I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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10 Qs + Would You Rather with Betsy Bird + THE GREAT SANTA STAKE OUT + Dan Santat surprises = Holiday Picture Book Frivolity!

December 5, 2023

Happy Holidays! Who’s ready for some fun?

I’m so excited to welcome the delightful Betsy Bird (aka Fuse8) and her picture book,

THE GREAT SANTA STAKE OUT, illustrated by Dan Santat (Arthur E. Levine Books).

About the Book: Freddy Melcher is Santa’s #1 Fan. He has Santa posters, Santa action figures, and even Santa underwear. But there is one prize Freddy desperately wants: A photograph taken with Santa, fresh out of the chimney. Oh, is it risky! It’s awfully hard to sneak anything by someone who can see you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake. That’s why Freddy has been extra good this year . . . at hiding his plans. Will Freddy get away with his delightfully devious scheme to outwit Santa Claus himself and capture the ultimate selfie?

Interior illustration by Dan Santat from THE GREAT SANTA STAKE OUT, written by Betsy Bird
(Arthur E. Levine Books)

No spoilers kids. — You’ll have to read the book.

But here are some questions WITH answers:

Q 1. What was the inspiration for THE GREAT SANTA STAKEOUT? Somehow, I feel like you might have tried to pull a Freddy Melcher at one point in your life…

Betsy Bird: How well you know me already. Yes indeed, the entire book was essentially based on that moment in my young life when I would stay up late trying to spot a famous imaginary character. Now in real life, it was the Easter Bunny.

The potentially great Bunny Stake Out…

Every year at Easter we would go to visit my grandmother and stay the night on Easter Eve (which, inexplicably, isn’t half as famous as Christmas Eve). That night I’d prop myself up and stare out my bedroom window, trying to catch at least a glimpse of the magical bunny.

Never happened.

Maybe if I’d had the access to technology and wherewithal of Freddy, I could have captured at least a photo of the darn rabbit for myself. Alas, no such luck. On the plus side, it did serve as a kind of inspiration for THE GREAT SANTA STAKEOUT, so not a complete loss in the end.

Q 2. Which came first– The title or the story?

Betsy Bird: Oh, good question! Interestingly enough, in the case of my picture books, the titles and the stories tend to arrive in my brain at the same time. And, luckily, for whatever reason, my publishers tend to accept them. I completely understand when publishers name the books they acquire themselves, but at least for my picture books I’ve never had a name changed.

Originally THE GREAT SANTA STAKEOUT was a lot more Mission Impossible/Thomas Crowne Affair, so the name referred mostly to the spy elements of the stakeout itself. The plot would eventually morph into something a bit more realistic, but that name always stayed the same.

Surprises from Dan Santat

Q 3. What surprises did illustrator Dan Santat [Caldecott medalist /Adventures of Beekle, an Unimaginary Friend and recent National Book Award recipient /A First Time for Everything] bring to this project?

Betsy Bird: If you’re gonna write a picture book in the hopes that it’s funny, you’ll be infinitely lucky if you have a funny illustrator who happens to surpass you in terms of humor on the page. I knew from the get-go that Dan would know how to play up the funny elements in the storyline. What I didn’t realize was how much time and effort he’d pour into the endpapers. (These are the pages that come before and after the actual story in a picture book.)

End paper illustration by Dan Santat from THE GREAT SANTA STAKE OUT, written by Betsy Bird
(Arthur E. Levine Books)

Dan had at some point decided to create two different sets of Santa-trapping blueprints, all created by our hero Freddy. The front endpapers portray the plan that plays out in the book. The back endpapers show an entirely new plan. When I read this book aloud I make a special point to read these endpapers out loud, and they never fail to elicit the biggest laughs. I seriously lucked out when Dan agreed to do this project.

End paper illustration (part 2) by Dan Santat from THE GREAT SANTA STAKE OUT, written by Betsy Bird
(Arthur E. Levine Books)

(Readers aware of one of Betsy’s pet peeves,

will understand this next question.)

Q 4. How is writing a picture book like knitting?

Besty Bird: Well, my mom’s a knitter so I at least have a little working knowledge of the process. And like knitting, sometimes writing requires you to remove/pull out large chunks of your work when it just isn’t working the way you’d like it to. Often, this is necessary. You’ve gotten off on the wrong foot at some point and it can be necessary to go back to the earliest stage in the process to rectify where you went awry. It’s not fun, but it has to be done to end up with the best possible product.

Libraries, Podcasts, and Blogs –oh my!

Q 5. How have your other “hats” as Librarian/ Collection Development Manager, podcast host Story Seeds & Fuse 8 n’ Kate, and blogger (A Fuse #8 Production) influenced your path as a children’s author?

