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

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

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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…

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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!

Cat Nap cover TARA

Ha, ha! Don’t you just glance at this cover and laugh?! With bold strokes and subtle humor, author-illustrator Toni Yuly draws you into her world.

The brand-spanking-new cover of CAT NAP is so expressive with earnest simplicity. We see wide-eyed Cat in his bed with energetic Kitten climbing on his back. It’s a fun romp with sleepy Cat and exuberant Kitten playing hide-and-seek. Small children will especially enjoy looking for the curious mouse who follows the two. (Heck, big children will, too! I know I do!)

CAT NAP is the third in a series of companion books for the very young published by Feiwel and Friends. EARLY BIRD (2014) and NIGHT OWL (2015) complete the adorable trio.

EARLY BIRD cover TARA

NIGHT OWL cover TARA

Although the books stand alone, they are a perfect threesome for morning, noon and nighttime reading. EARLY BIRD loves to wake up early, NIGHT OWL loves to stay up late (just like Tara), and CAT just wants to take a nap (again, just like Tara). All three books are the same size, (8″ x 8 1/2″) and style, using simple, colorful illustrations.

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Toni, how did you first get the idea for this trio of books?

The idea for the threesome was not hatched from the beginning. It was a kind of spontaneous happening of sorts and I ended up selling all three books in the same year! Since the books are all based on idioms it was almost impossible not to think of NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP after EARLY BIRD. Although the character and story for EARLY BIRD came first, it was the opposite for NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP. For those two the titles came first, and then the story.

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I see Mousie! Yes, I do! Hooray!

OK, I know it’s difficult to choose…but do you have a favorite of the three?

My favorite will always be EARLY BIRD because it was my debut book as an author-illustrator. But, I have learned so much since then, and grown in so many ways that I am really, really happy with CAT NAP! Of the three books it is the funniest and I like the color scheme the best too.

What did you learn through the process of creating this series?

I learned SO much!  After getting over the tremendous panic of not knowing what I was doing, I relaxed and learned to trust my fabulous editor Liz Szabla and the creative team at Feiwel and Friends. I enjoy the collaborative process and working with others to make the best possible book. I also gained confidence and learned to trust myself.

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Why do you think picture books for the wee ones are so important?

I think that picture books for the youngest readers are important for so many reasons! To begin with, the physical book is such a magical thing…a small child can carry it around or bring it to you…just having books around feels a certain way which is hard to explain, but they become like friends…

When you open up a picture book you immediately begin to interact with that book together, but also individually. It isn’t a passive thing, like watching a movie, your mind is engaged differently I think maybe because the pacing etc. is slower…

So to me, a picture book is magical on so many levels!  It stimulates, engages and inspires a young child’s mind and imagination!  And it can be a wonderful shared experience for the adult and the child and lead in all kinds of creative directions.

And what I love about CAT NAP for the youngin’s is that the faces are so expressive! You hear more and more about how tweens, teens and even young adults are having trouble communicating through gesture just because of technology. Books like CAT NAP teach and reinforce the subtle cues of non-verbal communication.

toniyulyThank you for joining me today, Toni!

CAT NAP releases on January 26, 2016 and is available for pre-order. You can visit Toni’s studio at ToniYuly.com.

Toni is giving away three signed art prints from CAT NAP, plus a greeting card from all three books, EARLY BIRD, NIGHT OWL and CAT NAP, just for visiting her cover reveal today!

Leave a comment below; one comment per person, please. Three random winners will  be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

(And now, Tara will go take a nap!)

I’ve been wanting to do a book with Ryan Sias because his illustrations are so cartoony, bubbly and fun. Ryan’s free weekly Sias Studios emails feature creative worksheets with new characters I always want to call my own. But I can’t. They’re his. But they can be YOURS, too, because anyone can receive his free doodle and story pages by signing up at SiasStudios.com.

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(A PIZZA SPACESHIP! Why didn’t I think of that??? ANCHOVY ALIENS! PEPPERONI FROM PLUTO!)

Ryan’s new book SNIFF! SNIFF! just landed on my front porch and I could not resist this cuddly little doggie with the huge honker. How adorable! The bold, sketchy outlines and bright colors will attract the youngest readers with this tale of true friendship and love.

The curious star of the story gets into all kinds of mischief with “SNIFF, SNIFF” being a recurring theme. Repetitive phrases help new readers recognize words…and also practice their onomatopoeia out loud. The story is told through action and play while also showing kids all about having a pet. (Not easy, but rewarding!) A really fun read-aloud with lots to look at!

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Hey, do you want to learn how to draw this cute fella? Well, do you, boy? Yes, you do! YES, YOU DO!!!

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Ryan, what were your thoughts behind the design of your dog and how did you accomplish them?

