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The other day I was at my son’s book fair, talking with his teacher. A few of my books were included in the event, and she picked one up and flipped through it. All of a sudden she asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’m pretty good at answering this question at school talks, but on the spot, I was speechless. I ended up smiling uncomfortably, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I don’t know,” and then I quickly changed the subject.
On stage and in front of a group, I’m fine with the spotlight, but in a social situation, the last thing I’m comfortable talking about is me. Later that day, I started feeling guilty about how I’d responded. I should have made more of an effort to answer her, because her question was a good one. In fact, it was the exact same question I always want to ask other authors and illustrators. It’s why I’m always excited to meet them. I want to know: How do you do that thing that you do? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you get those ideas to swirl together perfectly so you can use them?
Usually I can’t trace a book all the way back to that first glimmer of an idea. It’s too complicated and messy—like trying to unravel wool that you’ve given to a kitten.
But with Bean Dog and Nugget, things are different. I know exactly how, where, and why I got the idea, and it all started five years ago.
My children used to be picky eaters. One of them still is, but I won’t embarrass him by saying his name. When she was six, my daughter Ivy loved chicken nuggets, and my son Luther (three) lived for hot dogs. So that year, as a Christmas present, I made them each a stuffed friend. And so Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget were born. The kids liked them, but not as much as me. I loved these little characters and promptly displayed them in my dining room. The kids didn’t seem to mind them sitting on a shelf out of reach, their other toys were more fun to play with anyway.
So Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget sat there for years, watching our little family, until one day I was inspired. At the time I was new to blogging and filled with blogging energy. It’s a great stage for creativity, and I wanted to try something different, so I started a Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget blog. It was a chronicle of unrequited love—a chicken nugget in love with a hot dog.
Working on the blog was fun, rewarding and stimulating, but it was also time consuming! All the drawing, and photographing, and setting up of the characters took forever. If it had been my only job I would’ve been fine, but I had books to write, deadlines to meet, and lunches to make—it was too much. In the end, I couldn’t keep up, and so I stopped—mid-romance. Chicken Nugget and Bean Dog retired from fame, and went back into their old spots on the shelf.
Over the next few years, I tried to fit them into a story, but I could never make it work. I’ve come to realize, that if a book is a struggle from page one, it’s probably wise to give it up. Wanting an idea to be good, and having it be good are two very different things.
But they were there in my head, waiting, and then one day I found my story. I was outside working in my backyard yard, trying to keep my plants alive when I got the glimmer.
Can I do an aside here, just a quick tangent? It’s for the story, to give you perspective on my gardening skills. I’ll be fast, I promise.
This is what my daughter said last week, when I brought home spring plants for my garden.
Now, back to the story. So I’m in the yard coaxing and begging things not to die, when I hear my son and his friend engaged in a not-so-friendly exchange. It seems there was a ball, and now the ball is in the bushes, and neither of them wants to retrieve it. The “You get it!” “No, you get it!” makes me smile. It’s one of those I-hope-I-remember-the-kids-like-this moments.
A few days later I was at my son’s school, in the library, looking for an easy comic book for him to read. At the time he was a very reluctant reader, and not at all interested in books. Isn’t that always the way? Author and lover of books has child who hates reading.
This was all happening two years ago, and in the easy comic book genre there weren’t many choices, certainly not like today. The school librarian and I talked about it, and I left with a purpose. I was going to make a comic book for my son to read! I was a mom with a mission. The next day as I was getting ready to start, everything suddenly came together—my tornado of creativity, the right pen, and my favorite paper—it was perfect. I love when that happens. And so BEAN DOG AND NUGGET was born.
I like epilogues, because it’s always nice to know what happens in the end. I dedicated BEAN DOG AND NUGGET to my son and his friend, and when the first book arrived I made a big deal of it and showed them the dedication. Do you know what happened? I was imagining some kind of payback, perhaps something like, “Oh thank you for putting my name in the book,” but I was wrong. They ignored me completely, and instantly started arguing and pointing to the Nugget character on the cover. “You’re the girl! “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” It wasn’t the response I was expecting, but it was perfect. It was full circle, and the exact kind of scenario that had inspired me in the first place. I listened to them and smiled. Silly boys, I knew something they didn’t. Nugget is the smart one.
