Oh boy, I didn’t realize how far behind I was in picking winners to various giveaways. I would say “my bad” but I don’t like that phrase.”My laziness” is more like it!


Well, things have been BUSY, though. I’ve got three–soon to be four–manuscripts under submission. And I’ve been editing others on their way to the printer. NORMAL NORMAN, out next March, just got a cover! Isn’t he (and his junior scientist pal) adorable???


There’s supposed to be a giveaway for LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD on Goodreads, but it hit some snafu and I’m trying to get it snafuless. Un-snafued? And don’t even get me started on Facebook ads! I’ve been getting emails “Your ad has been approved” and then ten minutes later, “Your ad has been disapproved” and then “That was a mistake, you are approved” in an endless loop.

Finally, I’ve been firming up the schedule for this year’s PiBoIdMo. I’m almost ready to go with the guest blogging calendar, agent-prizes, 2015 logo and participant badges (all by Troy Cummings). You’ll definitely want to meet our new friend “Bulby”! Please be sure to join our PiBoIdMo Facebook discussion group for all the latest/greatest.

I’m also making PDF hand-outs for PiBoIdMo Kick-Off parties if your SCBWI chapter wants to host a picture book schmooze-fest in late October or early November. I’m available to Skype into your party, too. As usual, I’ll be in my pajamas.


Just email me at tarakidlit at gmail for details. (And dance moves.)

Anyway, here are all the WINNAHS from recent (and not-so-recent) contests. I’ll be emailing y’all shortly! Congratulations!













Thanks everyone!

Hmmm…I need a clever ending to this post. I always do a clever ending!

Oh, I got nuthin’. Kermit, take over for me, will ya?


As one of the top kidlit writing websites, one that appears first in numerous Google searches, with thousands of followers, thousands of daily hits…


…I’m here to tell you that this platform doesn’t necessarily yield book sales. It yields emails from writers asking how to self-publish.

(Speaking of my books, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK was just released and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD comes out next month. Did you get yours yet?)

Listen, I’m not bashing those who want to be their own children’s publisher. Everyone dreams of being an author, don’t they? There are some projects that are close to people’s hearts. Stories they want to share, to inspire others. And everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of people seem to start with me.


But why me? I have no experience in self-publishing. Zero. I don’t know the first thing about it and I’d be lost if I tried to do it myself!

Here are my top 5 reasons for choosing NOT to self-publish picture books:

  1. You prefer the professional backing of a traditional publisher, from production to distribution to promotion.
  2. You aren’t an illustrator. You want a publisher who can attract top-notch illustrative talent.
  3. You realize how difficult it is to sell a book to the public, to bookstores, to libraries, to schools…and could not do it alone.
  4. You welcome input from the creative team and find it invaluable for making your book the best it can possibly be.
  5. You prefer advances over expenses.

These are my personal reasons. Your mileage may vary, but I’m guessing that many traditionally-published authors feel similarly.

Here are my top 5 reasons to choose self-publishing:

  1. The story you want to tell—you MUST tell—isn’t commercial enough to secure a traditional publisher, or it is in an experimental or non-standard format.
  2. You prefer artistic autonomy.
  3. You have capital available to invest in quality contractors to help you with the entire process, from production to distribution to promotion.
  4. You have an established platform/audience via which to promote and sell the book.
  5. You enjoy taking risks. You thrive on it!

If you really want the low-down on self-publishing children’s books, Kidlit411 has put together a marvelous resource list. Also read Chuck Wendig (stop calling it “self-publishing” and get your boomcake on). Check out Will Terry and Dar Hosta, two successful independent author-illustrators.

Me, I’m probably the worst source of information on self-publishing. Unless you’re reading this post. Then I’m okay.

And maybe I’m a better source when it comes to giving advice to on-a-whim-don’t-wanna-do-this-for-a-living writers. Here’s a conversation I tend to have once a week:

“You know, I wrote a little story like Goodnight Moon last year. Now I need to find an agent, right?”

“Oh, that’s great, but I’m going to be completely and brutally honest with you here: it’s not something you’ll want to do unless your heart is set on it as a career.”


“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really. It takes years to land an agent. And then, sometimes, years to find a publisher, if you even find one at all.”


“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Well, I just wanted to have a hard copy for the kids. Maybe I should try Snapfish?”

