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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Local Teacher Gets First Book Deal

Julia Mills

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – Feeling incredibly lucky to have an opportunity to write a book, Court House resident and elementary school teacher Julia Mills is hoping her first book becomes a childhood favorite.
Author and illustrator of “I am Stuck,” Mills said the story is a picture book for young readers about a turtle who gets stuck on his back.
“It’s funny and silly, but also has a message about being a good friend,” said Mills, a kindergarten art teacher and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher at Lower Township Elementary Memorial School. “I love integrating picture books into my curriculum. As a teacher, I see a need for books that not only make kids laugh, but also make them think about how we deal with problems in life.”
Mills was quarantined at home earlier this year because of Covid exposure and was feeling “a bit frustrated.”
“I wasn’t sick, but I was teaching from home at the time and incorporated a lot of picture books into my curriculum because that could be done in person or virtually,” she said. “I knew I could pick a book and make a project with it. I learned the kids really liked funny stories.”
“At the same time, I was trying to write down a story idea every day but was out of ideas,” Mills added, “so I just wrote the word ‘stuck.’ Then, I doodled an upside-down turtle in the letter ‘U,’ and the idea was born. My first question to myself was, ‘how does he get unstuck?’”
Although Mills has worked as a freelance illustrator for the past five years, this is the first picture book she has illustrated and written. It should be available in Spring 2023 from Clarion, “wherever books are sold,” she said.
She also will be working on a second, yet untitled, picture book for release in 2024.
Mills wanted to be an illustrator since “she could hold a pencil,” she recalled. She attended Middle Township schools and pursued illustration in college, but ended up changing her focus to fine art. After college, she studied classical oil painting in an atelier and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art.
“I showed original paintings and pastels in galleries, but came to realize that my passion was in making art for children,” she said. “I got my art teaching certificate and simultaneously returned to my first love of illustration. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to create a book. My biggest hope is that someday, my book is a child’s ‘favorite book.’”
The process of writing the book and finding a publisher was different from what Mills expected.
“I always thought I would get into books as an illustrator, since that was my strength,” she said. “I hadn’t done much writing.”
“There was a professional group from North Jersey who met in person, but because of the pandemic were meeting online,” she continued. “My friend invited me to join, and I shared with them my first book. While they liked it because it was funny and sweet, it didn’t grab them like it should.”
As the mother of two children, ages 7 and 10, Mills has a built-in audience to test her ideas.
“I always would read them books, and my son has a really good sense of humor,” she noted. “I think that if I can make him laugh, it passes the test.”
When she wrote the first drafts of her soon-to-be-published book, it made her son laugh, and the professional group said, “This was it. This was the book.”
“It was written in January, and I workshopped it for several weeks with my critique group,” she said. “I then pitched the book during a Twitter Pitch event (where writers try to get ‘likes’ from industry professionals), which led to me working with my agent, Rebecca Sherman, at Writers House, a literary agency. From there, the book went out on submission, and we signed the contract in July. It was a bit of a whirlwind for me, but I’m thrilled to get working.”
Now, Mills will edit her manuscript and create final art before submitting it to her publisher by January 2022. A year later, the book should be published.
“It really does take a year to publish a book,” she said. “I am really excited about it. I think kids will laugh, and adults will get the feeling behind it. Everyone knows what it feels like to be stuck, and this tells the story of how to be there for a friend without fixing the problem for them.”
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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