Welcome to Thirty Six Peonies Publishing. We are an independently owned book publisher specializing in children’s literature. To us, publishing books is a lot like growing a garden. And because magic often comes in small packages—like ladybugs, with their effortless charm—we pay close attention to the details. We only publish books that we love and believe in, nurturing each project with just the right amount of water, careful cultivation, and an abundance of sunshine.

Thirty Six Peonies: For the Garden of the Mind


36 Peonies Publishing, Inc.

Mistakes and the Quest For Perfection: Leaving a Hole in the Blanket

Our society is often consumed with the quest for perfection, but in our insatiable quest to be perfect, we often forget the beauty and value found in imperfection.

In the world of rare book collecting, first editions and rare manuscripts can often only be identified by the errors that set them apart from newer editions in which the errors were all removed. So while publishers strive to limit the errors in their print runs, it is often those very mistakes that give a collectible book its value. This is true for first editions such as Treasure Island (check it out on Abebooks) and many earlier printings of the Bible including one notoriously known as the “Vinegar Bible”.

Aside from the rare book market, mistakes may also be opportunities for learning and personal growth.  And as humans, of course we know that spirit, heart, determination and drive count for a lot more than perfect genetics. Sometimes we even turn what others view as a weakness into our own greatest asset. Often it is our imperfections and our differences that give us charm and character.

We can let our quest for perfection consume us, or we can choose to harbor a healthier attitude toward our mistakes.  I call this “leaving a hole in the blanket,” as it is based on a Navajo story explaining the origin of the hole or “spirit path” that is left in all authentic Navajo blankets.  The Navajo purposely leave a hole in their blankets as a path for the spirit to escape, so that their soul does not become bound up and trapped in their work. It is a reminder to follow the middle way, to allow time in your life for all things. Not to work so much and so hard that your soul becomes tangled up in your work with no way to escape.

This is not an invitation to slack off, but rather a powerful reminder to “do your best, then let it rest!”  If after all of your hard work, best efforts and meticulous attention to detail an error is found, please accept it as “a hole in the blanket” and go on with your life.  None of us is required to go about life pointing out our errors or imperfections either.  You wouldn’t do that to a good friend, so don’t do it to yourself. I believe someone once humorously said: “Don’t “should” on yourself.” They were right!

So, I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I forgot to include a symbol indicating that A Walk in Pirate’s Cove is FSC certified on the copyright page. Oops! There are a few small specks on the page with the firelight scene. We’ll just call them fireflies and pretend I meant to do that. Errors? Perhaps. But overall, no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

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The Truth is More Important Than the Facts

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said: “The truth is more important than the facts.” While many have pondered over the precise meaning of this quotation, I find it rings particularly true for the artist or writer. In the creation of art we are concerned with presenting not a direct image of the world or our experience of it, but rather an interpretation of what is seen or experienced. Not the exact and factual truth, but the real and eternal truth, which can be quite different animals entirely. Facts can be twisted and distorted and mutilated with time, but the eternal truth endures forever, and is more real than facts can ever be. The fundamental concern for the artist or the writer is the removal of all that is extraneous so that the true essence in its full potency is revealed.

Michaelangelo remarked that in creating his famous sculpture of David, he simply “removed everything that was not David.” Writers from Hemingway to E.B. White have been meticulous about paring down their own writing and leaving only that which is truly essential. Knowing what is and what is not David is the rare quality that distinguished Michaelangelo as an artist. So, much like a perfumer, distilling the ingredients in a precious perfume to arrive at the heart-note, a writer must sift through much material; history, memory, events and facts and choose only those that are fundamental to the truth of the story. This is no easy task.

In the making of A Walk in Pirate’s Cove, the real heart-note of the story, the truth in it all to me was the lake, the marsh and the pier; the wonder of a child’s imagination and the magical ability of children to have grand and enduring experiences doing simple everyday things. Also there was the generational quality of certain experiences – the ability for them to be passed down the generations from parent to child like an eternal link.

In creating the “truth” that is Pirate’s Cove certain facts themselves were ignored. For example, on the last page of the book there is a scene where all three children are gazing dreamily at the moon over the water from their vantage point on the pier.  From the pier they were really photographed on you could not have seen the silhouette of the water tower, and yet in the book it is there. That silhouette on the night skyline is such a part of the experience of being at Winnipeg Beach, and so magical, that Bette Woodland combined two different shorelines to create the picture in the book – an altered but we felt more “true” reality. True to the essence of the beach and the children’s experiences of it. Like Frank said: “The truth is more important than the facts.” And it is.