For my Dog I wanted the design to be animated, super cute with a BIG NOSE (but not a gross nose). Originally he was more normal dog proportions, but the more I drew him, the bigger his head and nose got. When I create characters I draw them again and again and quicker each time, to get a loose and fluid design. Then “Ta da!” I end up with the final design!

I wanted him to look like pure energy and love. To have tons of expression and while he was being bad, not look mean but full of curiosity and wonder.

The dog doesn’t have a name in the book, but does he have a name in your head?

In my head his name is Simon, which is the dog I dedicated the book to. He was my BFF and a golden retriever. He has the attitude of the dog in my book. Full of joy and love plus a destructive side. Here is a photo from ’95 of me and Simon.

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You offer fun weekly drawing lessons and creativity activities for kids, delivered via email. We all know art education is shrinking in some school districts. Why do you think art education is so important?

To me art education is THE most important because it teaches abstract problem solving, and that is the key to a kid’s success in life. I am not saying every kid needs to be a painter, but learning how to think “outside” the box will grant success in any field. Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein were amazing abstract problem solvers.

So since arts are getting cut, I have developed Sias Studios free weekly emails. They’re designed to promote creative thinking and foster children’s imaginations. Our original art projects encourage kids to invent their own stories and make art without boundaries. We provide a springboard for children to dive into artistic discovery!

Well, the springboard is strong enough for adults, too! I know I enjoy jumping in every week! SPLASH! SPLASH!

Ryan, you happen to be dyslexic, which I find amazing considering your profession. How do you overcome the difficulties of Dyslexia as an author?

Short answer: A lot of people go over my work to make sure it’s all spelled and punctuated correctly.

Long answer: My mom is a teacher and had me tested in first grade, so i’ve known my whole life and I’ve grown to see Dyslexia as an advantage—as a creative my brain works differently than a lot of people. A lot of huge creatives are dyslexic: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Picasso, Jim Carrey and John Lennon to name a few. It didn’t get in their way. I can always find people to spell check, but not everyone knows how to use their creativity.

For books, I am lucky that I write and Illustrate, so I let my artwork do most of the talking. Then I use words to fill in what I can’t show. In my new book SNIFF! SNIFF! it’s mostly visual with just 12 words.

But that is not to say it’s easy for me. My problem comes through in emails, which have errors, which is a REAL problem at first, because I’m emailing editors who are spelling kings! So I have to have those emails gone over also. As my relationships progress, they quickly learn that I am dyslexic (also I tell them pretty early on) so they understand. I also have a great agent who helps fill in the holes.

So while it is more work for me, I just know I can’t send anything out with out a group of people checking it and rechecking it.

I think what you accomplish is incredible considering this disability! Thank you for sharing your creativity with us.

Ryan’s also sharing a copy of SNIFF! SNIFF! with a lucky winner.

Leave a comment below to enter. In the comment, tell us what you think the doggie’s name is. I’ll call him Mr. Scruffles. (One comment per person, please. No taking “Mr. Scruffles,” either.)

A random winner will be selected in two weeks! Good luck! 

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 that season—the sniffling, sneezing, coughing cacophony of wintery colds. Your household may have already been hit. And, yes, it may be hit again. The germ mafia is on the loose.

So what’s a parent to do? Well, you can ensconce yourself in Purell and pull that germy Kindergartener on your lap. SICK SIMON by Dan Krall is here to delight and educate you both with disgustingly charming clarity.

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Kids love oozing yuckiness and ridiculously-behaving characters, so you can say SICK SIMON has it all.

Simon begins his week thinking it will be the best ever! But his nose becomes a bulbous faucet of green slime. An eerie radioactive glow surrounds him as he trudges through school. His sneezes coat the classroom in a putrid fog. Kids shriek and escape in horror-movie-style terror.

Simon remains germed up as the school eventually empties, leaving Friday’s highly-anticipated kickball game with just one player—the baron of bacteria himself, Sick Simon.

Of course, the germs are THRILLED. They hail Sick Simon as their hero!

Author-illustrator Dan Krall even drew these microscopic cretins of crustiness with amazing accuracy. Just look at these guys and their real-life counterparts!

virusprotozoa giardiabacteria

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Being that we are obsessed with story ideas on this blog, I asked Dan what prompted his newly-released viral sensation. It was none other than his young daughter, who became a bacterial beacon as soon as she began school. (We parents know this all too well.)

I asked Dan if we could see early incarnations of his main character. Was his nose always so gross?

simon characters studies

You betcha!

GROSS is GREAT. Kids love it.

And you’ll love it, too, because SICK SIMON teaches kids how colds and viruses get around in an entertaining, silly, slimy way. You’ve got a hapless character, oozing greenish gooeyness, and grateful germs.

