I grew up with a funny guy.

walterdad

(No, Walter Matthau isn’t my dad, but I don’t have a digital photo of my father and he looks just like Mr. Wilson from “Dennis the Menace.” So this will have to do.)

Anyway, he’s the one who passed along his sharp, dry humor to me. He was actually a Chemical Patent Attorney for a large petroleum company and used to speak about opening a law firm together when I grew up. Only being a Chemical Patent Attorney is quite possibly the career of my nightmares. I suppose his job is why he’s so funny—it didn’t provide gas for humor so he had to create his own laughs. (It did provide gas, though.)

A simple man, he has means but always preferred to live in a small apartment or condo. When I asked him why he didn’t buy something larger, he quipped, “Why? You can only be in one room at a time.”

mcmansion

Smart, Pops.

So I began thinking about this concept recently…as it applies to picture books, of course. You know I suffer from PBOTB (Picture Books on the Brain, not Picture Book Off-Track Betting). Here’s what I came up with:

“You can only be on one spread at a time.”

Aha!!!

So what does this mean?

When you’re finished with your tale, cut it in pieces.

You may already be aware of my layout templates:

selfends

Look at each spread of your story individually and ask yourself some questions:

  • Does it move the story forward?
  • Does it provide a page-turn surprise?
  • Does it provide ample opportunity for illustrative interpretation or an illustrative subtext?
  • Is it interesting and entertaining? Does the reader want to linger?
  • Is it active?
  • Does it have too much text?
  • Does the scene change from the previous page?

Remember, you can only be on one spread at a time. Make each one MATTER.

Maybe you’d like to comment with your interpretation of this witty Pops-inspired picture book phrase…? Please do!

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And now, the winner of my March giveaway–Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell’s SPECIAL DELIVERY!

DIANA DELOSH!

Congratulations, Diana, I’ll be emailing you!

Now I usually end with something witty, so I called my dad for comment. He says being a children’s book author is quite possibly the career of his nightmares. And with that, he’s ready for a nap…albeit a scary one.

If you read my recent #ReFoReMo reverie, you know that I go out on a lot of dates. No, I’m not trying to relive my college days. I’m taking myself out on these dates…TO THE BOOKSTORE. There I get to sip a half-caff vanilla chai latte with a twist and pore over the newest picture books. Of course, I love the ones with a twist. Twist is the word-o-the-day, boys and girls!

So here are three books that I just had to buy. And, I’ll tell you why. PLUS, I’ll even chat with one of the creators and give away his book. Because it’s just that “special.”

In no particular order…

MY GRANDMA’S A NINJA
by Todd Tarpley and Danny Chatzikonstantinou

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Why I love it:
It’s absurd—imagine an elderly lady in pearls and readers with a stealthy, drop-from-the-ceiling approach. Her grandson Ethan is dubbed the cool kid for his zip-lining ninja nana, but her antics begin to wear on him and his friends. However, Grandma has a plan! (Plus there’s a twist!) Humor and heart abound in this tale, which is always a kickin’ combination.

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HOME
by Carson Ellis

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Why I love it:
The illustrations evoke the warmth and security of home. The reader travels around the world—real and imaginary—to view the variety of abodes that people, animals, even a Norse god, call their own. Then the author/illustrator circles back to her own home, her studio, the very place she created this charming book. She closes by asking the reader, “Where is your home?” What a heartfelt discussion HOME will elicit. It makes you want to hug the book tight. I can’t think of a better snuggle-up-at-home read right now.

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SPECIAL DELIVERY
by Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell

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Why I love it:
Oh, the adventure! Oh, the absurdity! Sadie wants to deliver an elephant to her favorite aunt who “lives almost completely alone and could really use the company.” Sadie enlists many methods to get her treasure to Great-Aunt Josephine…by plane, by train, even by alligator. Two surprises come at the end—we finally learn the meaning of “almost” and we also know Sadie is a girl who stays true to her word.

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The illustrations by Matthew Cordell are a perfect accompaniment to this quirky tale, like mashed potatoes with gravy. One just makes the other even better. So I asked him about his process for SPECIAL DELIVERY. (Sadly, no mashed potatoes were involved.)

Special Delivery has a very loose, sketchy style. How did you arrive upon that design for the story?