Thanks to Charise for sharing Bean Dog and Nugget’s journey from shelf to bookshelf!
Both books release today, and as a special treat, Charise is giving away THREE prize packs which include both signed books and supplies to make your own Bean Dog and Nugget paper puppets.
Just leave a comment about your favorite part of her making-of-the-story story!
Winners will be randomly selected in about a week. Good luck!
In the meantime, learn about all of Charise’s books at ChariseHarper.com.
To celebrate the release of my debut picture book THE MONSTORE on June 4th, I am offering free Skype visits with your class the week of June 10th. (Yes, I know school will be out for a lot of you, but I live in Jersey, where school drags on into summer.)
For the Skype visit I will:
- Read THE MONSTORE
- Wear the pajamas of your class’s choice (Scottie Dog, Hot Cocoa, Conversation Hearts, Figure Skates)
- Answer questions about the book/writing/spending the day in jammies
- Play a trick on the class (with your help and a red delicious apple)
- Saw a lady in half
- Send your class a signed bookplate with limited edition “Grand Opening” MONSTORE sticker
- Accomodate your ideas to fulfill a classroom initiative
Skype visits will take place from June 10th to June 14th and last 30 minutes.
Whoops, and I will not saw a lady in half. Sorry ’bout that one. I got carried away.
To set up the Skype visit, please email me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) com with “Free Skype Visit” in the subject line. Please include the following details:
- Class grade
- Three available days/times, listed in order of preference
- Contact info, including Skype username
I will try my best to schedule everyone who requests a Skype visit, but please note if I cannot, you will be selected on a first come/first served basis. Also, for reading purposes it’s best if you have a copy of THE MONSTORE in your classroom, but it is not a requirement.
Let the Skyping begin!
P.S. I apologize in advance for my northeast accent.
P.P.S. It’s not as bad as the cast from “Jersey Shore”.
P.P.P.S. Most of the “Jersey Shore” cast is from New York.
It’s finally May—the flowers are pushing through the dirt, the sun is ablaze with warm promises…and, well, it’s time to take a break!
I thought I’d consult with someone who knows vacationing very well. No, not my Aunt Myrna, the Long Island travel agent queen. Salina Yoon’s Penguin!
He’s a cute, chubby fellow with an itch for adventure. Let’s scratch it, shall we?
Penguin, thanks so much for joining me today. Tell me, what’s been happening at home that you decided a vacation was in order?
Hi Ms. Tara! I was just bored of the snow and ice. I can only count to 99, and after I counted my 99th snowball, I didn’t know what else to do.
You could make 33 miniature snowmen, but ya know, I like the vacation idea better.
What did Grandpa say when you packed your bag?
33 miniature snowmen…I never thought of that!
Grandpa always says to me that I should go and explore the world—and I will come back a wiser penguin. I think he is right. Grandpa is very wise, and he has traveled very far. In fact, he has been to the beach once long ago. He gave me his old swim suit for my trip. It fit perfectly.
I hope you sent him a postcard. He probably missed you very much.
I did better than that, Ms. Tara! I met a lovely seagull on the beach, and she had a camera. It went, “click! click! click!” and pretty pictures came out of a box. She took some photos of me and Crab, and Seagull delivered the photos to Grandpa because she can fly! It was very nice of Seagull. It turns out that we are distant relatives!
Speaking of Crab, you did some fun things together. What other places did you two visit on your vacation?
Crab took me caving, snorkeling, and even cliff diving on the island! I am a very good swimmer, so it was very fun. But the caves were nothing like the ice caves back at home. It was fun to see and try new things.
What advice do you have for kids heading away on vacation to someplace new and different?
My advice is to make new friends on vacation, because they will know how to have fun there even if you don’t! Also, I would say to be open to trying new things because you can do what you always do and eat the foods you always eat when you get back home. And take sunscreen…if you are going someplace sunny!