And, if you leave a comment below, SICK SIMON may show up on your doorstep!

Don’t worry, though–we’ll wash it off with an antibacterial wipe first. We’ll throw in a laminated poster, tissues and hand sanitizer to ensure you stay healthy, too.

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Sick Simon Poster

dankrallDan Krall is an author, illustrator, and an animator. He worked as a character designer on the popular films How to Train Your Dragon and Coraline. He was also the art director for the television shows Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated; Chowder; and Samurai Jack; as well as a Development Artist for Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, The PowerPuff Girls, and Dexter’s Laboratory. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles.

His newest book, SICK SIMON, is available now from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

 

 

Let me take you back to the first year of PiBoIdMo—2009. (For those unindoctrinated, that’s Picture Book Idea Month. Wait, can a picture book writer even use a highfalutin word like unindoctrinated? Or highfalutin?)

Well, it’s 2009 and my good friend Corey Rosen Schwartz is having trouble meeting the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. She despises her ideas. Corey takes her frustration out on Facebook, where all passive-aggressive complaints go to get their wings. She shares several titles on her idea list which feature the precocious blondie:

  • Goldifox and the Three Hares
  • Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
  • Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

She posts these same titles on her blog under the caption “Goldi on the Brain” (a serious affliction for fractured fairytale writers). And you know what? Everyone on Facebook and the blog LOVES the third idea. (Remember the Rule of Threes?) One person, Beth Coulton, even offers to collaborate. They write it together and it gets bought by Putnam in 2010.

And so, a book is born. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just wanna pinch its cheeks?

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The concept is clever—the Three Bears form a band but they can’t find a lead singer who can hit the high notes.

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They hold Idol-like auditions and the fairytale characters just don’t cut it. Sorry, Little Red, you’re not going to Hollywood. No golden ticket for you.

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(I wonder if Papa Bear is supposed to be Simon? But Simon wouldn’t dare don a bandana, right? V-neck tees are much more his style. Maybe Papa is Keith Urban.)

Meanwhile, Goldi wreaks havoc in their studio.

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She even drools on their keyboard!

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What are the Bears to do? They have to get rid of the golden-haired menace!

Or do they?

Well, you can find out right here. Because I’m giving away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to one lucky winner! Just leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck, music fans!

And congratulations to Corey, Beth and Nate on the release of their new book!

Lately I’ve been walking around my house saying, “Nose friend! I want to roll in this smell with you!”

I know you thought picture book writers were crazy, but maybe not this insane. My kids certainly think I’ve lost it.

bogartandvinnieBut, once you’ve read BOGART & VINNIE: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, you might be repeating the same thing.

Vinnie is a lost yet crazy-happy dog, one of those mutt-types with a helicopter tail and an insatiable appetite for canine chatter. It doesn’t seem to bother Vinnie that he’s lost his boy—he’ll just make another bestie. And of course, no other animal has quite the bestial allure of a square-lipped rhinoceros named Bogart. But what’s Vinnie’s moniker for Bogart? What else can a pup call a double-horned behemoth? NOSE FRIEND.

Audrey Vernick’s the name, hilarious picture books are her game. You might know Audrey from IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?, which in my opinion is one of the finest get-ready-for-school stories ever published.

Audrey, how did you capture Vinnie’s doggy dialogue so well? I love his voice! (I do his voice. You might want to tap me for the audio version.)

AudreyAPThank you! I have dogs. I realize there are few readers who will say “Oh, how COOL that Audrey Vernick is!” when I reveal that I often talk in my dogs’ voices. I give them words, and I am confident that I give them the right words, and the right tone of voice, too. I do think some readers might nod and say “Well, duh, of course. Me too.”

Once I had the general idea of Vinnie’s voice, I just had to push it a bit so it was more over-the-top enthusiastic.

Bogart and Vinnie is about an unlikely friendship. Did you get your inspiration from one of your unusual associations?

In a bizarre show of life imitating art (or “art”), an unlikely friendship, along the lines of the one Bogart and Vinnie share, came about in our very own house when we brought an excitable, happy puppy, Hootie, into our lives when our soulful dog, Rookie, was 10 years old. They WERE Bogart and Vinnie. But Hootie didn’t enter our lives until after I had written this book. (She must have gotten her paws on an early draft somehow.)

The inspiration for this book was actually born of skepticism, I’m afraid. I had read all those nonfiction interspecies friendship picture books and wondered about the use of that word, friendship. I thought it would be fun to find out what happened if animals photographed in close proximity were mistaken for friends. And Vinnie had been waiting around for a book to appear in. He had been the narrator of a manuscript that never quite worked, A Puppy’s Guide to Training, and apparently what had been missing in his life, all along, was a rhinoceros who wanted nothing more than to be left alone.