“Yes, absolutely. Snapfish is wonderful.”


P.S. I also recommend Storybird, Bueller.

by guest blogger Catherine Bailey

You call her Tara Lazar. I call her Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. And thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, and her month-long picture book idea challenge PiBoIdMo, I now have three picture book contracts.


Tara chose this GIF because she always wanted to be Sherilyn Fenn.

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI.org) in 2010. Soon after I joined Verla Kay’s Blueboards, now accessible through the SCWBI website. That is where I heard about PiBoIdMo.


I’ll admit at first I did not understand all the hubbub. Come up with a PB idea per day? Who would check to make sure I did it? What if I didn’t? Was I supposed to call somebody? What else happened during PiBoIdMo? Then it clicked. I had to work on my writing–even if just for a bit–EVERY SINGLE DAY. Plus there were these motivational, insightful daily posts! I felt like I had struck PB gold.

Suddenly I was focused and taking my writing seriously. I made time to write. I made goals. I made lists. Long, gloriously detailed lists–of ideas, agents, publishers, writing techniques, bookstores, dream editors, dream illustrators…

On one of those lists was idea #17: How Do You Move a Monster? It was something my toddler had asked me. That’s it. There was no plot or character or anything–just that title. When I went back to idea #17 over a year later, I had an answer. You ask the monster to move… politely. Then a manuscript sprouted. After months of polishing, I shipped the story off to a few well-researched publishers.

Lo and behold, Sterling Publishing contacted me. I was plucked from the slush and THERE WAS INTEREST. Of course I just about died. I ate donuts and cried. And I contacted an agent who I had pursued earlier, Kathleen Rushall. Within a few days she agreed to represent me and from there INTEREST turned into and OFFER which turned into a CONTRACT which turned into me EATING MORE DONUTS.


The title changed to MIND YOUR MONSTERS and the book debuted this August. Here is the fabulous cover and some interior sketches:

:Mind Your Monsters BAILEY Cover



In the meantime, my toddler became an actual kid, we had another baby, and I kept participating in PiBoIdMo. Instead of making a new “Idea” list, I just added to the old one which was (rather optimistically) titled “101 Picture Book Ideas.” Did I have 101 Picture Book Ideas at this point? No. Nope. Nerp. But I knew I would eventually, thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady and her website of wonders.

Then I turned two more PiBoIdMo ideas into manuscripts. One was simply listed as “Hypnosis/stuck in trance” and the other was “Lucy loves Bobo—maybe Bobo is a lobster?” With time, work, and the input of an amazing critique group, those weird little baby-ideas turned in HYPNOSIS HARRY and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, both of which sold to Sky Pony Press.


Today my “101 Picture Book Ideas” list includes over 200 entries. And thanks to Tara, I mean Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, it is pure habit for me to add ideas to this list whenever something pops in my mind. And speaking of lists, here is a very brief recap of what I got out of PiBoIdMo.

  1. Ideas. Okay, so that one is obvious.
  2. A concrete starting place I can go to when I am stumped/motivated/annoyed with a current project. Like an anchor on a little boat in a big sea, this is very reassuring and grounding.
  3. Confirmation that writing is work and deserves the respect and focus of any other job – which for me means planned writing time, specific goals, and occasionally…donuts.

So thank you Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me. And thank you for taking me to what I call Contract-Landia! Now c’mon November–let’s go PiBoIdMo!

PiBoIdMo 2015 registration will begin HERE (yes, I mean right here, on this blog, so there’s no link to click) in late October. I hope to see you then!

How to Write (2)

I’ve written a buncha fractured fairy tales and two are available this year: I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK and LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD. (That was totally unplanned! The picture book gods arranged it.)

Bear Book final cover littleredglidinghood

In the video below, I offer my favorite tips for creating your own fractured fairy tales, whether you’re a kidlit writer, a teacher/educator or a 2nd grader. Below that is a PDF version with more tips and a link to a Pinterest board of more than 100 suggested fractured fairy tale picture books.

It’s a fractured fairy tale flurry of fabulousness! (Interestingly, none of my tips have to do with alliteration.)


How to Write a Fractured Fairy Tale PDF:


Fractured Fairy Tale Picture Books Pinterest:


Teachers, leave a comment about your favorite fractured fairy tale and I’ll randomly select FIVE commenters for a FREE CLASSROOM SKYPE VISIT! I’m in a land far, far away but you’ll remember our Skype visit happily ever after! (Bwaaa haaa haaa!)