Betsy Bird: Probably the biggest influence right off the bat came from being a children’s librarian at some of the greatest children’s book collections in the New York Public Library system.

I worked in amazing children’s rooms, but none better than the Central Children’s Room of 42nd Street (previously the Central Children’s Room and, today, now housed in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL), formerly the Mid-Manhattan Branch). Not only did I have a chance to be surrounded by classic and contemporary children’s books, but I was in the heart of Manhattan where much of children’s publishing takes place.

Since then I’ve hosted two podcasts where I’ve learned so much about the contemporary state of children’s literature, as well as its history.

But as archaic as it may sound in our contemporary non-blogging age, it’s my site A Fuse #8 Production that taught me the most. I credit it entirely with any written work I come up with today or tomorrow. It was where I honed my skills and started writing almost every day.. and that still remains true!

Books, Books, Books

Q 6. How many books are on your TBR pile? (Care to share a title or two?)

Betsy Bird: That’s so tricky! I’m writing you right now at the end of the 2023 year, and what that means is that I’ve a shockingly slim amount of time to finish the children’s books I’d like to, before the year ends. I really only ever read books published in their current year these days.

With that in mind, I’m currently trying to finish the incredible middle grade epic fantasy novel Heroes of Havensong: Dragonboy by Megan Reyes as well as the group anthology Calling the Moon, edited by Aida Salazar. Beyond that, I’ve a full shelf’s worth of 2023 books that I definitely will not get to (there have to be at least 15 of them). It’s a pity, but that’s just the way it goes at the end of the year.


Egg Nog or Hot cocoa: Hot cocoa. Now and forever, baby.

Tinsel or Flocked – Oof! Neither is all that great for the environment, but I think the flocked trees kill significantly less birds, so I’m gonna go with that one.

Meet Scrooge or the Grinch – Daaang. That’s hard. They’re both such cuties. I’ve been enjoying all those memes recently of snarky guys dressed as the Grinch doing the Santa thing, though, so I guess I have to go with the green guy this time around.

Gift books or Get them – Gift ’em. Trust me, getting books is NOT a difficulty for me these days.

Twinkly clear or multi-colored lights – Ah. This depends entirely on where you’re placing the lights. Outside your house? Twinkly clear. On your tree? Multi-colored. And let no one debate me upon these points.

Q 8. If we could see you when you’re sleeping and know when you’re awake, what might we learn about you?

Betsy Bird: Hmm. I fear for your ability to sit through such boredom, but let’s see. You might learn that I have a bit of a difficult time not working at ALL times. I don’t really watch TV (except Friday nights and right after dinner) and if I have a project that needs to be completed, the closest I’ll get to putting it off is to play a game or two of Wingspan on my phone.

What’s Next?

Q 9. What’s next for you? Anything you can share?

Betsy Bird: Oh yes! I’m so pleased you asked! I’ve a new picture book coming out in 2024 with art from the ineffable and utterly fantastic Andrea Tsurumi called POP GOES THE NURSERY RHYME. It’s based on when my own kids were little and I used to interrupt every nursery rhyme with a sudden explosion of “POP GOES THE WEASEL!!!” at the most unexpected of times.

Eventually, I figured it had to become a book and I was able to pair it with one of my utterly favorite artists of all time, Andrea Tsurumi. I sold another book as well after that, but you won’t be hearing about it until 2027, so at least for another year or so, I’ll stay mum.

How Freddy Melcher got his name…

Q 10. Is there a question you wish I’d asked? Please ask and answer.

Betsy Bird: Sure! I wish you’d asked how Freddy got his name. I’ve only met one librarian that got this joke, so I’ll just mention it in brief. If you read the book you’ll see that the hero’s name is “Freddy Melcher”. This is a hat tip to Frederick Melcher, a man significantly attached to both the creation of the Newbery and the Caldecott Medals. Look him up sometime. The fellow had some serious accolades to his name.

Huge thanks to Betsy Bird for joining us today.

To learn more about Betsy, her podcast, blogs, and books, follow her on social media:

Twitter – @FuseEight

Instagram – @fusenumber8

Threads – @fusenumber8

BlueSky – @fuse8.bsky.social

TikTok – @fusenumber8

Up next:

My screenwriting pal, author Blake Harris, shares his debut MG novel:

HOLIDAY HIGH …We Witch You a Merry Christmas.


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  1. I am tickled to recognize my own proclivities in Betsy’s answers, in that I am also a kidlit workaholic, forever embroiled in multiple projects, and that Wingspan is also my game of choice when I deign to take a break.