Where would you like to vacation next?
I would love to visit the Grand Canyon one day, even though I would have to pack a lot of ice with me to stay comfortable. I would also like to visit Mount Everest and see the world from the highest point on Earth! And then of course, Disneyland!
That sounds perfect. I can hear the television announcer booming, “Penguin, you just had your book published, what are you going to do next?!”
Thanks for waddling by today, Penguin. And thanks for leaving behind your adorable book signed by Salina, plus a beach ball to boot! Or throw. Or float in the pool with. Whatever the winner prefers!
Thank you for inviting me to talk with you, Ms. Tara. And happy vacationing, friends!
Please leave a comment below telling Penguin about your favorite vacation spot.
A winner of the book and ball will be randomly selected in one week!
Oh boy, do I love Indian food. Sometimes I think I oughta start a foodie blog. Samosas, tandoori, palak paneer—I can’t get enough of the spicy stuff. So when I heard about HOT HOT ROTI FOR DADA-JI, I knew I had to devour it. My nephew is half-Indian and the boy on the cover reminded me of him. But inside HOT HOT ROTI is a story about any grandfather and grandson, for the sentiments transcend culture and ethnicity. Inside is a story about memories, imagination, and the power of sharing family traditions.
I asked the author, Farhana Zia, to join us today. And stick around, because after the interview I have a copy of the book for you and Farhana’s personal recipe for HOT HOT ROTI!
What inspired you to write HOT HOT ROTI FOR DADA-JI?
The motivation for writing HHRFDJ was a desire to do something enduring for my three grandchildren. They are pre-readers now but one day they’ll read the book to themselves and also, not far down the road, to others important in their lives and I hope that when this happens, they’ll sense the love that’s packed inside. I wrote the book to create some good memories for them. We all need warm, lasting memories. Good memories can be so comforting at unexpected times.
The inspiration for the story came from a host of such memories of childhood…memories of sights, smells, sounds, tastes and emotions that linger on and on and are comforting. Foremost among these is the memory of snuggling up to my own grandmother for her wonderful stories.
In the book, Dada-Ji gets his power from the hot, hot roti. What food is your own personal power source?
First of all, I’ll take the liberty to use the word “food” metaphorically and say that each new day, when things generally go right, is the ultimate power source for me as well as a reason to give thanks. In addition to that, as an elementary school teacher, I can truthfully say I derive plenty of power from the energy and vibrancy of my students. They keep me on my toes and competing with their exuberance every single day! A classroom is definitely an exhilarating place to be. As far as real food, I have lots of favorite power sources. At the risk of surprising you I’m going to put a steaming, tongue burning, pepperoni, mushroom, anchovy pizza at the top of the list. This is an occasional weekend treat when I’m absolutely not in the mood to cook. My husband runs down to the local pizza place and I keep the oven nice and hot! A medium rare filet that cuts like butter is a close second in my personal favorites and falls under the, “I don’t want to cook, let’s go out to eat” category. I could go on but….a fluffy, piping hot bature (deep fried leavened bread), puffed up to the size of a volley ball, with a spicy potato can hit the spot when one is very, very hungry. Trust me!
It’s refreshing to see the South Asian/Indian culture in a picture book–that’s rare in the market. How can children from different cultures relate to this story?
I wrote the book for all children, regardless of nationality and ethnicity. While the book definitely has cultural elements, the underlying themes and attributes are universal. I like to think that the story is a testimony to the unfailing creativity and initiative present in all children.
When kids read about Aneel making roti for his grandfather, they’ll recognize their own innate inventiveness. I witness it every day in my classroom. Kids also love to take charge. They can surprise you with their cleverness and their ability to offer creative solutions. They can also be so helpful and they especially love to feel responsible. I think all young readers will recognize and revel in these traits. Besides, Hot, Hot Roti for Dadaji is a fun story mixed with a bit of fantasy and tall tale and what child doesn’t like that? The book is also very strongly a story about inter generational relationships which happen to be universal. All children know about grandparents who love to spend time with them, play with them and spoil them. Whether it’s Dadaji or Grandpa, Gramps, or Pop-Pop the relationship is the same… special and immediately recognizable. Lastly, the book is about food and kids love food, in one form, or another.
