Episode Overview

In episode 90 of Your Leadership Legacy, Tina Paulus-Krause sits down with Pat Zietlow Miller, a celebrated children’s book author whose journey from a dreamer to a New York Times Bestselling author is nothing short of inspiring. Pat shares her early aspirations, the challenges of breaking into the world of children’s literature, and the profound impact her books have had on both children and adults alike. From her initial rejection to having 22 published books and counting, Pat’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance, the importance of nurturing one’s inner child, and the transformative potential of kind, empowering storytelling.

About Pat Zietlow Miller

Pat Zietlow Miller knew she wanted to be a writer ever since her seventh-grade English teacher read her paper about square-dancing skirts out loud in class and said: “This is the first time anything a student has written has given me chills.”

Pat started out as a newspaper reporter and wrote about everything from dartball and deer-hunting to diets and decoupage. Then, she joined an insurance company and edited its newsletter and magazine.

Now, she’s a full-time children’s author with 22 books currently available and more under contract. Her first book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book text. It also won an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor and a Crystal Kite Award. BE KIND was on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 weeks, and IN OUR GARDEN was chosen for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Pat has one wonderful husband, two delightful daughters and two pampered cats. She lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

Find her at www.patzietlowmiller.com, on Twitter at @PatZMiller and on Instagram at @patzmill.

Topics Covered

  • Pat Zietlow Miller’s early interest in writing and the journey to becoming a children’s book author.
  • The inspiration behind choosing to write children’s books and the process of collaborating with illustrators from around the globe.
  • The success stories of her books, including “Be Kind” making it to the New York Times Bestseller list and “In Our Garden” being selected for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
  • The significance of children’s literature in imparting valuable life lessons and fostering a love for reading.
  • Upcoming projects, including a non-fiction book about civil rights leader John Lewis, showcasing his lifelong relationship with books.

Action Items

  • Reflect on the books that have impacted your life and consider how you can share the magic of reading with the younger generation.
  • If you’re harboring a dream, especially one related to creative pursuits, let Pat’s journey inspire you to take that leap of faith towards making it a reality.
  • Make reading a shared activity within your family or community to strengthen bonds and encourage a love for learning.

Key Moments in the Conversation

“You just have to sometimes, otherwise someday never arrives.”

“I remember pulling up the card catalog and flipping through it to see, well, where would my name go if I wrote a book someday?”

“I try to think, what’s something that would have helped me as a kid? And then I try to build a story around it.”

“Picture books are like this perfect little package of truth and wisdom and beauty and story, all in like, 600 words or less.”

“I just want to leave a legacy where people think back and they go, yeah, I love that book.”

Prefer to read? Click to open the transcript.
Tina: Hi everyone. Welcome to Your Leadership Legacy. My name is Tina Paulus-Krause. and I’m super excited. I have somebody that I’ve known for a long time here on the show with us, Pat Zietlow Miller. Hi Pat.

Pat: Hi Tina, how are you?

Tina: I’m great. I am so excited. I’ve known you for a long time. We actually used to work at the same place. And so I have watched your journey ever since you started on your journey. And so I would love you are like I literally. Pat is an author. She’s an amazing children’s book author. And I have her. I’m going to have you tell me more about that. But I literally order your books for people that have babies because they’re so amazing and they have such a great message. So I would love for you to tell us like how you got started on that journey and all the good stuff.

Pat: Sure. Well I had always wanted to write books for kids, I mean even as far back as like fifth or sixth grade, and this shows how old I am. I would go to my school library and they’d have card catalogs, you know, which I don’t think even exist anymore. I remember those and I remember pulling up the card catalog and flipping through it to see like, well, where would my name go if I wrote a book someday? So that was always my goal. But I didn’t know anybody who wrote books. I didn’t know one single, real person who did this. So it seemed sort of like this unachievable dream. And I tried to write a book when I was 19 and a sophomore in college. And I got one rejection and I thought, “Well I tried. I guess it’s not going to work out.” And so then I started working and worked with you, and did a whole bunch of other stuff. And then when I was 39 I was like, okay, come on now, things have evolved. You’re a smart person. If you really want to do this, you can figure it out. So that’s when I really– 

Tina: The time is now!