Contest ends September 21st and visits will be scheduled for October.

Good luck!

I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, released last week (!!!!!), tells a fractured fairytale only in dialogue…which I wouldn’t normally recommend, because the speech bubbles can obscure illustrations. But if you’re working with the genius that is Benji Davies, you don’t have to worry. Because somehow, he fits it all in! And it’s all gorgeous, dahlinks!

This book took four years to come to print—like a fine bouillabaisse, it simmered long. (Sorry, I just heard that on TV and guffawed, so I had to use it.)

Here’s one of my favorite spreads of the book turned into a coloring page. It’s a quick PDF download. Click it, print it out, share it, make up dialogue for Prince Zilch and Papa Bear! What are they saying? (Is it something about the tourists posting to Instagram? I dunno, they don’t look like millenials to me.)



And now…onto some winnahs…

First, let me say this to everyone who has bought the book, shared it and otherwise helped spread the word:

Merci Buckets (1)

See, my buckets overfloweth! (Overfloweth = what I think Gwyneth should have named Apple.)

It takes a village to sell a book, and I’m grateful!

Bear Book final cover

Here are the winners of a signed, personalized I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK from my Facebook author page and PiBoIdMo group contest:


Congratulations! I’ll be contacting you shortly to arrange delivery!

Well, now I must bid you a fair adieu because I’m taking a little blogging break. (Honestly, if I can stay away for three days, I’ll be flabbergasted. Like you were reading the “fine bouillabaisse” line above.)


GONE FISHING! (To make this, of course!)

We haven’t gone on our summer beach vacation yet, but retailers are already finito with “Back to School” and onto Halloween. Go figure. They must have missed the IT’S STILL AUGUST memo.

So to jump-start your monstrous season (and to reduce your shock over obscene displays of candy), here’s a list of over 100 monsters. Some hail from local folklore, some from novels. Some are mythological and some have graced (which is totally the wrong word) the silver screen. Some are computerized and some are human. Maybe. I’m not entirely sure. Some are friendly, some EAT BRAINS. (And thus, are not very friendly.) All are MONSTERS.

Enjoy…if you dare! Bwaaaa haaa haaaaaaaaa!!!


  1. Abominable Snowman
  2. Alien (Xenomorph)
  3. Audrey II
  4. Automatons
  5. Bane
  6. Basilisk
  7. Beelzebub (The Devil)
  8. Beetlejuice (Betelgeuse)
  9. Bigfoot
  10. Body Snatcher
  11. Boogeyman
  12. The Blob
  13. Centaur
  14. Champ (Lake Champlain Monster)
  15. Chimera
  16. Chuckie
  17. Chupacabra
  18. Clover
  19. Creature from the Black Lagoon
  20. Creepers (from Minecraft)
  21. The Critters
  22. The Crypt Keeper
  23. Cyclops
  24. Damien (“The Omen”)
  25. Demon Possession in “The Exorcist”
  26. Dracula
  27. Dragons
  28. Drakon
  29. The Elephant Man
  30. Elmo
  31. The Fly (Brundlefly)
  32. Flying Spaghetti Monster
  33. Frankenstein
  34. Freddy Kruger
  35. Gargoyle
  36. Ghosts
  37. Ghoulies
  38. Gnomes
  39. Goblins
  40. Godzilla
  41. The Graboids
  42. Gremlin
  43. Griffin (Gryphon)
  44. The Grinch
  45. Grover
  46. Gurumapa
  47. HAL 9000
  48. Headless Horseman
  49. Hobgoblin
  50. Hornswagger
  51. Hunchback
  52. Hydra
  53. Incubus
  54. It
  55. Jason (“Friday the 13th”)
  56. Jaws
  57. Jersey Devil
  58. King Kong
  59. The Kraken
  60. Lākhey
  61. Leatherface
  62. Leprechaun
  63. Leviathan
  64. Loch Ness Monster
  65. Malificient
  66. Manfred, Mookie & Mojo (“The Monstore”)
  67. Martians
  68. Medusa
  69. Mike Myers
  70. Mike Wazowski
  71. Minotaur
  72. The Mummy
  73. Mr. Hyde
  74. The Night Wump
  75. Ogopogo
  76. Oscar the Grouch
  77. The Pale Green Pants (with nobody inside them!)
  78. The Penguin
  79. Phantom of the Opera
  80. Phoenix
  81. Pinhead
  82. Poltergeists
  83. Pumpkinhead
  84. Red-Hot-Smoke-Belching Gruncher
  85. Sandworm
  86. Sasquatch
  87. She-Wolf
  88. Sigmund the Sea Monster
  89. Sirens
  90. The Sith
  91. Skeletor
  92. The Sleestaks
  93. Slender Man
  94. Snozzwangler
  95. Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
  96. Succubus
  97. Sulley
  98. Swamp Thing
  99. Talos
  100. Tar Man
  101. The Terminator
  102. Terrible Bloodsuckling Toothpluckling Stonechuckling Spittler
  103. The Thing
  104. Trolls
  105. Typhon
  106. Vampires
  107. Vermicious Knid
  108. Voldemort
  109. Werewolf
  110. Whangdoodle
  111. Wild Things (“Where the Wild Things Are”)
  112. Wicked Witch of the West
  113. Wolfman
  114. Yeti
  115. Zombies

