hope OLD FRIENDS can play a small part in showing kids that the eldest members of our communities aren’t so different from them! 

Kaitlyn: Yes, yes, yes! My husband and I have always made older friends whenever we go. One of our best friends from college was Delight (yes that was her given name and how she was – delightful!) and she was in her later years at the time. We hung out with her often and miss her dearly. This book often makes me think of her, like how Marjorie misses her Granny in the book. Speaking of which, Erin, one of the best things about working with you is that you helped Margaret take this fun and unique story and add a whole new layer. Can you share what that was and how it came about?

Erin: I remember first reading the story and wanting to know more about Granny. Initially, Granny had moved away and was still in contact with Marjorie, but we ultimately decided to keep the “loss” of Granny open-ended. This added a whole new layer to the story and also explains why Marjorie decides to join the Senior Citizen Friends Group!
Words by Margaret Aitken, Art by Lenny Wen

Kaitlyn: Such an important component of the story! And I hope, dear readers, this shows you a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of bookmaking – how truly special and amazing editors are! Speaking of amazing editors, Rachel, do you remember how the book got its title, and can you share the story with us?

Rachel: I know that Erin and Margaret were toying with a few different titles, but I think it was our publisher, Jean Feiwel, who came up with Old Friends as a title! She’s very good at titles and taglines, and I think she mentioned it in a meeting and it just fit! 
Margaret: Yes–titles are SO hard!! The original title was "Marjorie" which didn’t tell the reader anything about the story.  Erin and I spent some time brainstorming, and I think we had settled on the title "New Friends". Then, as Rachel mentioned, Erin emailed me after talking to Jean Feiwel. She suggested the title "Old Friends". It was perfect!  I was also super excited because Jean was the creator of The Babysitters Club series which I was OBSESSED with as a kid!

Kaitlyn: Ahh! So amazing that such a legend in the writing industry helped name your book, but it was also a team edit to get there. Let’s dive a bit more into this wonderful team. Erin and Rachel, I’d love for you to share what it’s like for you now that the editor transition has occurred. How do you feel? What’s your role now? And, anything else you’d like to share?

Rachel: As I mentioned earlier, my role now is to make sure everyone’s hard work pays off, from Margaret and Lenny to Erin and the production, marketing, sales, and publicity teams. I want to make sure that Margaret feels supported and help her navigate being a newly published author. I’m so happy to help - it feels like Erin and I co-parented a child!

Kaitlyn: Ha, I definitely get the co-parenting analogy here, and this is so wonderful to hear! Readers, I hope those of you who are unpublished are getting a glimpse into how much wonderful work editors do, even after the book is published! On to Erin!

Erin: I’m so happy that Rachel was the editor who took over Old Friends. She saw the potential in Old Friends even from the very beginning and she helped make the transition seamless. I’m thankful to her for supporting Margaret, Lenny, and this book!

Kaitlyn: This is so wonderful to hear! It sounds like because you’re such a collaborative group, the transition was easier, and we can’t thank you enough for helping to bring this book into the world and continuing to be such a wonderful part of its journey! Speaking of this book’s journey, I think we all agree that Lenny Wen was the absolutely perfect choice as illustrator for this book. Erin, can you share how you chose to offer this story to Lenny Wen to illustrate? 

Erin: When our art director, Sharismar Rodriguez, shared a few options for illustrators, I immediately thought Lenny’s art would be the perfect fit for Old Friends. Lenny’s vibrant, colorful, and fun style just pairs so well with Margaret’s inventive story. This is an understatement, but Lenny brought these characters to life!

Kaitlyn: Haha yes! Lenny was the absolutely perfect person to bring this story to life, and Margaret, can you please tell my favorite story about what happened when we were going through the illustrator selection process? 