Pat: In addition to my regular job, I started doing the kid lit thing and writing at night after my kids were asleep and in the morning before they woke up and it slowly grew to where, now that’s what I do full time.

Tina: : Amazing. You mean you took the leap! 

Pat: Yeah. You just have to sometimes. Otherwise someday never arrives you know? 

Tina: : Yeah It’s so true. I see so many people, that, literally we are our own worst enemy. I mean, I am my own worst enemy, right? And so I love the fact that you broke through that mindset, that I can do it. So talk about, like, you’ve been so successful. I see you everywhere now with these books because you’ve just gained this momentum going on. So how many books do you have? Tell us what successes you’ve had, ll the good stuff. 

Pat: I’ve got 22 that are out in the world right now. Libraries, bookstores. I’ve got three more that are coming in the next couple of years.

I’m always writing new stuff. The highlights probably are two. One is my book, Be Kind, was on the New York Times Bestseller list for ten weeks, which you know is totally out of control as an author. I mean you can’t make that happen. So it’s just this wonderful blessing when it does happen. 

And then another one of my books, In Our Garden, was a Dolly Parton Imagination Library selection. So it’s going out to kids across the country who are part of Dolly’s program. And that was amazing to find out, too. 

Tina: I know, Dolly. Dolly who’s 77 today. And just like, sing your heart out as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader was amazing. I was wondering how many people were Googling Dolly Parton in that in that moment because she looks great. She’s amazing. It’s amazing. That’s what happens when you take care of yourself, right? 

Tell us what inspired the children’s books? Like, why children’s books? 

Pat: Well I’d always thought, like back when I was in fifth or sixth grade and looking in the card catalog, the other thing I would do – I can say this now because I won’t get in trouble –  is like the teachers would send us down to the library to like work on some project and I would sneak off to the picture book section and read picture books when I was that age, but it didn’t click until later that maybe that meant something. Like, maybe that meant that I really liked them. And to me, picture books are like this perfect little package of truth and wisdom and beauty and story, all in like, 600 words or less. And there’s something about being able to do that, to tell a full story in this limited number of words and know that it’s out there, being read to kids. That just really speaks to me. I mean I myself read books for all ages, but in terms of creating, picture books just have this special place because I think  those are the books you remember. Most people can remember their favorite book as a kid. 

Tina: And who is the artist? Who’s the artist for your books? 

Pat: Oh I have a different artist for pretty much every book.

Tina: Oh do you? Okay. I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. 

Pat: I wrote the book. And then an editor will buy it at a publishing house and then they’ll work with an art director to match me up with an artist that they think has a style that will complement that particular book. And so almost every project I get to meet somebody super talented and super cool and they’ve been from all over the world. I’ve had illustrators from the U.S., from Korea, from Colombia, from Switzerland, and then one of my books coming out has an illustrator from Madison, Wisconsin. So you just never know who you’re going to get matched up with. You get to meet the best people. 

Tina: Yeah, it’s just been so fun and amazing to watch your journey because, not only because I know you, but you know I’m big into leadership development. I also made the leap from corporate because I believe that leadership development, as we rise within, everything else ripples around us. And that’s what attracted me to your books because, Be Smart, Be Kind. And when I read the content of your books you’re literally supporting, because I’ve said a million times, why are we not teaching these things in school? Like why is this information not being taught in school? Right? And like your books teach that. Your books teach people why it’s a why all the important things. So what inspired that part of it? 

Pat: Well I was a pretty timid kid. I really was looking back. I lived in my own head a lot. I was kind of scared of a lot of things. And so I think back and I think, what would I have needed to hear as a kid? What would have helped me? And so like, I wrote When You Are Brave kind of to that small version of me. Or Be Strong or Be Kind, I try to think what’s something that would have helped me as a kid?

And then I try to build a story around it because you can’t write a book that just is telling somebody what to do, because kids don’t like that. Adults don’t like that. It’s got to be woven into a bigger story, and so I spent a lot of time remembering me as a kid and trying to write to that version of me.

Tina: Yeah and I just envision teachers like kindergarten teachers, first grade teachers, all over the world reading this content to their children. I really do believe it will make a difference.

Pat:  Yeah because teachers will sometimes email me or they’ll send me pictures of a project their kids did based on one of my books. Or now, since I’ve been doing this for ten years, I’ve heard from some 16 year olds who remember reading my first book when they were six. And that’s amazing. 