My niece me once that when she read the book in her daughter’s kindergarten, she had all kids crying out, “Wah!” Now that’s music to my ears!
Do you have a recipe for hot, hot roti to share with us?
Whole Wheat Flour (Chapati Flour, available in Indian grocery stores) – 2 cups. Reserve 2 Tablespoons for rolling and dusting.
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Warm Water – 3/4 cup
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix flour and salt.
2. Gradually add warm water to form a medium soft dough ball. The dough should not be too stiff, nor too sticky. Knead the dough about fifty times. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 15 minutes
3. Heat a skillet on medium heat until a water droplet sizzles and evaporates immediately.
4. Divide the dough into 8 golf ball size balls.
5. Coat one ball in the reserved four and roll it out into a thin disc (the thickness of a penny), approximately 6 inches in diameter. Sprinkle more flour on the rolling board to keep the dough from sticking to the rolling surface.
6. Shake or rub off excess flour from the roti and place it onto the hot skillet for about 10-15 seconds.
7. Flip to the other side and allow the roti to cook for 10-15 seconds until you see bubbles appear. Use a paper towel to move the roti around on the skillet for even heat distribution.
8. Flip the roti one last time. You should see scattered golden brown spots. Gently press down on various places using the paper towel. This will make the roti puff up with the built up steam. Be careful that escaping steam does not scald you!
9. Remove the roti from heat and keep it covered with a towel. Repeat the process for the remaining dough.
Hot, hot roti is ready!
Thanks, Farhana! It looks delicious!
And now HOT HOT ROTI is ready for you, too! Please leave a comment for a chance to win the book! I’ll randomly select a winner in one week. Good luck and happy eating (and reading)!
Knowing I have blog followers who are eager to snag a picture book agent, I sat down with Susan (after we bumped—yes—right there on the floor) and asked her some questions about picture books, agenting, and the surreal softness of the carpet. Was it Turkish cotton? Or do they only use that for robes and towels? (Um, scratch those last couple questions.)
Susan, what led to your decision to become a kidlit agent? Can you tell us about your professional background?
I’m lucky to have worn a number of hats within the children’s book world. I’ve been a bookseller; I have a degree in Library Science and have worked in an elementary school library as well as the Brooklyn Public Library; I acquired a few book projects for Dutton Children’s Books. But most of my background is in Children’s Book Marketing, gathered at Penguin, Henry Holt and North-South Books. All of that led to my decision to make the jump to agenting three years ago, which feels like the perfect way to put these experiences to work. But, really, I think it all began with this: I’m a reader. I love reading books, I love meeting new characters and going new places in the pages of a book, and that’s always been true for me.
Ah, a great question. It’s hard to stop!
- ME, JANE by Patrick McDonnell
- SPOON by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon
- I’M NOT by Pam Smallcomb and Robert Weinstock
- THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
- SO YOU WANT TO BE PRESIDENT by Judith St George and David Small
- OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann
- “MORE, MORE, MORE,” SAID THE BABY by Vera B Williams
- BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey
- GEORGE AND MARTHA, or anything by James Marshall
- SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE by William Steig
- MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney
- LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes
- BREAD AND JAME FOR FRANCES by Russell Hoban
- FREDERICK by Leo Lionni
What about those books make them special?
Three things: character, humor, and each of these is a very satisfying book.
In most of them, the main character is someone I love. Like, obsessively love. ME, JANE—I already think Jane Goodall is amazing, but in the pages of this book, we’re introduced to a real little girl who’s so true to her own interests, that you can’t help but be entirely charmed. Spoon features the most adorable spoon you’d ever want to meet, not to mention his smart, reassuring parents. And it goes on—every one of these books holds a real, textured person, brought to life in just a few words and pages.
