One year ago, my partner Christian and I had a serendipitous meeting with author Susan Bernardo. It all began with our tiny house road trip to Ojai, CA, to film their planning commission meeting on adding tiny houses on wheels to their ADU ordinance. Also there was artist/tiny houser Dominique Moody. I shared with her how much I was missing my little boy, who travels with us part-time.
Upon hearing of my sadness, Dominique gave me her copy of Sun Kisses Moon Hugs, a children's book by Susan with a simple but powerful message: "Even when loved ones cannot be with us, we can feel their presence through our deep connections to the natural world." Such a heartwarming way for my son and I stay connected even when we are far away from each other.
This was the beginning of my deep connection with Susan.
While in Ojai, Kevin Polk, founder of Makes A Village and Susan's long-time boyfriend, extended us a parking offer in Los Angeles. A week later our tiny house was parked in front of their house. We gave Susan and Kevin the grand tour of our tiny home with stories of our build. This included how, with the help of friends, we salvaged siding from an old farmhouse to use for our walls and used wood from trees that fell in a tornado for our countertops and shelving.
Additionally we shared stories from our coast-to-coast travels with our tiny home, and how each highway trip feels a bit like a parade.
We get so many delightful reactions from people on the road and have many spontaneous conversations at gas station stops. Along the way we've met folks living in all forms of tiny homes, from converted buses, house boats, renovated travel trailers and all shapes and styles of tiny houses.
Susan's eyes lit up with wonder, "Has anyone ever written a children's book about tiny homes on wheels?"
Why no, we responded, but one is definitely needed!
The Big Adventures of Tiny House is a story of adventure and community, and most importantly a fresh take on the meaning of home. Susan and Courtenay beautifully capture the spirit of the tiny house movement— a pioneering lifestyle centered around meaningful experiences and friendships, and adorably charming to boot.
This is sure to become a classic, beloved by tiny house enthusiasts of all ages!
I recently caught up with the dynamic duo, Susan (SB) and Courtenay (CF), for in-depth look at their creative process and the creation of their latest heart-warming children's book.
For story and illustrative inspiration, we shared images and more stories of our community experience within the tiny house movement, with both Susan and her illustrator partner, Courtenay Fletcher. Within a few weeks, Susan had written had the first draft of The Big Adventures of Tiny House.
Now, less than a year later, it's completely finished and available for pre-order.
What’s your background in the children’s literature world?
We created and published our first children’s book, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, in 2012….when both of us were 45. It was a project straight from the heart – we were both coping with grief and loss at the time, and looking for ways to reassure our kids that love is forever. That book launched us on our dream career path – but we’ve had lots of other jobs along the way.
CF: I was an advertising art director for many years and a photographer, and also had experience designing book covers.
SB: And I worked in public relations, teaching and fundraising. Plus, we are both moms, which is really what catapulted us into this field.
How did you first learn about tiny houses?
SB: Everybody knows about tiny houses! They’re so popular and cute, and I’d seen the shows on television. My first personal encounter with a tiny houser was meeting artist Dominique Moody and seeing her handcrafted jewel of a home, The Nomad.
What inspired The Big Adventures of Tiny House?
SB: You did! When I laid eyes upon your little house on wheels, I was so inspired by the creative ways you used salvaged, repurposed materials – and the gorgeous photos of your cross-country adventures really captured my imagination.
CF: Susan called me up to rave about the tiny house parked in front of her house, and I said I thought it would make a wonderful picture book.
Who is Tiny?
SB: Tiny is the main character of our book, The Big Adventures of Tiny House (the story is told from the perspective of the house!).
CF: He used to be an old farmhouse who was salvaged and refashioned into a tiny house on wheels. With the help of his new friend Big Truck, Tiny sets off across America to see if he is still a real home.
What's your collaboration process?
SB: We each have our areas of expertise – I write and Courtenay illustrates – but we work closely right from the start of each book. Once I have a rough draft, Courtenay does initial sketches to flesh out the characters.
CF: And once Susan polishes the manuscript, I storyboard the whole book and layout the pages. Then I illustrate, while Susan fine tunes the text.
SB: Along the way, we also work together figuring out the technical and business aspects of indie publishing – distribution, marketing and publicity. Courtenay is a wizard with all things graphic design, from websites to bookmarks.
CF: Susan loves writing articles, working with bloggers, learning the ins and outs of social media, etc. And we both LOVE doing school visits and events where we get to share our stories with kids and the community.
What’s the big purpose of your tiny house book?
SB: Delighting and inspiring children is always our main goal…and delivering positive messages along the way.
CF: The book is about acceptance, friendship, building community, and following your heart to live a life that makes you happy.
How has creating this book connected you with the tiny house community?
SB: It has been pure delight the whole way! We have gotten to know so many wonderful people in the tiny house world, and we’ve attended lots of incredibly cool events – from the Jamboree to the Georgia Tiny House Festival to a hands-on building workshop with the Diedricksen Brothers at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum.
CF: Everyone has been kind and helpful and amazing – just like the characters in our book.
Who are the special cameos within your incredibly charming illustrations?
SB: Courtenay mentioned Macy Miller’s family and Great Dane Denver! She also hid our own dogs and kids in some of the scenes, and really captured the flavor of tiny house festivals on the Jamboree page.
CF: We tucked in a little tribute to the Diedricksen Brothers’ treehouse designs on the village page, as well as a Little Free Library. A local family elementary school has been turned into a tiny-house-on-wheels character!
SB: And…of course, Tiny House Expedition is featured, too!
CF: That’s one of our favorite aspects of indie publishing – we have total creative control and can have fun with the illustrations.
Why did you decide to pursue indie publishing?
CF: Indie publishing is a lot like DIY house building! It takes a lot of research and asking the right questions and trial and error – but ultimately, we love the creative freedom.
SB: With our first book, we knew we wanted to get it finished as soon as possible, and conventional publishing can take 2-3 years or more. By going indie, we were able to turn around the book from idea to printing in just nine months.
CF: The Big Adventures of Tiny House took 11 months from concept to completion, and along the way, we met so many awesome people who’ve helped and encouraged us to pursue this dream.
SB: Crowdfunding the book through Kickstarter not only helped for practical considerations, it also allowed us to do unique outreach – we offered ways for people to be included right in the illustrations! For example, Macy Miller a tiny house builder and advocate, who runs the popular Tiny House People Facebook group, was one of our backers – and her kids and Great Dane are in the book! It feels like we are in the book sometimes – “a community founded on sharing and giving.”
Where can you preorder a copy of The Big Adventures of Tiny House?
SB: In keeping with our indie spirit, we are working with Once Upon a Time Books to handle all of our online pre-orders.
CF: They are America’s oldest independent children’s bookstore, and they are right here in Los Angeles. www.shoponceuponatimebooks.com.
Tiny is hitting the road in more ways than one. Where will you and/or Tiny be popping up over the next several months?
CF: You can find us at our booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 22-23. That same weekend, Tiny will be featured at the Earth Day Texas festival, where BA Norrgard orchestrates a tiny house village. And Andrew Odom has invited Christian and Alexis of Tiny House Expedition to read the book at the Tiny House NC Street Festival in Pink Hill, NC.
SB: We will also be running the Kid Zone at this summer’s Tiny House Jamboree, and we’ve been included in the Los Angeles Public Library’s Summer Author Program and will be making appearances at several branches. And we hope to participate in several other tiny house festivals this year – the more, the merrier!