Thanks to Josh Funk for helping to compile this list…which I’ll keep adding to periodically.

Colby author photoby guest blogger Rebecca Colby

I like to think of myself as Tara’s biggest fan. Although we’ve never met, she unwittingly got me through a very rough time. She’s also gotten me into the habit of generating ideas every day, and I credit her with three picture book success stories.

The year 2009 was a very bad year for me. By the time I discovered Tara and her month-long picture book idea challenge, I’d spent five months sick in bed. I needed something to take my mind off my misery and PiBoIdMo did the trick. While none of the ideas I generated that first year amounted to much, the challenge helped keep me sane.

The following year I couldn’t wait for November to arrive. Tara lined up another month of non-stop inspiration from published picture book authors and illustrators, and by acting on guest blogger Sudipta Barden-Quallen’s advice, I came up with a few ideas for fractured fairy tales. A story I wrote from one of those ideas went on to win the SCBWI 2011 Barbara Karlin grant. (The details of this PiBoIdMo success story can be found here.)

Then PiBoIdMo 2011 rolled around. I was absolutely giddy with excitement. Tara wasn’t yet a published rock star picture book author but I still worshiped the cyberspace she typed on, and she now had a fan for life. But instead of setting up a fan club (which I’m still considering doing), I decided the best way to show my appreciation would be to share word of her motivational challenge with anyone and everyone who I thought might be even remotely interested. So that’s what I did, and then I got busy generating more ideas.

Going into the 2011 challenge, I knew I wanted to write a story about a witch, but I couldn’t come up with any story ideas for my character. So I did what I often do when I need to solve a problem—I went for a walk. Now I live in England, and November in England is rainy. In fact, most months in England are rainy, but November is guaranteed to be one of the rainiest and while I was out walking, it started to pour down that heavy kind of rain when people say “it’s raining cats and dogs”. But I was trying to think of a story idea for a witch. That’s when the title came to me: “It’s Raining Bats & Frogs”. As I thought more about this idea, another saying came to me, “It’s raining on my parade.” Because I enjoy the use of juxtaposition in my writing—in this case ‘witches’ and ‘a parade’–I knew I had the rest of my idea. I’d write about a witch parade that was being rained on and how the rain made the witches miserable.

I had a lot of fun developing the idea, but it took me a good ten months to write and revise the story. It was nearly time for PiBoIdMo 2012 before I started submitting it, and despite it being Halloween season, no one wanted it. Soon I was in the midst of an intense teacher training course and put further submissions on hold. Then a few months later, one of my critique partners shared a tweet with me from agent, Kathleen Rushall. Kathleen was looking for picture books with little witches. I immediately sent her It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. Within 24 hours, she offered me representation, and within a week she sold the book. I was over the moon! And I’m over the moon again today because that very book has finally released and Tara has generously allowed me to share some highlights from the book on her blog. So here goes:

The main character, Delia, looks forward all year to flying in the annual Witch Parade, but parade day brings heavy rain. Using her best magic, she changes the rain…

Hi Res Delia waving wand

…first to cats and dogs,

Hi Res cats and dogs

…and later to bats and frogs.

Hi Res bats and frogs

But neither of these changes work too well, and each new type of rain brings a new set of problems.