My style in general has always been rather loose and sketchy. Early on I was a bit more timid about it, but as years have passed, I think it’s gotten looser and sketchier, and I’m happy about that. In my conversations with Phil about this, I think he tailored the story a bit to my art style and approach, and I really took it to the brink (or at least as close as I’ve yet come) with my loosey-goosey attack of pen to paper based on his story. The book is very fast-paced and madcap, which goes hand in hand with a very fast-paced and madcap line.

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The cover is a clever play on the famous “Inverted Jenny” postage stamp. How did you come up with that idea?

invertedjennyThis was really interesting… Usually the creation of a book cover is a long, drawn out, sometimes-grueling process. So many people at the publisher and beyond have to be satisfied with the book cover before it’s given approval. And it usually comes late in the process of making the book (at least it does for me). But I had just finished sharing the first sketch dummy with Phil and Neal Porter (our terrific editor) and the moment I hung up the phone, the cover image zapped into my head. One of the most–if not THE most–famous US postage stamps, the “Inverted Jenny” was the perfect solution to our cover. Not only does Special Delivery feature a wild ride in an old biplane, but it features stamps and other fun things postal. Heck, it’s called SPECIAL DELIVERY! A tip of our hats to this famous stamp was the answer. Roughly and quickly, I sketched up my re-imagining of the Inverted Jenny and emailed it to the guys I’d only just spoken to. And they loved it as much as I did. Thankfully, when we ran it up and up the flagpole at Macmillan, we got thumbs up all the way.

What was your favorite part of the entire project?

I love so much about this book. Its wild, free, and fun spirit. The story. The art and design of it. It is so fast and spontaneous and fearless in many ways. But the thing I love the most about SPECIAL DELIVERY–and I’m about to get sticky sweet here, but so be it–is the bond that formed between Neal and Phil and me during the making of it. There was this synergy happening as the book came together in its various stages, and our heads were always in the same electric place. I enjoyed getting to know them both better in the process and sharing in this thing together and being completely on the same page throughout. There was some weird, good magic at work here.

I’ll say! The story feels absolutely timeless, as if it’s been around a long time and will be a favorite for years to come.

And why don’t you see for yourself, blog readers? I’m giving away a copy of SPECIAL DELIVERY to one random commenter. Please comment only once. I’ll randomly select a winner in two weeks and deliver it right to you! Good luck!

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It’s come to my attention that we need a collective noun for children’s book writers and authors.

I am therefore inviting your input.

If you’d like to suggest one for writers and a different one for authors, please feel free. (Can’t forget illustrators!) Leave as many collective nouns as you’d like. Of course, you get points for cleverness. I’ll pull them together in a future post so we can vote on them. And then, perhaps, when we see a gathering of these wonderful folks, we’ll know what to call them.

For those of you who didn't grow up on 80's music, this is A Flock of Seagulls.

For those of you who didn’t grow up on 80’s music, this is A Flock of Seagulls.

First, let’s announce some winners!

The winner of the LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD F&G is:

 NATALIE LYNN TANNER!

The winner of Dev Petty’s I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG is:

JHAYSLETT!

Congratulations! Be on the lookout for an email from me.

boatload

…So this week I did a boatload of Skype visits for World Read Aloud Day. Almost TWO DOZEN! Phew. My own kids are fed up with THE MONSTORE, as evidenced by my elder daughter’s video—mouthing the words and rolling her eyes while I read in another room. (She thought she’d get away with it, but I found it on her iPad! Oooooh! BUSTED!)

One of the most frequently asked questions during these Skypes was: “Out of all your books, which is your favorite?”

Now I know some authors claim—like parents of multiple children—to love them all equally, to not to have a favorite. But I do. And I’m not ashamed about it!

It’s whatever I just finished writing. My newest manuscript.

Once I complete a new story that my agent approves, I just go NUTSO with excitement. I dream of who may acquire it, which rock star illustrator will be tapped to illustrate it…plus I imagine Merry Makers creating the must-have accompanying plush toy. (Or maybe even a stuffed me!)

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Yeah, I told you I go NUTSO.

There’s something about a fresh story. It’s a feeling I wish I could recreate as I BEGIN a new story, but often with a new manuscript, there’s a lotta chewing of fingernails (which is why I haven’t been able to put on my new Jamberry nails).