Almost all of them are funny. Some of them are more broadly so, in some of them the humor lies more in a clever twist, but with all of them, I find myself smiling. A lot.
You know the feeling when you close a book and think, I can’t wait to read that again? That happens when the author and artist, together, create a perfect symphony of voice, character and plot. When everything works in concert, you finish the story feeling somehow more whole, and will want to come back to that story again. Obviously, which books do this will be different for different people, but for me, these books all give me that sense.
What do you look for in a picture book submission?
Pretty much what I described above!
Also, shorter text (about 500-600 words), and I’m not usually a fan of rhyming text.
What makes you stop reading a submission?
Predictably, longer texts, rhyming texts—I usually stop reading those. There are also quite a few “evergreen” stories, themes or subjects out there—making a new friend is one. (Here’s a list of a few others.) These can be tricky because in the right hands, they can feel fresh and new, so I’d never say that I’d automatically stop reading a story like this. Still, these texts will be competing with quite a few others out there, so I’m cautious with these.
Is there anything you see too much of in your submission pile?
I see quite a few projects that want to teach kids a lesson. I’m not particularly interested in this, though there are quite a few picture books that want kids to understand some values—fairness, for instance—and do this quite skillfully. I guess that, in terms of message books, I want to see this emerge from the character’s journey, rather than leading the story.
What is the word from picture book editors these days? What are they seeking in picture books?
The main thing editors ask me for is strong, original characters with a compelling, meaty story. If that character has the potential to build a series, all the better. Length should be shorter (see word count above). Most editors will find something funny very appealing and are often looking for something quirky. This is harder to quantify—one gal’s quirky is another gal’s odd—but in general, I think this is about looking for something that feels new and different.
What factors go into your decision to offer a picture book author representation? (Do you offer representation based on only one picture book, or do you prefer that the author have a few ready to submit?)
Two things—I need to love the work, and I need to feel that I can sell it. Easy to explain, hard to find! Mainly that’s because it’s ultimately personal and what I may love is so different than what someone else may love. It’s best if the writer has a few books in the bag, so to speak, but not 100% necessary.
Do your rep author-illustrators? Is it best for them to query with a full dummy, or just a story and a portfolio?
I do! In fact, I’m very eager to take more author-illustrators on. I love seeing a full dummy, but querying either way is fine. My submissions information is here: http://www.thebentagency.com/submission.php.
Could you describe your ideal client?
Someone who loves their work. Writing and illustrating is amazing work, and I feel super lucky to work with children’s book creators, but it requires dedication, patience, flexibility, and some grit. You’re probably going to hear no a few times before you hear yes. Being able to balance all that against a deep love for your work, and a real pleasure in doing it, is key.
Are you open to submissions? How can writers reach you?
Very much so. Please visit The Bent Agency website to learn more about being in touch.
Thank you, Susan! I hope to bump into you again soon! Without dumping us both onto the floor. Although, it sparked a lovely, informative conversation, didn’t it?
I saw author Jean Reidy’s post this morning about donating a picture book critique to benefit One Fund Boston and thought it was such a wonderful thing, I offered to join in. (And now Tammi Sauer joined us! That’s AMAZING!)
Please visit Jean’s blog and bid! The top three bidders win!
Or, if you don’t wish to win a critique, click the flag to donate directly. As Audrey Vernick said, “You’ll win a good feeling.”
SORRY FOR THE DELAY!
Geesh, I am full of apologies lately. I’m so far behind in everything, which might not surprise you if you read my Emu’s Debuts post about “balance” being overrated. Being a mother, an author, managing my book launch and Multiple Sclerosis…phew. Wanna be an intern? Inquire within. Better terms and conditions than Kramerica Industries!
First I’d like to THANK YOU for backing my friend Ryan Hipp’s Kickstarter project, LITTLE STEPS. Ryan has exceeded his goal with more than a week to go. HIPP HIPP HOORAY!
Next, here are the winners from the past two giveaways! (Selected with the help of Random.org.)
WATCH YOUR TONGUE, CECILY BEASLEY by Lane Fredrickson:
Tina M. Cho!