I won’t spoil the story for you but suffice it to say that Delia does eventually find a spell to save the day.

And my PiBoIdMo success stories (and consequently my fan girl adoration) don’t end there. Since contacting Tara about this post, idea #43 from 2014 has sold. But that’s a story for another day–and a story that wouldn’t have been made possible without Tara and Picture Book Idea Month. Thanks for having me today, Tara, and roll on November!

Thank you, Rebecca! This is a phenomenal story and I wish even more success stories for you, PiBoIdMo or not! 

To show her gratitude, Rebecca is giving away a signed copy of IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS, which releases TODAY! (It is a Tuesday, remember!)


Leave a comment below to enter. If you share via social media, leave one comment per share on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks!

Good luck!

Rebecca is a picture book author and poet. Her books include: It’s Raining Bats & Frogs (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2015) and There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014).

Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose, taught English in Taiwan, worked for a Russian comedian and traveled the world as a tour director. Learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com or follow her on Twitter at @amscribbler.

Three [hundred] cheers for Penny Parker Klostermann, whose debut picture book THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT debuts TODAY from Random House!


I’m chatting with Penny about being a debutante—besides the glittery tiara and the boutonnière, what it’s like and what she would recommend to others twirling through the same shindig. It’s a tremendous learning experience. Umm, let me rephrase that…it’s the JUST THE BEGINNING of a tremendously exciting learning experience.

dragon swallowing knight


Penny, what was your breakthrough moment? I’m not necessarily talking about when you got your agent or your debut deal, but when you realized that you had crossed over from TRYING to do this book thing to KNOWING that you were going to get published?

I honestly didn’t KNOW until I was offered a deal. I felt I had a good chance of getting published because of winning runner-up for the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant and getting an agent, but I was immersed enough in the kidlit community that I knew how difficult it was to get published. I knew that my manuscript had to land on the right desk at the right moment.

Now one thing I did KNOW is that I was taking getting published very seriously. I listened when people said to read tons of picture books. I listened when they said to learn from critiques and not get defensive. I read blog posts, books, etc. on writing picture books. So what I’m saying is I worked hard and behaved like an author.

What makes you a) most excited about your debut book AND b) most anxious?

I’m most excited about having this dream come true. I can’t wait to see my book in stores and on library shelves. I believe my book will make kids laugh and I’m very excited about that!

I’m most anxious about criticism. I’d like to say, “Well, I love my book so I’ll be able to take all criticism in stride and move on without it effecting me in the least.” But the truth is that I know I’ll be sensitive to negative comments and will have to learn to take them in stride and move on…but it will affect me.


I noticed that the Random House Picture Books fall 2015 brochure has DRAGON on the cover. That’s got to feel awesome to have a lead title as your debut!

It does feel awesome. I was shocked when they told me it would be a key title…shocked but thrilled. I saw it in the Baker & Taylor catalog. The store where I’m doing my signing gave me a copy. I’d love to have more copies…my sisters want one. :-)

I was thrilled. I just hope it helps with sales.

I’ve also seen these cute illustrated jokes floating around on social media! What a clever campaign!


Are you doing anything special to celebrate the launch? Either personal or promotional?

I’m having a signing on release day at a local bookstore/gift store. He promotes books. Has a column in the newspaper. He connected me with the TV station and I’ve done one interview and have a 2nd tomorrow. Then another newspaper editor did a color spread this past Friday.

That same bookstore owner signed me up to be a feature author for the fall book festival, too. I’ll do 10 school visits and 4 talks.

I’m doing a signing in Denver in October. In November my publicist set up 2 school visits in conjunction with a bookstore in Houston.

That’s all for now. I’d like to more events but it takes a lot of money and time away from writing.

I hear ya! I’ve done plenty of events that netted me nothing financially, and that’s time I could have spent creating my next book. It’s very difficult to know which events will be worthwhile endeavors, but in general, it tends to be the ones for which you are paid.

What has surprised you most about the debut experience…and what do you recommend to other authors awaiting their debut release?

What surprised me the most was that there wasn’t a national fireworks display planned in my book’s honor! I mean I felt like there should be plans for fireworks…these are exciting times! Seriously, I have fireworks going off in my head because my book is going to be out in the world, but in the waiting life goes along like it always has: writing, reading, critiquing, learning.