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How can you recreate that newly-subbed, fresh-and-juicy, shinier-than-Turtlewax feel?

The best way out is always through. Write something new and get-r-done. If writing were easy, then everyone would have a published book. There should be joyous celebrating once something is finished and submission-ready. If you’re feeling just ho-hum, that manuscript is not pumped up full of YOU.

Photo credit: Scott Beale

Photo credit: Scott Beale

That’s another thing I want to talk about today, finding YOU as a writer.

Years ago, when I was writing flash fiction for adults, I stumbled across a marvelous piece in an anthology. It was about two young women with a strained relationship going back to their parents’ house to pack it up. Their mother was fading away, doing strange things, leaving herself bizarre notes to capture pieces of her memory. The sisters found one of these notes in the bookshelf, held each other sobbing, and then laughed at the absurdity of it all. The story was so lyrically written, and so poignant. Why couldn’t I have written that?

So I tried writing something based upon that style—that lovely, lilting, poetic style. Like a sunset watercolor over the rippling bay. And you know what? It stunk. Worse than the bay.

Even though it was stilted and forced, that story taught me a little about who I was as a writer…by showing me who I WAS NOT. It was one step in finding my true voice.

I always say no piece of writing is wasted time. It’s all practice. Even the junk is worth something!

So, tell me, out of all that you’ve written, what is your favorite?

Please leave a comment (with a link, if appropriate).

May you share a boatload.

Oh, rejection!

We all face it. Even published authors. Even Jane Yolen!

This is how I consider rejections now, after seven years in the business:

rejected

But when you’re still unpublished, rejections somehow hurt more.

Besides applying a baking-powder-and-vinegar salve three times daily, how do you ease the sting?

Welcome author Emma Walton Hamilton. She will teach you what those rejections really mean and how you can use them to your advantage.

EmmaHAMILTONby Emma Walton Hamilton

Manuscripts are like children–we birth them, nurture them, pour our heart and soul into helping them be the best they can be. Then we send them into the world, praying they have what it takes to succeed. If we’re lucky, and we’ve done our job right (we hope), they’ll fly. But inevitably, we–and they–must muddle through setbacks and tests of resolve before they can claim their place in the world.

One of those setbacks is rejection. Manuscript rejections are an unavoidable part of the writing life…but that doesn’t mean they aren’t painful. It also doesn’t mean they can’t be converted into learning opportunities. This is such an important distinction that Julie Hedlund and I devote an entire module to “Interpreting Rejections and Dealing with Feedback” in our new Complete Picture Book Submissions System, which we created to support picture book authors through every step of the submissions process, since we know firsthand how challenging that process can be. (Check out Julie’s recent blog post exposing one of her earliest query letters.)

Converting the experience of rejection from personally devastating to professionally useful begins with bearing a few important things in mind:

  1. Manuscripts get rejected, not writers themselves. Meaning, this is not about you–it’s about the manuscript not being a right fit with that agent or publisher.
  2. It’s business–not personal. The reasons for the rejection may in fact have less to do with the quality of your writing and more to do with the focus of the agent or publisher at this time, or the limitations of their current resources.
  3. Hundreds of famous children’s authors received rejection letters on what later became their most successful manuscripts, including Dr. Seuss, J.K Rowling, Madeline L’Engle, Stephanie Meyer, Meg Cabot, C.S. Lewis and many, many more. (Check out Literary Rejections if you don’t believe me, or could use a little company for that misery.)
  4. The wrong fit at one place can be the right fit somewhere else. Moreover, that somewhere else will serve you and your manuscript better than the first place would have, because they “got it.”
  5. There may be a gift accompanying the rejection at best, insight into how to improve your manuscript or query, and maximize your chances of nailing the next submission; and at least, the opportunity to strengthen your commitment and resolve. (An old acting teacher of mine used to say, “Never mind the talent, do you have the tenacity?” This is just as relevant for writers.)

Maybe the rejection includes some feedback worth considering (although it’s important to distinguish between meaningful feedback and form letter feedback, which is something else we focus on in the Complete Picture Book Submissions System… it’s easy to confuse the two.) But even without feedback, every rejection is an opportunity to revisit your query and/or your manuscript. Is it really submission-ready? Is it structurally sound, formatted correctly, typo-free? Is every word essential?

