Big Birds Writing Partners Are In Traverse City
By Ross Boissoneau | Dec. 29, 2019
Sesame Street is located in Manhattan, but Jillian and Craig Manning found it in Chicago – and have brought it to their hometown of Traverse City. The couple have written more than ten books starring Cookie Monster, Elmo, Big Bird – with more on the way.
It all began when Jillian was working at Sourcebooks, a publishing company in Chicago that contracted out for a Sesame Street book. “I was an editor there, and the story came in (that) wasn’t what we wanted,” she says. She pondered what to do at home, then woke up one morning with an idea. She spent the rest of the day writing.
The result was her first book, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street, which came out in 2014, under her pen name Lillian Jaine. She subsequently wrote four more while working for Sourcebooks.
The only problem was they wanted to move back to Michigan, and eventually did so, finding their way to Grand Rapids. Jillian even began working at another publishing company. But that was a problem when Sourcebooks came calling again, asking Jillian to pen another book. She had to say no, due to a conflict of interest. But she happened to know someone who could fill in for her without missing a beat: her husband.
“The first one I did was The Great Easter Race,” Craig says, taking up the story. Based on the tortoise and the hare, it tells the tale of a trickster rabbit who tries to win the race by doing things like leaving cookies along the way to tempt Cookie Monster and a pool full of ducks for Ernie. “It did really well. It was a USA Today bestseller,” says Craig.
Eventually the two were able to make it back to Traverse City. And yes, their names might be familiar to readers beyond Sesame Street. Jillian is now the public relations manager at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Craig’s byline is a familiar one at The Ticker and in the Traverse City Business News and Northern Express.
And they are still writing for Big Bird. Jillian's books under her pen name Lillian Jaine include:
· All Tucked In on Sesame Street (2014)
· Happy Halloween! (2014)
· ’Twas the Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street (2014; though it was the third published, it was the first Jillian wrote)
· I Love You Just Like This (2015)
· Just One You (2015)
Craig's Sesame Street books are:
· The Great Easter Race (2017)
· Kindness Makes the World Go Round (2018)
· You Can Do It! A Little Book About the Big Power of Perseverance (2019)
More are on their way. Big Bird's Big Bad Day: A Story about Turning Frowns Upside Down is coming next month and What Is Family? on Sesame Street will be out in April. Along the way, Craig has also penned My First Peanuts: 123: A Counting Adventure came out in 2016, while Pick Your Path: Jack Frost vs. the Abominable Snowman is a Barnes & Noble exclusive, debuting last month.
While they're the authors, they follow concepts and suggestions from Sesame Workshop. And though the books are quick reads, the process of creating them is anything but. “It takes one and a half to two years” from concept to publication, says Jillian. “So many hands touch the book,” she adds.
Jillian has even been able to expand her public relations post at Grand Traverse Resort to include some time at the resort’s day care operation, where she’s been able to read her book to the children. “It’s cool to see the reactions,” she says.
There are also some reactions one can find online, such as the one at the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2015. Sesame Street’s Alan Muraoka read Just One You to the kids assembled there, with some help from Cookie Monster.
Craig says he'll be able to get some direct audience feedback when he returns to his own elementary school to read his books to the students there. “It will be really cool,” he says.
“We grew up with Sesame Street,” says Jillian. “It’s been a wonderful relationship.”