Here are your fireworks, Penny!

But along with that are a lot of things you can do to prepare for the launch. I read a lot of blog posts about launches, launch parties, book signings, blog tours, etc. I digested what others were saying and then started making plans. It was surprising to me how much time I spent on these extra “writing” tasks .They’re not really writing but they needed attention which took me away from my real writing more than I liked. As far as advice to authors awaiting their debut deal? Just be aware that you will have these extra tasks. When you come across information about releases, bookmark it. I just wrote a blog post for Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 about preparing for my launch. In that post I reference Lisa Schroeder’s helpful “Timeline and Checklist” post.

Your illustrator Ben Mantle has two books releasing today–yours and Beth Ferry’s LAND SHARK. How do you think he’s feeling today? Have you chatted with him about this auspicious coincidence?

Ben has got to be thrilled. I’m thrilled for him. He so talented. I can’t wait to read Beth Ferry’s book. It looks adorable. I’ve congratulated Ben but haven’t chatted with him about this. It sure would be fun to have a chat. He’s being interviewed by my fellow EMUs at EMU’s Debuts this week so it will be nice to hear what he has to say.

Oh, and I’m so glad you mentioned the EMUs! For those who aren’t familiar with this flock, it’s a group of debut authors represented by the Erin MUrphy Literary Agency (hence the EMU name). I encourage other debut authors to follow this blog’s excellent example of grouping together for support, promotion and fun!


Thank you, Penny, for sharing your debut experience and best wishes with your OLD DRAGON!

Also, thank you for sharing a SIGNED COPY with our blog readers!

Comment below to be entered to win THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT. 

SHARE this post online and leave another comment with those details. Each SHARE counts as an entry!

A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

The first time I heard the title FIRST GRADE DROPOUT I said (yet again), “Why didn’t I think of that? Brilliant!”


(Also, the song “Beauty School Dropout” played through my head a gazillion times.)


This new book from dream-team Audrey Vernick and Matthew Cordell did not disappoint. In fact, it was very different from what I imagined and I loved it because it was so unexpected and clever.

You might already know Audrey from her BUFFALO and BASEBALL books. And, if you don’t know Matthew by now, I might have to whack you upside the head with one of his delightful picture books. (Don’t worry, I’ll use a paperback so it won’t hurt.)

Is Your Buffalo ready for kindergarten  troublegum

Audrey once told me that humor often stems from inserting the absurd into the ordinary. That’s why I enjoy her BUFFALO (which, according to the title, is really MY buffalo…or YOURS…definitely NOT HERS). On one hand, it’s totally crazy to have a buffalo in school…but on the other, it seems SO VERY RIGHT.

Last time Matt (hey, we’re on nickname terms now!) visited my blog, he talked about his loosey-goosey illustration style in SPECiAL DELIVERY. Well, FiRST GRADE DROPOUT gets so loose that you’d swear Sir Quentin Blake illustrated it. Yep, it’s that amazing.

So today, I asked Audrey and Matt to interview each other. What a hoot…


Audrey: When you’re illustrating your own work, does it start with an image? How do you begin when you’re illustrating a text written by someone else?

Matt: In terms of my own books (ones where I do both the writing and illustrating) it’s been a little of both. Some have started with an image that materialized in my head or on paper that I wanted to wrap a story around. And some began as a fully formed idea that became a finished manuscript that I wove illustrations into. The ones that have come from an image in my head or on paper seem to be the most difficult to write. Wrapping a whole story around an image has not been easy for me. But when I have a full story idea and get it out and done, it’s much easier to plug the art into that scenario.

What about you, Audrey, how do you begin? Do you have an idea and just start attacking it and writing right away? Or do you plan and outline, and take a more plotted out approach to crafting your stories? Both? Neither? The art stuff always comes much more naturally to me. The writing… I’m still trying to figure this out, man!


Audrey: For this book, it began with that moment, the embarrassing one, something my sister, a second-grade teacher, told me happens every year in her classroom. But I had the idea (a PiBoIdMo idea!) for a long time before I wrote the text because for this book, that idea wasn’t enough. I needed the first-person voice, too. Ideas rarely come in images for me–usually in moments. I’m not sure that’s a distinction that makes sense to everyone–what I mean is that it’s not something I see the way a visual thinker would. Sometimes a title comes first and tells me all I need to know (So You Want to be a Rock Star). I never plan and outline, even when I’m writing novels. I am not recommending this approach.