Finally, it’s important to take care of yourself during this time. Sending your creative work into the world can make you highly vulnerable, and it’s easy to lose perspective. Do whatever you do to nurture and reinvigorate yourself: take walks, meditate, see a movie, go shopping, get a massage. Seek the company and communion of fellow writers for support, learning and perspective. Most of all, keep writing–generate new material to keep building your portfolio, stay in the flow, and avoid having all your eggs in one basket. That is, after all, the real work of being a writer.

Picture Book Submissions System

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and writing coach. With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over thirty children’s books, seven of which have been on the NY Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series (#1 Bestseller), Julie Andrews Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies, the Dumpy the Dump Truck series, Simeon’s Gift, The Great American Mousical, and Thanks to You–Wisdom from Mother and Child. Emma’s own book, RAISING BOOKWORMS: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal.

by Jed Alexander

My books were too quiet.

Or that’s what I kept being told. Never mind that Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s lullaby in prose GOODNIGHT MOON, a book about a bunny who stays in bed throughout the entire book, is and continues to be one of the most consistently best-selling books in history…according to publishers, quiet didn’t sell. My agent submitted my books to publisher after publisher and we heard the same words over and over. It’s too quiet. There needs to be more action. I always got great compliments on my art, but as much as they seemed to like the way I drew, nobody was hiring me to illustrate their books.

Jedsflyingkids

So I decided to make a book on my own terms. I would make a book that was everything that publishers said they didn’t want from me. Too quiet? My book was going to have hardly any words at all. Instead of one long narrative, it would be a series of short pieces and vignettes, most of which had no perceivable plot. Even the format was unconventional: rather than typical children’s book dimensions it was a square. Instead of the usual 32 pages, it was 52. It was everything publishers didn’t want but it was the book I wanted to make. And the only way it would see print was if I self-published it.

kickstarterTo raise the money, I decided to use crowdfunding. I spent nearly a year researching everything I could about successful crowdfunding campaigns. I discovered that Kickstarter would be my best option. Though I had no experience in business or marketing, I came up with a marketing plan and budget. Though I had never made a video before, I shot my video on my iPhone and learned how to use the editing software on my Mac.

My goal was $7,000 dollars. Some of my friends told me this was too ambitious. That I was asking for too much. That I should set my sights lower. But this was how much I determined I would need to make the book that I wanted to make, and if I couldn’t make the book I wanted to make, I didn’t see any point in doing it at all. And if I failed, the only thing I stood to lose was the time I invested.

Once the campaign began, I got to work. I used every spare moment I had to promote my book. I spread the word on social media. I arranged an interview on a local radio station. I e-mailed everyone I knew.

My campaign succeeded beyond my expectations. Authors and illustrators I admired posted links to my project on their Facebook pages. My project became a staff pick on Kickstarter and one of their “projects of the day,” which meant that my video was featured on their home page. They even used my project as an example on their phone app. I raised over $10,000, well in excess of my $7,000 goal, and was able to use the extra money to enhance my book with extras like spot lamination and color endpapers.

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While a few of my supporters were friends and family, most of them were people I didn’t know who had come to believe in my project. One of them was a small press publisher who offered to sub-distribute the book once I met my goal. The publisher would put their name on it, and with the legitimacy that a veteran publisher afforded, I could get the book into libraries and bookstores and I could get it reviewed.

I made some mistakes along the way but I’ve had the opportunity to learn from them. The book has opened many doors for me. It’s gotten a number of positive reviews. I’ve held signings and done lectures and taught classes. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.

But most important of all, my book is being read. And if you self-publish using crowdfunding you may not be the next J.K. Rowling, but I guarantee you will have readers. Because crowdfunding not only provides you the funds you need to publish, but it builds enthusiasm for your book and an audience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. That book that everyone rejected, that no one was willing to publish will finally have readers.

And above all else, isn’t that the reason we do this? Because we love books so much we want to make them and share them and have others enjoy them? Because otherwise you’re in the wrong business.

