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  • Writer's pictureManju Howard

Path to Publishing: Candice M. Conner’s ABC Mardi Gras Picture Book

We’re starting the new year with a celebration! Today, I’m happy to present Candice Marley Conner and her new picture book, M IS FOR MOON PIE: ABCs in the Birthplace of Mardi Gras. This amusing read-aloud was published by Derby Press and released on January 6th.

For our Kidlit Creatives Members, Candice is generously offering the winner a choice between a non-rhyming manuscript picture book critique OR a copy of one of her picture books. To WIN this special prize, follow the directions at the end of this post.

First, I want to share illustrator Julie Allen whimsical cover art!

About the book: Azalea Trail Maids! Beads and beignets! M IS FOR MOON PIE is an alphabetical Carnival celebration set in the birthplace of Mardi Gras—Mobile, Alabama. It’s a fun way to introduce children to the ABCs while learning about a unique Gulf Coast event full of history and revelry.

Manju: Hi, Candice! What inspired you to write about Mardi Gras?

Candice: Hi, Manju! Thanks for having me and Moon Pie on the Kidlit Creatives blog.

If you’ve never been to a Mardi Gras parade, the magic and energy is almost indescribable. The trumpets and drumbeats. The larger-than-life fantastical creatures slithering down streets that looked so normal in the daylight. Yelling yourself hoarse to get the attention of a masked rider dangling massive stuffed animals. The raining down of gaudy beads and chocolate and graham cracker pies. Probably actual rain too. Being a children’s writer, I wanted to capture that magic and put it into book form that a child could hold.

M IS FOR MOON PIE, which parades January 6th, the first official day of Carnival season—and more importantly, the first day you can legally buy king cake! — has gone through a few variations like most stories.

Manju: Please share your path to publication.

Candice: I had submitted a Little Red Riding Hood meets Mardi Gras mash-up to a publishing company back in early 2018. It went to acquisitions but, in the end, they declined, saying they wanted a nonfiction story on Mobile Mardi Gras. I jumped on the research but by the time I had researched, written, sent it to my critique group, had it beta-read, and submitted, they had already signed with another manuscript. Of course, I was grumbly for a bit but I’m a firm believer in that there’s no wasted writing or research. (Especially when research consists of attending parades with my two children and eating every moon pie we catch!)

In the meantime, my youngest had started kindergarten, so I began working part-time as a children’s specialist (my official title is kidlit haint) at a local indie bookstore. And the very next Mardi Gras season, my boss mentioned that many customers—both local and tourists—were looking for ABC Mardi Gras board books. Did I know of any? A brainstorming light went off! I used all the research I’d done for the nonfiction and came up with a board book manuscript. It was my first time writing so sparingly. There’s so much history and quirkiness surrounding Mobile Mardi Gras that when I didn’t get any bites from companies who publish regional ABC board books, I decided to expand to what MOON PIE is now—an ABC picture book with historical sidebars for the adult readers and older kiddos. I adore books that grow with my own children and think other caregivers feel similar.

Manju: Did you work with the editor at Derby Press previously? And how was Julie Allen selected to illustrate M IS FOR MOON PIE?

Candice: I teamed up with the editor at Derby Press who published my other two picture books, SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL and CHOMPSEY CHOMPS BOOKS, because they produce books in dyslexie font. It’s a weighted font that helps with swapping and switching, and a font I believe should be used in every picture and text book to increase reading accessibility.

I was also adamant that the illustrator be a local artist as I worried that the illustrations would look too “New Orleans” if the research was done from afar and online. So, I chose the illustrator myself which was a new and fun experience. I reached out to Julie Allen, an SCBWI member I’d met at a Southern Breeze Show-Mo event whose line drawings I thought were whimsical and fun and perfect for a Mardi Gras book. She was in!

Manju: How are you marketing your special book?

Candice: For the cover reveal,I teamed up with a local travel site called Secret Mobile Al who shared a teaser and cover graphics on their Facebook and Instagram pages which encouraged their followers to pre-order M IS FOR MOON PIE from our indie bookstore. MOON PIE received a lot of enthusiastic response.

This Carnival season is going to be aglow with purple and gold and I’m so excited to share our alphabetical Mardi Gras celebration. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Thanks very much, Candice!

Candice Marley Conner enjoys eating pecan praline king cake and the hard-to-get mint chocolate Moon Pies during Carnival season. She has stories and poetry in Highlights Hello and Babybug Magazine. Candice is also the author of the picture books, Chompsey Chomps Books and Sassafras and Her Teeny Tiny Tail, as well as the YA Southern Mystery, The Existence of Bea Pearl. She lives with her husband, two children, two cats, and a guinea pig in the birthplace of Mardi Gras. Visit her at

Prize offer: For your chance to win a non-rhyming manuscript picture book critique OR a copy of one of Candice’s picture books, read the post, leave a comment on our Kidlit Creatives page (must be a member) and share this interview on your Twitter or Facebook. Deadline to enter is Friday, January 13th.

All posts on Manju's blog promote members of Kidlit Creatives: Create, Query & Support.

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