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Publishing: A Rare and Collaborative Experience

When I first wrote A Walk in Pirate’s Cove as a poem for my children, I knew immediately that it was something very special. The concept was that of a perfect summer day, the kind that you want to go on and on forever. I felt that it could be beautifully done as an illustrated children’s picture book. I could envision the endpapers, the front cover and the title page. I knew roughly how I wanted the artwork and text to be situated on the page.

Because I had written this story for my children and because it was about them and our experiences together at our lake, I felt very strongly about the piece as a whole.  I wanted the lake depicted in the story to be our lake. I wanted the pier to be our pier, the bridge our bridge, at least in my own eyes when I read the finished product.

I felt a very strong need and desire to have personal control of the production of this book from start to finish, and my husband felt the same way on my behalf. This was how Thirty Six Peonies Publishing was born.

Along the way I have come to realize how much a book is a creation in its own right, melding text, illustrations, copyediting and design decisions. A real live book, the kind you hold in your hands, is a physical experience created by many talented people. You can feel and smell the paper. Is it textured, smooth, glossy or matte?  The size and weight of the book can feel either comfortable or cumbersome in you hands. The shape and color of the lettering can have an impact as well. I was fortunate to work with some incredible professionals who helped to bring out the best in this book. I also came to realize how much I want to continue to be involved in this process; how interesting, rewarding and creative it is to make the book.

I was incredibly fortunate to have met and worked with Bette Woodland on this journey. She had been painting figurative works depicting children at our lake for many years, and was excited to work with my own children who were the perfect ages and most easily available models for this project.

Visually, Bette made this book come to life. She brought the things I saw in my minds eye into reality on paper, which is an amazing feat! We worked closely and collaboratively, with Bette retaining complete freedom over her artistic expression of the text. She seemed to have an innate understanding of what I hoped for her to achieve in each illustration, and yet each one was a surprise that surpassed my greatest expectations.  I really feel that she completely and totally nailed this project, accurately portraying a moment in time, a place and a fleeting moment in my children’s childhoods. I don’t know how often this happens in the realm of literature, but I have a feeling that it is a rare experience, and one that I feel truly grateful to have had.

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The Magic of Book Design

It is amazing to me how most of us simply open a book, read it, and set it aside again without ever giving thought to all the many people and decisions required to turn a bare manuscript into a physical book. Especially in the case of children’s picture books, there is a true marriage of text, illustrations, and book design. The author and illustrator often get all the credit, but behind the scenes there is another magician at work: the book designer! The book designer’s job is to take the words, pictures, and all of the other elements that make up a book and organize and arrange them in a manner that is visually pleasing and satisfying to the reader.

A well-designed book is truly a work of art. Design can make a huge difference to the reading experience itself, and also sets the tone for the piece that you will read. Is it nostalgic or romantic? Is it cute, serious, bold, or dramatic? Everything from the choice and color of font, to the use of borders, placement of images, and arrangement of words on the page is the work of the designer. It is a hugely creative occupation that requires a lot of talent. I like the metaphor of a magician waving his or her wand and casting a spell that magically transforms and combines words and pictures into the real-life book that you experience.

Working with designer Brandy Polay on A Walk in Pirate’s Covewas a true pleasure. We were very much in synch and had very similar tastes to begin with, which made the process that much easier. Brandy always knew exactly what effect I wanted to achieve in the book. She would go away and work her magic and when the pages came back it was amazing — that’s it! For example, she chose a brown pantone ink for the typesetting to enhance the warmth and nostalgia of the piece, and sand-colored borders. The lettering on the front cover and endpapers as well as their arrangement and placement were all choices Brandy made that enhanced the beauty of the finished book. Even the smallest details, such as the alignment of the text with the key visual element in the illustrations allowed for a smooth reading experience that is easy on the eyes. You will see this in the nighttime scene where the children are in the tent. Look carefully and the text is not perfectly centered on the opposite page, but in line with the tent. This is intentional, as otherwise your eyes would have to travel from higher to lower in an awkward pattern.

For children who love books and think they might want to have a book-related occupation one day, I highly encourage them to think outside of the traditional realm of being an author or illustrator and explore other possibilities such as book design, editing, and publishing as well.

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My New Novel

I am beginning work on a new novel primarily for middle school and young adult readers. Lake Winnipeg, which is my favorite place in the world, is heavily featured in this book, as it was in A Walk in Pirate’s Cove. But in my new story, there’s a sci-fi/fantasy twist!

The story begins when a young boy goes out to his family cottage the summer after his mother passes away. He wants to be alone, and is spending a lot of time by himself and with his grandmother, when he starts to notice a lot of strange things happening….

Naturally, I can’t tell you what happens next: it would ruin the surprise!

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