 

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Jed Alexander is the author/illustrator of (MOSTLY) WORDLESS, which he originally self-published with crowdfunding finances and which was then picked up by a small traditional publisher. He is represented by Abigail Samoun of Red Fox Literary. Find out more about Jed at JedAlexander.com.

Jed will also be co-teaching an extraordinary course on How to Self- or Indie- Publish with Crowdfunding starting March 23rd with Mira Reisberg. The course covers print, e-books, crowdfunding, marketing, social media, and much more.

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Hollins University is paying tribute to one of its best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors by establishing a literary award in her name.

Presented annually beginning in 2016, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature will recognize the author of the best text for a picture book published during the previous year. Winners will be given a $1,000 cash prize, which comes from an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancée at the time of her death. Each recipient will also receive an engraved bronze medal as well as an invitation to accept the award and present a reading on campus during the summer session of Hollins’ graduate program in children’s literature.

Hollins will request prize nominations from children’s book publishers. Then, a three-judge panel, consisting of established picture book authors, will review the nominations and choose a winner.

“The Margaret Wise Brown Award will be one of the few children’s book awards that has a cash prize attached,” said Amanda Cockrell, director of the children’s literature program at Hollins.

Brown graduated from Hollins in 1932 and went on to write Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and other children’s classics before she died in 1952. Hollins celebrated her life and work with a year-long Margaret Wise Brown Festival in 2011 and 2012, which featured stage and musical adaptations of her work along with readings, workshops, guest lectures, and other activities for all ages.

goodnightmoon   colorkittens   runawaybunny

The study of children’s literature as a scholarly experience was initiated at Hollins in 1973; in 1992, the graduate program in children’s literature was founded. Today, Hollins offers summer M.A. and M.F.A. programs exclusively in the study and writing of children’s literature, an M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating, and a graduate-level certificate in children’s book illustration.

For more information about the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature, visit www.hollins.edu/mwb.

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by Laura Gehl

kwameUnless you live in a cave (a real cave…hiding from the cold under your covers doesn’t count), you know that Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal on February 2nd for his book THE CROSSOVER.

On February 19th, I was lucky enough to hear Kwame speak informally in a Question & Answer session at the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C.

Listening to Kwame was so inspiring that I began furiously scribbling notes, with the idea that I could share the experience with other children’s writers.

Ten things I learned (all over again!) from Kwame Alexander:

1. Kwame can’t write at home because his six-year-old daughter tries to make him dress up like a princess. So he writes at Panera instead.

My Takeaway: We all have distractions in our lives.

2. Kwame also likes to write at Panera because he can steal from those around him…a snippet of conversation, the way a man touches a woman’s cheek…

My Takeaway: You are always working as long as you are aware of the world around you. Yes, this means you can totally go to Hawaii, sit on the beach, and consider it work. (Please consult your tax advisor before writing off the trip, however.)

3. THE CROSSOVER took five years from concept to sale.

My Takeaway: Be patient. (My critique partners know that this is not exactly my strong suit.)

4. Kwame got twenty-two rejections on THE CROSSOVER and was considering self-publishing before he finally got an acceptance.

My Takeaway: Those twenty-two editors must feel like idiots. Just kidding. My real takeaway: Don’t give up. Or, as Kwame put it, “You have to say yes to yourself.”

5. When he needed to revise THE CROSSOVER, Kwame Googled “novel in verse writing coach” and then worked with his coach for months.

My Takeaway: Revision is hard. Nobody can do it alone. Also, thank goodness for Google.

6. Kwame said, “Publishers don’t know what they want until they get it.”

My Takeaway: Write what you are passionate about, not what you think editors are looking for. If your book is great, it will get published.

7. When Kwame was speaking, every single person there…from picture book writers to YA writers to nonfiction writers to illustrators…from the unpublished to the multi-award-winning…was captivated. Enthralled. The whole room crackled with excitement, and with happiness and pride for Kwame.

My Takeaway: The kidlit community is amazing, and we can all gain knowledge, inspiration, and support from one another.

8. Other Newbery winners told Kwame, “The price of a Newbery is a book,” meaning that he should give himself a break this year and just enjoy the ride.

My Takeaway: Successes can be few and far between in this business, and it is easy to immediately go from “YAY! I GOT A CONTRACT TODAY!” to “Okay, now I need to sell another book.” We should all take time to truly appreciate and enjoy every success—big and little—along the way.

