What a busy April over here! So many creative new picture books to celebrate!

Sarah Frances Hardy certainly has reason to party—even tea party. Her debut picture book releases today!

PUZZLED BY PINK is the story of what happens when Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy, with whimsical watercolor illustrations that will delight little girls on both sides of the fence, whether they LOVE pink or just don’t get what the big fuss is all about.

Please welcome Sarah to the blog today! *throws confetti* *serves tea and orange-cranberry scones*

TD: Sarah, on this blog we like to talk about story ideas. Tell us, where did the inspiration for Izzie and her sister Rose come from?

SFH: The inspiration for Izzie came from my oldest daughter. When she was little, it seems like every book geared toward little girls was pink, pink, pink…and she just wasn’t into it. I wanted to write a book for girls who wanted to be girls, but they wanted to do it without having to wear pink-glittered fairy wings.

Rose, Izzie’s little sister, is inspired by my middle daughter who has always loved everything about being a girly-girl—from ballet to pink to tutus.

TD: So is your youngest daughter represented in the book?

SFH: Ha! She’s asked me that too, and I tell her that she is Jinx, the pet cat, who is actually the most fun character in the book. She’s thrilled.

TD: I’d love to be Jinx, too! Izzie a strong character who does her own thing even though it’s not popular. How do you hope young readers will relate to her?

SFH: Well, I think we’ve all had the experience of being excluded because we’re a little different or we’re not wearing the right thing. I hope kids will take away the message that you can be yourself, dress the way you want to, and still go to the party.

It takes courage to say you’re going to do your own thing and stick to your guns! But it’s always best to be true to yourself .

TD: So tell us a little about your journey to publication as an author-illustrator. We authors say it must be “easier” for an author-illustrator to break into the business, while author-illustrators may say it’s easier to wear just one hat. (I tend to think no matter how many hats you wear, it’s never easy! Especially if they’re sombreros and you can’t fit thru the doorway.) What do you think?

SFH: It is a sombrero! And the door feels like it’s tiny!

But I will say that it’s a little easier to get an agent if you are both an author/illustrator because you don’t have to split royalties, and there are more agents out there who are willing to represent you.

The downside is that you are giving editors TWO reasons to reject you, so I always tell people to be sure that their illustrations and text are equally strong.

My journey is fairly typical in that I spent years going to conferences and learning everything I could about the craft of writing and illustrating for children. I wrote some pretty terrible books, submitted them, and amassed a small mountain of rejection letters,

Finally, I came up with this character and concept, and I started getting a little interest. I signed with my amazing agent and worked on revisions for several months with her. In the summer of 2010, I sold my book to Viking Children’s Books.

TD: PUZZLED BY PINK is a great title many little girls (like my green-and-blue-loving one) can relate to. Was this your title from the start of the project?

SFH: No. It actually had the very boring title TEA PARTY at first. PUZZLED BY PINK actually emerged from a brainstorming session that I had when I was sending my manuscript out to agents. In earlier versions of the manuscript, my main character Izzie was an angry little girl—kind of a curmudgeon. I was talking about the book with a friend and I said “Izzie shouldn’t HATE pink…she just doesn’t get what the big deal is. She’s puzzled by pink.”

That phrase not only became the title but it helped me craft Izzie into a more likable character.

TD: Oh, I love that story! And I love how the title is all glittery pink on the cover, with Izzie giving a cute little smirk.

Your book has been described as “Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy”. Wednesday is one of my all-time favorite TV characters. If she were to endorse your book, what do you think she’d say?

SFH: If she were to blurb my book, she’d probably say something like: “Finally! Someone who knows how to throw a decent party. I’ve found a kindred spirit in Izzie.”

TD: And we’ve found a kindred spirit in you, Sarah! Thanks for sharing  the behind-the-tea-party scenes with us.

And now…someone please pass the cucumber sandwiches!

Whoops, sorry…I mean, please comment to win a copy of PUZZLED BY PINK!

You get one entry for commenting and then one entry for every share on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Just mention it when you comment!

Comments will close at the end of April 25 with a winner announced on April 26.

Good luck!

Sarah Frances Hardy is an author-illustrator and fine artist living in Mississippi with her husband and three daughters (who are not named Izzie, Rose and Jinx). Visit her at sfhardy.com and connect with her “Picture This” blog…which features photos of a cool local window display (well, TWO displays) dedicated to her book!