In preparation for this interview, when thinking about embarrassing moments, I was remembering adult moments, many involving incoherence or humiliation in the face of celebrities. We’ll save that for another time. But when I hit upon one from childhood, I was surprised that the sting was still intense—tears came to my eyes!–more than 40 years later. At a seventh birthday party for a friend in another town—a party at which I knew only the birthday girl—I was mortified when her older brother kissed me in front of everyone. I called my mother to pick me up early. I waited outside for her, and when I opened the car door, I climbed onto the floor of the passenger seat, and just sat there and cried. Other kids had laughed and teased and I was mortified. Fun times. What embarrassed you the most as a kid?


Matt: Well, thank you for sharing that soul-baring moment here. The nerve of that kid! I mean, where does he get off?

Me, I was a pretty shy and awkward little guy, so I feel like I have a whole archive of cringe-inducing childhood memories. Ones that like to randomly resurface when I’m doing the dishes or taking a shower. Let me see… there was that one time that I almost won the school spelling bee. I was in the 4th grade and just figuring out how terrified I was of speaking in front of bunches of people, when our teacher made her students duke it out with a spelling bee. Unfortunately, I was not bad at spelling, so I kept standing up there spelling words right until I beat everyone in the whole classroom. (I could’ve–should’ve?–just thrown it and spelled a word wrong on purpose, but I guess my moral code wouldn’t allow for such.)

Then came time to compete against the other class winners before a packed school auditorium. Beforehand, my teacher was all excited and gave me this big book of insane words to study. Words I probably wouldn’t even be able to spell (or define) even today. And apparently if I was good enough, this spelling stuff could take me all the way to the nation’s capital to compete. NOOOOO!!

Anyways, there we were up on stage, the best spellers in the school (awesome, right?) and to make the thing worse, I had a brand new terrible haircut. My whole face and ears were burning up with awkward terror and embarrassment. Yet somehow I kept spelling words right over and over again. Until it was just me and this girl Becky. We went head to head for a while until I finally choked and spelled something wrong. (“a-n-c-o-r.”) And then Becky got it right. (“a-n-c-h-o-r”) It was a weird combo of feeling really bad and feeling really good. I felt like a real doof messing up like that in front of the whole school. But I was super glad it was over. Lucky for Becky, I don’t think she made it all the way to D.C. either.

Audrey brownie

Audrey: I dropped out of Girl Scouts the first week—Girl Scouts was no Brownies. And when a placement test somehow landed me in “double honors” math in high school, I quickly dropped out of that. What have you dropped out of?

Matt: This feels like a kismet-y moment, because I totally dropped out of the Cub Scouts! My brother and I got in with a small pack (troop?) and the whole thing seemed doomed from the start. Totally disorganized and chaotic and not right. (Fuzzy memories of kids running around screaming in button down Cub Scouts shirts.) We stuck it out for a little bit though. I remember liking all the gear–the hat, neckerchief, etc. I did my duties and was excited to earn my first badge (more gear!), the Bobcat. And then I discovered that to earn that badge I was going to have to get up in front of a room full of kids and adults and recite stuff and talk about what I learned. And I’d have to do the same for every badge that came after. You can guess what came next. I bailed fast and hard.

cub_cordellNo idea what happened to all the gear, but I still have the card that came with the Bobcat badge. You can see by the scoutmaster’s (den mother’s?) spelling of my name that there really was something…not right.

Audrey: We’ve been teamed on a second book, BOB, NOT BOB, which I wrote with the truly wonderful Liz Garton Scanlon, to be published by Disney in 2017. So two different editors decided to put my text with your art. I take this as the highest imaginable compliment, but I’m not really looking for praise here (everywhere else, just not here). I’m wondering what it is in my stories that has made two different editors think of you. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Matt: That’s a GREAT question. Let me think…I feel like in both of these books there are central characters with serious quirks. It’s possible I’m a guy folks might think of for bringing some quirk to the table. (Or does owning that make one less quirky?)

Also I think, maybe, you and I are central characters with serious quirks. Well, I don’t want to slap that label on you, but my daughter calls me a “weirdo” at least 15 times a day. I think that might be a solid endorsement on my part.