9. The night before the Newbery announcement, Kwame couldn’t sleep. He drank root beer, watched TV, worried and wondered…could all of those who said THE CROSSOVER was a Newbery contender maybe, just maybe, be right? Around 3:00 am, Kwame decided to re-read the book. He found a bunch of errors and decided that his awful book could not possibly have won the award.

My Takeaway: We all doubt ourselves. Especially at 3:00 am.

10. Kwame said, “We are at our best when our passions become our jobs.”

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My Takeaway: We are incredibly lucky to be writing books for children. Who could possibly ask for a better job???

Oh…and one more thing I learned, as a bonus for those of you who read this far:

11. A year and a half ago, Kwame was selling his books from a small booth at Eastern Market in Washington D.C. (and had happily paid $100 for the privilege of selling books from that booth).

My Takeaway: Just like the boys in SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE don’t realize just how close they are to an enormous diamond, you never know just how close you may be to enormous success. [Refer back to #3…Be patient…and #4…Don’t give up.]

lauragehlLaura Gehl’s newest picture books are AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL. She is also the author of ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, and the PEEP AND EGG series (hatching Spring 2016). You can visit Laura online at LauraGehl.com and Facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.

devPetty1by Dev Petty

I wrote a whole post for this very blog some time ago about NOT writing and just thinking. I wrote about getting to the heart of your story idea in your head before you ever write a word. I believe in that process…big time. But it’s not how I wrote I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG. That’s a different story. That’s the story of how a sort of basic story idea turned into one with legs…frog legs! In fact, it was the writing of FROG that taught me to slow down and think, to find the story thread before I started writing.

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I knew I wanted to write a story all in dialogue. I wanted it to be funny. And I wanted it to be about a frog. I like frogs, it was that simple. Not much to go on, eh? Believe me, my first efforts on frog reflected just how thin the idea was. Frog went from animal to animal saying “I want to be like you…because…you’re furry (or you can fly or you can hop).” It was repetitive and a little hollow and NOTHING REALLY AT ALL HAPPENED. These are the sort of problems I usually suss out when I’m just thinking instead of writing, so I don’t usually have this situation. But there was something about the first draft I liked enough to keep at it.

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This is when I stopped and realized I needed to answer my own critical, favorite story writing question.

“What is this about?”

The answer, as written, was “A frog who wants to be a rabbit or a cat or an owl.” And after a ton of rewrites and rearranging, it wasn’t getting any better on the page. So I stopped revising. I stopped writing. As I closed the laptop and started thinking, I realized it was a little deeper. The answer really was, “This is a story about a frog who doesn’t want to be a frog.” It’s about wanting to be something other than what you are. Now THAT’S a little more interesting. When I started thinking about it that way, the story opened up and it wasn’t anymore about cats or owls, it was about nature, it was about accepting your nature.

That answer allowed me to start thinking about the frog, the good parts, the bad parts, the way we all sometimes envy things about others that we can never, and probably should never have. The story was getting deeper, but still…nothing really happened. The frog went from animal to animal saying he wanted to be them and then the book ended. You’re a frog. Get over it.

froginterior2

Confession. I’ve tried to write novels. A bunch of em. I am a Viking at writing three awesome chapters and then running out of steam, throwing the laptop across the room and eating ice cream for a while. But I do it often enough that I’ve learned a few things. Newsflash Dev, your story has to have a PLOT and not just be a rambling treatise on frog existentialism. So I decided to bring a new character in…a wolf…who would act as a bit of a therapist, a reality checker who would point out the good parts of being a frog through his own nature. Once something happened, the wolf, my story had a turn and a direction and something, albeit small, happened. I hope kids will read frog and realize that everyone has things they want to change about themselves, and that’s a totally okay, natural thing to explore. But you also sort of have to accept who you are, find the bright parts about who you are and work with what you have.

I guess the truth is, I sort of violated most of my own rules of picture book writing in the writing of the one picture book I have out there. I kind of teased a good story out of a pretty mediocre one. But that’s ok too, it taught me a lot about finding that thread. It helped me develop a process…find the thread FIRST! Remember to TELL a story and not just muse.

