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Spot the Difference: Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist

Guest blog post by Christine Evans

To tell the truth, I didn’t know what I was doing when I started writing my picture book biography, Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist. I’d only been pursuing writing picture books seriously for a few months when I wrote the first draft. In the end, I rewrote Evelyn FIFTY times. I’m only sharing a selection of the different openings I tried here but my google drive is bursting with many more! My best advice for writers is to read piles of books of the kind you’d like to write and study their opening lines (and middles, and endings). Maybe it’ll save you from writing so many drafts! But as I say to students when I visit schools, none of that writing was wasted. Each word took me closer to finding my voice. And each revision taught me something new about writing. 


Here are the first lines in my very first draft:


“Lucy Evelyn Cheesman loved to crawl after bugs in the English countryside.  She followed silver snail trails between trees and over rocks. She examined spiders spinning their webs. And watched ants march through meadows. Then she’d look them all up in her insect book and draw their portraits. Evelyn and her brother filled trays with moss and flowers and kept them in their bedroom as creepy crawly houses. Much to the horror of their nanny.”

It read like an essay rather than a picture book but it had some nice imagery and language like “silver snail trails” and “watched ants march through meadows.” I used Evelyn Cheesman’s full name but she only went by Evelyn so using Lucy in the text would be confusing for readers and best saved for the backmatter. There was also no sense of the time period in these opening lines.


“I was born in 1881 in the south of England, near an old town called Ashford. I lived with my brothers and sister in a big house in the countryside surrounded by trails that threaded through forests and snaked around ponds.”

Using first person in general is tricky for nonfiction since unless the story is being written by the person themselves (in which case it’s an autobiography), it is no longer strictly nonfiction and crosses over into historical fiction. Not only that, it just wasn’t the right voice for this book. I did include that she was born in 1881 which I felt was important to help kids get a sense of when the story is set.


“Girls shouldn’t dig in dirt! Bugs are creepy! Snails are slimy!
But from sunrise to sunset, Evelyn examines spiders spinning. Marches through meadows with ants. Follows silver trails over rocks. And collects glow worms to illuminate her bedroom.”

I tried present tense with this version and it’s fun but it didn’t feel like the right approach for this story, and my critique partners were quick to suggest that past tense would be a better fit. The words “from sunrise to sunset…” did make it into the book but in a much later scene.


“On a warm June night in the English countryside, Evelyn Cheesman caught a tiny
light in her jar. A new specimen for her bug collection. As she studied the glow worm,
Evelyn wondered…
What made it glow?”

This is the version that I sold to Asia Citro at The Innovation Press in May 2018. It was a radically different opening to any other version. But this entire first paragraph read like a prologue and it soon got removed in revisions. The glow worm jar did stay, but it moved to a later page.


“Back in 1881 when Evelyn was born, prim and proper people thought little girls should be quiet, clean, and wear frilly dresses. But Evelyn had other ideas.”

Many revisions later with Asia’s guidance and this version is almost there! There are just a few tweaks needed to take us to the final vision. We’re going to say goodbye to “prim and proper” but it’s so close! The line “But Evelyn had other ideas” also wasn’t quite right. But something better was just around the corner…


“Back in 1881 when Evelyn Cheesman was born, most people thought girls should be quiet, clean, and covered in lace. And little Victorian girls definitely weren’t supposed to go on bug hunts. 
But Evelyn went anyway.”

And finally, in literally the last few revisions of the book, I uncovered the refrain, “But Evelyn went anyway” that is repeated several times in the book and it’s the heartbeat of the story. I can’t imagine Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist without it as it’s such a key structural component. And it makes it great fun at read-alouds when the audience joins in with the line. Can you believe I didn’t uncover it until the end of the editing process? The next page contains the lines about splashing in ponds, crawling in mud and stuffing her pockets with bugs. So almost everything from the later revisions stayed, they just got tweaked and moved around. 


Thank you Lea for having me on your blog. I enjoyed digging through my old drafts and remembering the journey of my very first book!


You can buy Christine Evan's book here.

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Christine Evans is the author of picture books including Dear Mr. G and Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist, and chapter book series including The Magic Makers Club (coming 2025), and The Wish Library. Her books have been translated into Korean, Chinese and Turkish (so far!)

​Christine is an experienced speaker who has met thousands of children in-person and online all over the US and the world. She’s also been on panels and presented at children’s book conferences and events.

She is a Brit living in beautiful California with her family. Christine loves walks by the ocean, skiing in the mountains, and spending plenty of quality time in libraries and bookstores. You can find out more on Christine’s website or sign up to her substack newsletter

Images were provided by the author.

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2 Comments


claireannette1
Jul 01

This is one of my favorite picture book biographies. Thanks for sharing the different drafts.

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Guest
Jul 01

I love this so much! Evelyn is one of my favorite PB biographies and I just love reading these early openings. I got goosebumps reading the final opening because it is just so perfect! Thank you for sharing your work, Christine! It is so generous and so inspiring! Thanks for creating this blog, Lea! - Beth V.

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