Kids + Teens

From Slush Pile to Bestseller: The Story Behind Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

The question “how did this come to be?” often arises in the wake of massive success, so we reached out to one of our senior editors, Melissa Manlove, to share the truly heartwarming story of how the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site world was born.

Sherri Rinker tells the story of how, when her two energetic, construction-loving kids were little, they’d say thank-you prayers at bedtime. Most of what the kids were thankful for were construction vehicles, however, and after a little time talking and thinking about those rough, tough, powerful trucks . . . her kids were no longer sleepy or ready for bed. So together, Sherri and her boys started imagining how all those great trucks powered down and went to sleep at the end of each day . . . and soon, Sherri found, her boys were asleep, too.

So Sherri sat down to write a poem for parents like her and kids like hers, and at the top of the manuscript she wrote: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site. And then she put it in an envelope and mailed it to just a single publisher: Chronicle Books.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Time passed. We receive around a thousand unagented submissions every month, and we remain one of the last publishers who accept unagented submissions—all of these manuscripts make up the slush pile. Because the editorial staff are the ones who read submissions, it takes us time to read them all. But one day in the fall of 2009, our editor Mary Colgan was reading the submissions and found Sherri’s manuscript. I remember her leaning over to show it to me, and saying, “This could be something, right?” It went to our Acquisition meeting, and was approved for a standard 10,000 copy first printing.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Sherri, Mary, and our designer Amelia Mack (nee Anderson, which is the name you’ll see in the book) brought Tom Lichtenheld onto the team as artist, and with our managing editor Molly Glover and our production manager Steve Kim, the six of them made a book that was “something” indeed. And with the stellar marketing work of Kim Lauber, the book became a bestseller. We’ve sold more than 1.5 million copies of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site since 2011. Even Taye Diggs tweeted about it!

Taye Diggs' tweet about Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site

To our dismay, Mary Colgan’s sense of adventure made her decide to leave Chronicle Books in order to spend a year in New Zealand. Responsibility for Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site passed to another editor: me. I am still counting my lucky stars, and don’t know when I’ll ever be done. Mary now works at Boyds Mills, another great children’s publisher, and I send her our appreciations regularly.

Sherri and Tom forged an unusual friendship—often authors and artists don’t know each other well—and they conceived and published Steam Train, Dream Train next, a story about a train gradually loading up with the stuff of dreams (toys, animals, ice cream, etc) before setting out for the sweet journey through sleep to a new day. Still, it was full of the magic between the two of them, and it went on to be a bestseller, too.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site products by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Every year, the fans of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site grew in number. And so did the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site publishing: a matching game, a sound book, a little plush excavator, pajamas, lunch boxes, and more. Sherri and Tom got lots and lots of fan mail, from boys and girls alike. Eventually, it felt like the time for a second story about the construction site—one that would include female characters and bring the vehicles together in teamwork. A lot of thinking and discussion went into the book that became Mighty, Mighty Construction Site.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

Sherri and Tom take their connection to their readers very seriously, and work so hard to honor the lives and imaginations of children. They conceived of Mighty, Mighty Construction Site as a parallel to the cooperative play that children engage in with friends, and a tribute to the idea that the worlds children build together can be so much bigger than anything they make alone. That idea, after all, will bear out again and again in children’s lives, as it bears out in ours: each book is a team effort to create, and the world inside each picture book is richer and more satisfying because of it.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

And each book is also a team effort to publish—my great gratitude to our designer Kristine Brogno, our production managers Wendy Wagner and Binh Au, our managing editors Claire Fletcher and Elizabeth Smith, and the champion marketing and publicity team—Sally Kim, Lara Starr, Hannah Moushabeck, and Jaime Wong.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

So there you have it! All it takes to publish a bestselling picture book is a talented author, a brilliant illustrator, and a publishing company who sees the magic in books.

In celebration of the publication of Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, for a limited time only, we are offering a free Excavator plush with every preorder. For more information and to get your copy now, visit goodnightconstructionsite.com or head over to Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site on Facebook.

Melissa Manlove

Melissa Manlove is a children’s book editor and, in her spare time, a bookseller.
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