Since we’re talking story threads, I thought I’d put down a few tools I use to try to figure out what I’m getting at when I’m developing a story idea in my head, before I start writing.

  1. I write a poem. It’s not the kind of poem anyone would ever, ever, ever want to read. But the lack of rules in poetry allow me to explore an idea without limitations. I usually write pretty long, stream of consciousness poems about my story idea and most of it will be total garbage. But usually, when I read it through, somewhere in there is a thread I can hold onto and start crafting a story around.
  2. Imagine your story as a trailer. I’d never thought of this one until I started watching a lot of picture book trailers and working on my own, for Frog. But when you have to introduce your character, a story problem, a plot twist and a possible solution- you’ve covered a lot of story elements and it’s pretty easy to find where you need to go a little deeper.
  3. Ask yourself what your story is about. Sounds obvious, I know, but I forget to do it ALL THE TIME. And, while you’re busy talking to yourself, why not have a whole conversation?

“Dev, what is this story about?”
“Well, it’s about a frog who wants to be a cat or an owl or something else.”
“Gosh, Dev, that’s not very interesting.”
“It’s not? Crap. OK, it’s about not wanting to be a frog.”
“Getting there.”
“You’re bossy. Fine. It’s about not wanting to be what you are.”
“That’s sad.”
“Okee…it’s about accepting who you are.”
“Bingo!”
“I don’t like you.”
“I don’t like you either.”

Finally, Never throw anything away. Whether you save one giant list of picture books in Scrivener or text files or email drafts (I’m partial to that one), never give up on a story. Put it aside, let it steep, even put it in total cold storage, but don’t throw anything away. SO many of my stories come from little breadcrumbs of ideas I left myself along the way.

Dev Petty is the author of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG (Doubleday 2015, Illustrated by Mike Boldt) and CLAYMATES (Little Brown, 2017).  A former film effects artist, she lives in Albany, California and writes funny books for kids and immature adults. Visit her at DevPetty.com.

Do you want to be a frog? No? Do you want to own a frog? Not really? How about own a SIGNED COPY of Dev’s I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG? Plus bookmarks? Yes? OK then, leave one comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in two weeks! Good luck!

Guess who’s gliding your way this October?

littleredglidinghood

Illustrated by the amazing Troy Cummings (of NOTEBOOK OF DOOM fame), this story is a mish-mash of fairytales set in a winter wonderland. (No, not Boston.) It’s all quite fantastically fractured, without cumbersome crutches.

Troy’s got a groovy retro style that pops with personality. I asked him a few questions about bringing Red and her pals to life.

Troy, how were you introduced to LITTLE RED and why did you choose to work on it?

My editor at Random House said she had me in mind to illustrate a fractured fairytale called LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD. The title alone made me smile. Then I read the manuscript and I shouted “YES! SIGN ME UP!” after the first few page turns.

The story was super-funny, and clever, and full of action. Drawing fairytale characters would be fun, but coming up with ice-skating wintery versions of those guys in frozen-fairytale-land? COME ON!

I really couldn’t wait to start—I filled my sketchbook with character ideas on the bus ride home.

lrgh_first_sketch

These are the first designs I cooked up. Red looks very similar to how she is in the book—although her eyes were much huger in the first draft…but she’s got her little pointy ears on her hood, and oversized head.

02_title

The Big Bad Wolf is probably “badder” in the book. Although it looks like I had already planned on giving him that big awesome puffy shirt that accentuates his chest hair.

And I was also playing with giving each of the three pigs their own skates to match their jobs—with blades that resembled a trowel, a saw, or a scythe. But I couldn’t get it to work, so now they just have plain old skates.

jacket_thumbs

And here are all my thumbnails for my book cover ideas. I try to do a million of ’em to see what kind of ideas I can shake out. They actually picked my secret favorite one for the real cover, which was great.

How did you decide upon the overall look for the book?

Well, it’s a winter story that takes place mostly outside—which would lend itself to white/gray/off-brown/… but it’s also a kooky fairy tale, so I wanted to sneak in as much color as I could. So I got to play and make crazy purple and yellow trees, and give the characters colorful scarves and mittens, etc.

