Local artist Sara Ernst is a renaissance woman in every sense of the term. A photographer, published author, illustrator, and musician, Ernst has been creating in one way or another since she was 15 years old.
“Photography came first!” she said. “I started doing wedding photography when I was just 15 years old. Children and families have always been my passion, though, and I’ve been beyond blessed to be an award-winning children’s photographer here in the area for over 20 years! I’ve watched the newborns grow and graduate before my eyes and my lens…such a humbling experience. I’ve even had the honor of one of my photographs being in the 2020 May edition of British Vogue!”
Ernst’s love of children and families created a natural segue for her to hone her creativity even further and captivate an audience that she already enjoyed working with. Founding her business Wild Pickle Press, Ernst creates stories and songs that help the youngest readers navigate life.
“Adults can sometimes have a very linear way of looking at things…thinking of songs or books as simply ‘catchy’, ‘silly’, ‘boring’, etc.,” she said. “Children are eager to soak up whatever is provided to them, and new things tend to spark new interests.”
Ernst’s work breathes life into that curiosity—fostering a sense of awe for the natural world and answering the inevitable ‘whys’ that often come from children when they’re discovering something new.
“For example, when a child learns what an ootheca is through my music, they are so eager to tell me about one they found the next time they see me. They have even brought them to concerts to show me! Wondering what an ootheca is? Go listen to my song!” she laughed. “I have worked with children in some way, shape, or form since I was literally a child myself, so interacting with them comes very naturally to me. I also know that music is a powerful learning tool and children need as much positive music as we can give them. Knowing that I’m giving them something good through my words is rewarding.”
Ernst wrote her first book, Dragons Really Do Love Tea in 2017. With no intention to ever sell copies outside of the supportive friend or family member, Ernst found herself at local bookstore Givens Books, who expressed interest in selling it. Now, she has published four books, all of which are available at Givens and on Amazon.
“My fourth book is the one I consider the most crucial,” she explained. “It started with my song Shout No, which I wrote to help teach children as young as two what a tricky situation might look like—whether from a stranger, friend, or, sadly, family member. It helps teach them how they can react, what trust means, and the importance of listening to their feelings. I really wanted something for visual learners and early readers as well, though, so I created a book from the song called Shout NO! A Child’s Rhyme About Tricky People…And What To Do. This book is now in Germany, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and across the United States.”
This fourth and important children’s book is being used in foster programs and is accessible via Little Free Libraries and school libraries. In 2021, it won both the Purple Dragonfly Book Award and The Story Monsters Approved Book Award, and is available to read for free on the Wild Pickle Press website. The song is also free to download via the website.
“I just want this crucial message spread to children,” Ernst furthered. “If hearing the song or reading the book saves a child from a potentially dangerous situation, it’s all worth it!”
“This book has armed my kids with knowledge and confidence,” one parent said.
Ernst’s work has received even more recognition in recent months—this time, for a jingle she wrote for the California Strawberries Commission.
From April to May of this year, the California Strawberries Commission opened a contest for artists across the country to submit a written and recorded 45-second jingle for the group to adopt for future marketing and outreach efforts.
“The contest was promoted on Instagram, and it happened to show up in my feed,” she explained. “When I read about the specific things the jingle needed for the entry, I immediately felt inspired, grabbed my ukulele, wrote the jingle in about an hour, and submitted it that day. I didn’t overthink it; I just wrote what I felt immediately about it. I genuinely had fun writing it and felt happy when I played it. Those were two things I knew couldn’t be changed even if I didn’t win!”
Out of countless submissions, Ernst’s melodic jingle was selected as the winner.
“Anytime someone sees something or hears something in my work that they love, it’s truly rewarding,” Ernst said. “Winning [the contest]meant that someone (really, a bunch of someones) other than myself found joy in it…and that’s a wonderful feeling! While I couldn’t say for certain exactly how or where California Strawberries will use the jingle, it is the first jingle to represent their company and they can use it however they see fit…whether it’s through television, radio, social media, in-person events, etc. If you hear it somewhere, let me know!”
Whether Ernst is writing books, helping kids navigate tricky situations with easy to memorize songs, or creating award-winning jingles, her message is always consistent: It’s about finding joy, feeling love, and having fun.
“I want kids to remember that no one has the right to try to make them do something that is wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable. That they are strong, brave, kind, and smart. That nature is a whole world of creatures and life just waiting for them to explore. That there is no one quite like them. And that feelings are like friends trying to tell them something for a reason.”
Parents and young readers looking to connect with Ernst can find her on her website, www.wildpicklepress.com, or on Facebook and Instagram @wildpicklepress.