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The Story Behind the Story of Jill Dana's Butternut

by Jill Dana

There were many seeds of inspiration (pun intended) that helped sprout little Butternut.

Here’s an introduction to the story of Butternut:

Fresh from the farm, Butternut awakes to find himself lost in a supermarket. Is he butter? Is he a nut? Is he squash or squashed? Just who is he and where does he belong?

Join Butternut on his journey through the supermarket aisles as he makes new friends and discovers more about himself.

Children view the world as a magical place filled with wonder. As a children’s book creator, I try to keep connected to or reconnect with my inner child. Nature is a huge source of inspiration for me. Plants, animals, produce, butterflies provide pathways to that inner place.

Children naturally possess a wellspring of questions. “Ordinary” places like the supermarket can be transformed into “extraordinary” places when you ask questions about what you see. The produce section is filled with foods with interesting, sometimes humorous, names and numerous forms, colors, and sizes.

Cute butternut squashes sit in the produce section. They have delightful shapes and compound word names. I imagined a young butternut squash entering a new place and wondering who he was… What questions would he ask? What questions would other foods ask him? What would his experience be like? What emotions would he feel?

After much thought about Butternut and his journey, I wrote the first BUTTERNUT draft in 2013.

While teaching, I learned countless lessons from my students. I also noticed areas where they were uninformed or misinformed. I found that many elementary school students didn’t know where food came from, types of produce, what food looks like in its natural form, and more.

This inspired me to revisit the manuscript that I started years earlier. The character of Butternut stayed with me, in the back of my mind. I wanted to encourage kids (and adults) to ask questions about food.

One joy of writing and reading stories is word play. As well as butter-nut, food provides so many ingredients for puns, idioms, and playful language.

NATURE, KIDS, and WORDS all provided sources of inspiration for BUTTERNUT. Some craft-related inspiration and guidance included attending conferences, studying writing and illustrating, giving and receiving critiques (both professional and peer). I’ve found inspiration from family, friends, travel, art, and other subjects too.

I’m thrilled to announce that there are more BUTTERNUT stories in the works. I hope that Butternut inspires readers to think about nature, fosters an appreciation for the food they see in the supermarket, and encourages readers to ask questions.

In addition to nature, food and scientific inquiry, there are themes in Butternut about identity, belonging, and home. These come from deeper places and inspirations within me. Once a book is in a reader’s hands, they create their own experience with the book. I look forward to readers sharing their own connections and inspirations from the BUTTERNUT series.

Author Bio:

Jill Dana is an author, illustrator, award-winning filmmaker, and certified elementary educator. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Television and Film Production and a Master of Education in Elementary Education plus TESOL. Her newest book BUTTERNUT, about a little butternut squash lost in a supermarket, will be available in the U.S. on February 1, 2022. She is a member of SCBWI and the Author’s Guild.

*Illustrations by the wonderful illustrator Rachel Tan-Hwee.

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