I also tried to differentiate Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf in their designs… she’s short and blocky, he’s tall and lanky. She’s neat, he’s shaggy. She’s got big eyes, he’s got “bad guy” eyes, she’s fully dressed, he’s uh, not…etc. etc.

wolf (1)

And the other thing I tried to do was avoid warm colors, except for Little Red’s actual riding hood…in most scenes, it’s the only red thing we see—it should be brighter and bolder than anything else, hopefully drawing attention to her even when she’s a tiny skater on the horizon.

(With one exception—she takes a break at Grandma’s house in the middle of the book, so I flooded that page with warm/bold colors: the fireplace, the floorboards, and even the walls have lots of warmer colors. Then she’s back outside at the pinky-purple little piggy’s house, out in the snow…)

03_grandma

How does working on an author’s story differ from working on your own?

When I write my own stories, I always start by waaaaay overcooking things. My manuscripts are too long and my words are redundant with my pictures, big-time. The writer-half of me panics that the illustrator-half is going to leave something out, so my copy ends up sounding way too descriptive, like this:

The fuzzy blue frog put on her yellow striped size 3 pajamas before hopping on her new two-wheeled bicycle, which had been colored 30% MAGENTA in Adobe Photoshop CS5.

And then when it’s time to illustrate, I realize that I could have just written:

The frog rode away.

and let the illustration do the rest of the work. I feel like I’m slooowly getting better at this, but I still haven’t totally figured it out.

I also think that when I’m illustrating my own story, I finish by drawing a picture that more or less lines up with what I was thinking when I wrote the story. THE END.

BUT!

When I illustrate someone else’s story, it becomes really fun to work with what they’ve written, and try to come up with images that “complete” the scenes/emotions/ideas they’re setting up. They author will have described characters, events, ideas and emotions, which I should support and illustrate. But the author will also _not_ describe certain events, actions, characters, etc. (on purpose!), letting me complete the scene.

01_opening

For instance, here’s a line Tara Lazar (you!) had written for LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD:

She swizzled down the river and saw a flurry of friends gathering beneath a banner.

This is all the copy needs to say—the author hasn’t spelled out exactly who has gathered beneath the banner. I get to do that! Then it’s fun to try to come up with something neat/funny that supports the text, but also has little surprises if you spend some time on it. (Who’s hanging out under the banner? Maybe Miss Muffet, bored [setting us up for the spider on page x/] Or Humpty Dumpty, walking with confidence (or nervously holding the handrail?)… Or bo-peep, distracted by something while her sheep are eyeing the exit. (etc., etc.)

I get to play around in this world the author has created, and maybe set up a few characters/events that will payoff later in the story, and (ideally) throw in little details to surprise the reader on subsequent readings.

I also think there’s this really cool thing that happens when an author and illustrator work together:

  1. The author comes up with a story, characters, and a world that I couldn’t have come up with on my own. She puts images in my head.
  2. I, in turn, draw these images and interpret her world/characters/architecture/bowls of porridge/etc., which are likely to be entirely different than what she might have envisioned. (At least, the details might be different—I should be hitting all the right notes to support the voice/tone of her manuscript.)
  3. And then: MAGIC! The difference between what the author had in mind vs. my interpretation ends up being this thing that’s, ideally, better than what either of us could have cooked up on our own… (I say “magic”, but that’s also a result of smart editing/art direction.)

This project was super, sooooper fun. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it makes me want to work on more kooky fairytales. (Or more Tara Lazar stories!)

Thanks, Tara!

Thanks so much, Troy! You’ve done an incredible job, far better than anything I could have ever imagined! I’m one ecstatic author.

And now, the giveaway…

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD will be released on October 27 and you can pre-order now, but…you can get a full sneak peek by winning an F&G of the book (folded and gathered galley version)!

Just leave a comment below (one per person) and you will be entered into a random drawing. You have until Feb 28th to comment; I’ll pick a winner on March 1st!

GOOD LUCK!

And stay warm out there! Especially you Boston folk!

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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My Picture Books


Available now at:

Coming Soon:


Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
August 2015


Random House
October 2015

NORMAL NORMAN
illustrated by S.Britt
Sterling Children's Books
March 2016

WAY PAST BEDTIME
illustrator TBA
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
Fall 2016

7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY
illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
2017

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