Margaret: Yes, absolutely. When I heard that Lenny had been chosen to illustrate OLD FRIENDS, I was both nervous and excited. I logged on to Lenny’s website and quickly realized I recognized Lenny’s work. In fact, a few months earlier, I had retweeted one of her illustrations on Twitter! It felt like destiny, and I crossed all my fingers that she would agree to illustrate the story. When I heard that she had accepted the project, I was thrilled!

Kaitlyn: Ahh! So exciting! And I had retweeted another piece of art that Lenny had shared on Twitter right before this, too! Margaret, it’s so wonderful that you already adored her work, and then Erin and her team paired you with Lenny for the book; it was destiny at its finest! Many authors are hoping they will get this opportunity someday as well. Can you all share advice for people in the writing industry?

Rachel: Honestly, my biggest pieces of advice is to keep learning and keep trying. Publishing moves slowly and writers can get many, many rejections, but you only need a few yeses, and in the meantime, keep honing your craft and getting better at what you do. Also, read the kind of books you want to write, so you know what’s being published currently and what’s working! 
Margaret: That is amazing advice. I would agree that if you keep working hard and learning, then you will eventually find success. That could mean winning a prize in a writing contest, signing with an agent, selling a book to your dream publisher, or publishing a book yourself. Unfortunately, there will always be rejections and disappointments, so focus on your next goal and the elements of writing you CAN control. 
Erin: My answer is similar to Rachel’s: keep trying! You can get a hundred “no’s” and one “yes,” and that one “yes” can change your life. Never give up, because ultimately Publishing is subjective and there will be that one person who sees potential in your craft. 

Kaitlyn: This is all incredible advice! Take note readers. For more great notes, Rachel and Erin, can you share one or two of your favorite books and share what qualities you think make this such a standout book?

Rachel: Aside from Margaret’s book, a recent favorite is Annie’s Cat is Sad by Heather Smith and illustrated by Karen Obuhanych, which is a lovely exploration of childhood emotions. 
Erin: One of my favorite picture books is Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist. It’s a stunning biography about a Chinese American animator who immigrated to America with just a few papers. My grandpa was also a paper son, so it was incredibly impactful to read a picture book that reflected his experience.

Kaitlyn: These books are both stunning! Readers, if you haven’t read these yet, after pre-ordering Margaret’s book, Old Friends, I definitely recommend you go check these titles out, too! Margaret, after hearing about this wonderful book, I bet everyone is wondering what will be next. Can you share what you’re working on now?

Margaret: Sure! I am polishing up some picture book projects and tackling a middle-grade fantasy novel set in a fictional Scottish fishing village. 

Kaitlyn: I can’t wait to read it; it sounds wonderful! Okay, final question. If you could meet your favorite writer, illustrator, or other famous person you admire, would you sit by the fire with a warm beverage or head off on an adventure outdoors?

Rachel: An outdoor adventure for sure - I’d love to go rambling with Jane Austen! 
Erin: I’d love to share a cup of tea with Judy Blume!
Margaret: Growing up, I loved Beatrix Potter, so I would join her ghost on an adventurous nature walk through the woods to search for mushrooms and furry friends. 

Kaitlyn: Can I join in for all of these?!? Thank you all so much for joining us today and sharing about Old Friends! Readers, please make sure to support these wonderful creatives by buying, reading, reviewing, and sharing about this lovely book!

Margaret’s Bio

Margaret Aitken is a Scottish writer for children. As a child, she could often be found outside hoping to stumble upon the characters of Brambly Hedge and Beatrix Potter. After studying medicine at the University of Glasgow, she worked as a doctor in the village of Doune, a filming location for Outlander and Game of Thrones. Along with her husband and three sons, Margaret is currently enjoying life in a New England-style farmhouse in Maine. When she isn’t writing she can mostly be found at the beach, in the garden, or baking something gluten-free.

Erin’s Bio

Erin Siu is a freelance writer and editor specializing in children’s books. She’s worked on books like Have You Eaten? by Su Youn Lee and You Are Enough by Jen-Petro Roy. She is a mentor for The People of Color in Publishing Mentorship Program and was a grant recipient of We Need Diverse Books. She’s originally from California, but now calls New York City home. 