Tina: I just got goosebumps. I got literally just, boom. But that’s the ripple effect like that. I want you to really, like, that’s the ripple effect that you’re creating in this world, and it’s really, really, really, really special. What’s next for you? 

Pat: Well okay so I have a book coming out. I don’t have any books in 2024,  but I have one coming out at the very beginning of 2025, and it’s a book about civil rights leader John Lewis. And there’s been a ton written about John Lewis. It’s nonfiction, my first nonfiction. And one thing I learned is, as I was researching him, he had a lifelong love affair with books and his very first civil rights act was when he was 16. He went to his local library and asked for a library card. And he grew up in the South where there were Jim Crow laws and he knew they were going to tell them no and they did. And then he wrote a letter saying the library should be open to all. And he never got a response, but that was his first step. And so my book traces his lifelong love affair with books. He married a librarian. He wrote books of his own. Books really shaped his life. And so, there’s so much you could read about him. So I just like pulled all the book stuff out of his life. And it’s called Unstoppable John. And it comes out in January of 2025. He’s so inspiring

Tina: Amazing. So I want to acknowledge you for the change that you’re making in the world because that impact is incredible.

Where can people find these books? Where can people find you? 

Pat: I’m online www.PatZeigler.Miller.com. I’m really active on what used to be Twitter and is now X, and I’m PatZMiller. I’m also on Instagram and the books are available from any online bookseller. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-million, Indie bookstores. Yeah anywhere you’d pretty much buy a book you can either find one or have them order for you.

Tina: Yeah for sure. One of my favorite things is being in a store and seeing your book. It’s like, I know her! That’s awesome. And being able to pass it down, like being able to gift my niece, or my nephew and his wife just had a baby and I was able to give them that book and then read that.

And so I think that the impact that the books have promote so much good in families and so much good in development and growth and everything else that it’s just really amazing. So I want to acknowledge you for that. 

Pat: Thank you. I’m a huge believer in reading to kids and the importance of literacy and just you know the connection between whoever is reading the book and the kid who’s hearing it. You know you read picture books with the kid sitting on your lap or next to you. So it builds that family bond, but it also builds vocabulary and language and a view of the world that will help you later on. There’s just so many benefits to just sitting down and reading with the kid. 

Tina: Yeah. And in this world where it’s so noisy, right? It’s noisy out there. Parents are busy, they’ve got a million and one things going on. And I mean, I was one of those busy parents too, and I look back at it now and you see the times that you missed. And so if anybody’s out there right now and they’re getting caught up in the busy and they keep meaning to read to their kids but they keep forgetting, they keep forgetting, they get caught up in everything else, what advice would you give them? 

Pat: I try to pick a time and just make it a constant, like right before bed or right when you get up in the morning or whatever time works for your schedule. It doesn’t have to be forever. It can be one book, 10  minutes with the kid on your lap, or some people have really active kids. They don’t like to sit still. You can let them crawl around and play and you can read one book out loud while they’re crawling around. They’re listening. It’s still going to work. I know how much time I waste on my phone. I’m a horrible phone abuser. But if you can just for 10 minutes set the phone down, read one book. It’s a good start. 

Tina: Yeah. Intention is what I hear you saying. I love that. I love that. 

So, the name of the podcast is Your leadership Legacy. It’s all about amazing leaders who are leaving these incredible legacies, and so that’s why you’re on this show. So, from your standpoint, what’s the legacy that you will leave, Pat? 

Pat: Well first of all I hope my books are around for years and years and years after I’m gone. I mean that would be a huge blessing. I just want to leave a legacy where people think back and they go, yeah, I love that book. That’s what I’m hoping to leave. And it might be a different book for every reader, but that’s what I hope happens.

Tina: Amazing. Amazing. So where. Yes go out run by those books. It’s almost Christmas time. They make amazing gifts for sure for children. So I want to thank you, Pat, for being on the show. Thank you for being such a huge change in the world, for bringing change in the world, for the ripple effect that you’re creating. It’s pretty incredible. So thank you so much for being here today. 

Pat: Thank you for having me. 

Tina: You bet. Alright everyone, that is it for this episode of Your Leadership Legacy. We’ll see you next time.