NUGGET AND FANG PRIZE PACK from Tammi Sauer:
CONGRATULATIONS! Watch for an email from me.
And that’s all folks. But stay tuned—lots of book reviews coming soon, including a rare “poisonous” foray into YA fiction! I’ll also be walking you through what it takes to plan a book launch, which today includes getting quotes for COOKIES. Sweet!
Kickstarter.com is a website that enables artists to pitch a project, collect pledges in exchange for incentives, and finance their creative endeavors.
My friend Ryan Hipp recently went through a personal crisis and emerged triumphant on the other side. He translated that experience into a delightfully charming story, LITTLE STEPS: “Thru the short life-cycle of a caterpillar, we learn life is difficult, yet precious.” In order to bring this project to life, Ryan turned to Kickstarter, and he’s here today to explain the genesis of LITTLE STEPS and his Kickstarter experience.
He’s only a few hundred dollars short of his goal, so I hope you’ll consider backing LITTLE STEPS, too! (I did!)
Ryan, what inspired you to create LITTLE STEPS?
Great Question. Normally, I struggle and struggle to come up with an idea for a good story. But when the idea for LITTLE STEPS came to me, it came to me when I needed it the most, and came to me quite clearly. LITTLE STEPS wasn’t part of my plan, but, in a way, that is exactly why it was a perfectly-timed inspiration for me. It was at a point in my life where my plans all fell apart. I’ve had a pretty carefree life up to a point. I guess I had been living my life thinking I was in a protective bubble, and couldn’t see that it was about to pop. Then my life really changed abruptly without warning, and I was a mess after. During the time trying to pick up the pieces and rediscover myself, it dawned on me there was a way to universally sharewhat I learned on my journey through the power of words and pictures—what I know best.
How did LITTLE STEPS become a Kickstarter project?
I knew this project I needed to keep pretty close to my chest. Being much more of a personal expression of myself than any other work I have done, I just didn’t want to expose it to the familiar channels of traditional publishing like my other books. I had to do this one on my own. So that was when I thought of Kickstarter. Kickstarter is allowing me to create the book the way that I need to and 100% on my own terms.
Beyond the Kickstarter seed fund, what are your goals for LITTLE STEPS?
My goals for LITTLE STEPS is to help people. Especially families. If I did my job right, the book will resonate just as much with adults as children. I think LITTLE STEPS carries so many strong themes that anyone can relate to. Life can be really hard, and I tried to make the symbols in the book be applicable to all the myriad struggles, fears, roadblocks, and hardships that we all face. I want LITTLE STEPS to inspire those that read it to overcome anything that is thrown at them. To overcome adversity stoically and be better people when they get to the other side. Life is short, and precious, and we should not waste a single day.
What are some do’s and don’ts you learned about Kickstarter projects?
I have learned a lot about Kickstarter. I meticulously scrutinized before pressing the “start” button, but after dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s for the Nth time, I just decided to roll with it. The best advice I can give is use your network. Start with your social media, your friends and family—and then watch the chain reaction. Word-of-mouth is all you really have with a project like this. The biggest “don’t” I learned is don’t assume your audience understands how Kickstarter works. I try to make it really clear to all that if I don’t hit my goal by the deadline, I lose all the pledges. I try to let them know that it is not a donation, but a pledge—a trade for cool incentives. I also try to let people know that a pledge today only gets charged if the project is a success. Anything you can do to ease people into a pledge helps. A lot of people have intentions to pledge, but the secret is getting them to take the action. Everything rides on the supporters.
Is this a great time to be a creative, or what?!
I think in our modern world, it’s becoming much more obtainable for those who want to shine their light on the world to do so. Technology is a gift of opportunity for those brave enough to take their hopes, dreams, and ambitions into their own hands. I say, be creative first. If you make something truly great, the rest will work itself out.
Thanks, Ryan, for letting us know about your worthwhile project and giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Kickstarter.
You can learn more about Ryan at his website HippHop.com or pledge your support for LITTLE STEPS at Kickstarter.com!