Rachel’s Bio

Rachel Diebel is an associate editor at Feiwel & Friends, where she works on celebrity picture books like Natalie Portman’s Fables and Cleo Wade’s What the Road Said for her boss and acquires voicey, heartfelt middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels for herself. She holds a masters in publishing from Pace University. Rachel is originally from the Pacific Northwest and now lives in Brooklyn.

Book link to Pre-Order!

Giveaway – Win a picture book critique of less than 1000 words, rhyme or non-rhyme, from Margaret Aitken

To enter the random drawing, do any/all of the following options, then come back and write all of the things you did in ONE blog comment. (If you forget something, feel free to reply to your first comment ;))

  1. Share that you added  OLD FRIENDS to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist 
  2. Share that you pre-ordered a copy of OLD FRIENDS 
  3. Share that you did a purchase request for OLD FRIENDS at your library
  4. Share that you retweeted or quote retweeted my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tagged some friends

Thank you all so much for supporting Margaret, Erin, and Rachel. I can’t tell you how much pre-orders, reviews, and library requests mean to authors, and an extra special thank you for those of you who have shared such kind support of my upcoming blog hiatus; I appreciate you and your thoughtful words more than you know.


Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez

P.S. If you’re a writer looking for a great professional editor, check out all of Erin Siu’s services:

29 thoughts on “Interview and GIVEAWAY with author Margaret Aitken and her editors, Erin Siu and Rachel Diebel, chatting about Margaret’s debut picture book, OLD FRIENDS, illustrated by Lenny Wen

  1. What a great interview, I love hearing about the behind-the-scenes aspect of publishing!

    -I preordered “Old Friends” a few months ago,
    -added it to my Goodreads “want to read” list,
    -quote tweeted,
    -and tagged 3 friends 🙂

    Congratulations to everyone who was a part of bringing this book to life, I cannot wait to read it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a beautiful, book with a compelling message. It’s full of wit, warmth, and passion. I can’t wait to read it and share it with others. Thanks for the detailed interview, Kaitlyn. I retweeted with a quote, requested a copy for purchase to the Richland County PublicLibrary, pre-ordered it on Amazon and put on my Wish List, too (For gifts :), and added it to my Goodreads “Want to Read,” list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This comes out so soon! How exciting 🙂 I’ve added OLD FRIENDS to my Amazon wish list and done a purchase request at my library. Looking forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this very interesting interview! Congratulations on your new book!
    Tweeted and tagged friends who would want to know about this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations Margaret, Erin, Rachel, and Lenny. I’m looking forward to reading OLD FRIENDS. I was raised by my precious Grandma and I loved being with her older friends. They were life at its finest.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a wonderful interview, I can’t wait to read the book. I added it to my Amazon wishlist and retweeted the post about it ❤️


  7. What a great interview and wonderful sounding book. I can’t wait to see it! Inter generational stories are near and dear to my heart! Wishing you wonderful success with Old Friends!


  8. I’m super excited for my copy of Old Friends to arrive! Congrats Margaret, Lenny, Kaitlyn, Erin, and Rachel.

    Giveaway deets: I added to my Amazon list, pre-ordered, and quote tweeted. Thanks Everyone 😊


  9. I love this story’s premise, as I had much ‘older friends’ growing up. Fun illustrations too. I put in a library purchase request a month ago and plan to purchase for my neighbor.


  10. What an inspired idea for a PB! I love the idea of friendship between a child and an elder. They can give each other so much. Congrats to Margaret, Erin, Lenny, and Rachel on making this beautiful book!


  11. Awesome interview!! Loved reading about how this book came to be!!
    I shared on Twitter, added to my “want to read” Goodreads list and suggested a purchase from my local library!
    Thanks everyone for this wonderful interview and giveaway opportunity!


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