I love both of these books and feel incredibly honored to have been tapped by two different editors at two different publishers to join up with you. I was particularly intrigued when I first read BOB (sooo clever and funny) and saw BOTH of your names at the top of the page. What led you two to collaborate on a picture book? I love that you did, and I love that I get to be the third one thrown into the monkey house on this one.

When I saw you in Chicago a few weeks ago you were telling me about other collaborations in the works and it’s all really fascinating to me. Can you elaborate on why you collaborate? I wonder if I could collaborate with another illustrator on a single picture book or if we’d just end up going after each other with x-acto knives.

Audrey: I’ve collaborated with Liz on two picture books (one of the two is yet to be officially announced) and with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich on TWO NAOMIS, a middle grade. And I wrote my very first picture book, BARK AND TIM: A TRUE STORY OF FRIENDSHIP, with the second-grade-teacher sister.

I don’t know that I would always love collaborating, but I LOVED collaborating with these women. Liz and I stumbled into it. Or, quite possibly, our agent–we have the same one–tricked us into it. She sent us both a review of a picture book and said something like “if you two had a book baby, this would be it.” And all I could think was My God. I want to have a book baby with Liz.

Soon after that, I got a profoundly disgusting cold and was telling both of them how gross I sounded, congested and too sick to think and I ended an email with “Aben,” how a congested person would pronounce “amen.” And our agent wondered if there might not be a story there somewhere. What I think made my collaboration with Liz so enjoyable was the decision that we wouldn’t track changes or include comments. We’d just keep slinging the manuscript (which started as maybe five lines of story) back and forth, freely making changes and additions. If something got cut that one of us missed, we could go back for it–but I don’t think that ever happened.

It was a completely different construct with Gbemi on TWO NAOMIS. We are each writing from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl named Naomi whose divorced parents are dating each other, alternating chapters. We tried to keep it fun, “free and easy” is our mantra. For the first three-quarters of the book, we wrote without an outline or real plan, other than the overall sense of what would happen in the book. Then we talked to figure out how to bring it all home.

I can tell you that on all collaborated-on the books, it felt like way less than half than the work. It is quite possible, however, that you might interview Liz and Gbemi and they may say, oh man, it felt like twice as much work. And then we’ll all know for sure that I’m a slacker.

Back to Tara again: Ha, you are no slacker, Audrey. Not with the slew of books you have coming out!


Thanks to you both for the dynamic-duo interview. I also heard you BOTH SIGNED A COPY of FIRST GRADE DROPOUT.

FGD_1And you’re letting ME give it away!

So blog readers, comment below about YOUR most embarrassing childhood moment and you’ll be entered to win FIRST GRADE DROPOUT signed by Audrey and Matt.

One comment  per person, please.

A winner will be selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!

When I was a debut author in 2013, I joined a group of other debuts called The Lucky 13s. But the group consisted mostly of MG and YA authors; the picture bookish among us were only Pat Zietlow Miller, Jessica Young and me. I thought there should be a debut group for picture book authors only…and now there finally is!

Let me introduce Wendy BooydeGraaff, who is pulling this all together…and recruiting members.

wendybThere is a community for everything, and now there’s also one for picture book authors and/or illustrators who will debut in 2016. With the encouragement and online group expertise of the gracious Tara Lazar and the noble Sylvia Liu, 2016 Picture Book Debut Authors and/or Illustrators was born. It’s open for anyone who has a picture book coming out in 2016, and it’s meant to be a space for us to share our debut journey, to support, market, discuss, share new ideas and enable each other. It will be a space to connect with and promote each other, to celebrate this achievement, and to find out about the great new books that are coming into the world.

So far we have members whose books are coming out with a variety of publishers, including Lee and LowLittle Bee Books, Sky Pony Press, Peachtree Publishers, Bloomsbury, Harper Collins, Ripple Grove Press, and more.

Join us, and help shape our brand new community of 2016 Picture Book Debut Authors and/or Illustrators.

Wendy BooydeGraaff’s picture book debut, SALAD PIE, illustrated by Bryan Langdo, is coming out with Ripple Grove Press in late summer/early fall of 2016.

Thank you, Wendy! There’s so much to do and learn and experience with your debut, and it’s great to have others to share the wild ride!

Congratulations to you all, and we’ll see you in the bookstores!

Follow Me on Pinterest As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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