Your blog is about literary friendships. What was the most surprising friendship story from your site?

Do you know how there are some authors and illustrators you just never really discovered when you were young? For some reason, I never read a Roald Dahl book as a child. And the biggest surprise for me has been how many authors and illustrators, but especially illustrators, cite him as an inspiration. He was always just a name to me. As an adult, I read his memoir, Boy, a sort of Angela’s Ashes for the younger set.

But maybe that doesn’t answer your question. The biggest blog surprise is that my most read post was not an interview with a brilliant writer or illustrator but a post about my mother and how my writer friends sort of fill part of the hole where she used to be.

I think that doesn’t answer your question either. I think maybe I suck at answering questions. The most surprising friendship story from my site is what I’ve learned from the wisdom of everyone who has visited. There are so many, from Ruth Barshaw, Erica Perl, Bob Shea, Liz Scanlon, but for some reason, this one springs to mind, from Linda Urban:

“(when I was young…) I was waiting for someone to see me and tell me I was responsible and smart and special and worth being the subject of a novel. Of course, these are things that we can’t wait for, can we? We have to tell ourselves those things, and then become them. Which is sort of what the kids in my books do. My characters are much smarter than I ever was.”

Isn’t she smart?

audreysmallWell, yeah, but I happen to think you’re darn smart, too, Audrey, my new NOSE FRIEND!

Do you have an unlikely friendship story to share? Leave a comment to enter the giveaway! You might win a copy of BOGART & VINNIE, guaranteed to make you talk like a dog (a crazy-happy one)!

In the meantime, you can visit Audrey’s blog at Literaryfriendships.wordpress.com.

Audrey Vernick writes funny picture books, nonfiction picture books, and middle-grade novels. Her picture book, Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. In 2014, two new books will hit the shelves–the funny/tender picture book Edgar’s Second Word, and the middle-grade novel Screaming at the Ump, and her first novel, Water Balloon, will be released in paperback. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Arts Council’s fiction fellowship, Audrey lives near the ocean with her family.

greatlollipopcaperDan Krall is genius. I mean, he created a book about lollipops! What kid doesn’t love lollipops?!

And there’s something for us adults, too. Capers! Ya know, the salty little fellas that perk up lox and a nice schmear (that’s NY-talk for cream cheese). Delish (more NY-talk). I can’t decide which I like more. And thankfully I don’t have to, because both get equal billing in THE GREAT LOLLIPOP CAPER…which releases today!

In the book, Caper’s a sourpuss. He wants kids to love him as much as they love Lollipop. Caper goes on a great caper to elevate his kid appeal, only to ungracefully fall far from grace. But don’t worry, he cleans up his act. And everyone else cleans their plates.

As you can imagine, Dan is super busy, what with the book release and working on “Chowder” and all. He’s tied up, so he sent Lollipop and Caper over to have a chat with me.

lollipopandcaper

Caper, you’re beloved by adults and chicken piccatas everywhere, so why did you feel the need to convert kids into fans?

Well…no offense to adults, but they’re kind of boring. They’re not gonna see this, are they? I mean they’re fine in their way, sitting quietly in a candlelit restaurant, sipping wine, enjoying me on pasta while having a quiet, serious conversation… “Oh, does this have capers on it? Why, I believe it does…” Blah, blah, blah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s better than just hanging out in my jar all day. But come on, when I see the party Lollipop is having with children? Running around screaming, carnivals, theme parks, birthday parties…I mean, they go nuts for him, so who doesn’t want to get in on that?

Lollipop, you’re such a sweet guy. You wanted to help Caper even though he tried to wiggle in on your likable, lickable territory. Why so generous?

I’m a sweet and tangy lollipop and children love me. [smiles vacantly]

Um, yeah. And to think you spend your day having your brain sucked out. Never woulda known.

So let’s come back to you, Caper. I’m amazed you passed yourself off as a pea to sneak into the lollipop factory. I didn’t know capers were such masters of disguise. What other impressions do you do?

Thanks for noticing that, you know it’s one of my several talents and one of the many reasons everybody would love me if they just got to know me a little better. I have a very wide repertoire of personas I can inhabit—Bogart, Mitchum, McGruff the Crime Dog, The Neighborhood Watch guy, pretty much anybody I set my mind to that’s wearing a trench coat and fedora. I can also do a pretty mean fava bean.

So I suppose after all this, you’re content with being a Caper. Lollipop, are you happy being candy?

I’m really happy being just about anything as long as it’s sweet, and nice, and pleasant, and lovely and…. [drifts off into a vacant stare] Oh…and I always kind of wanted to be a forest ranger. [smiles]

Well, fellas, it’s obvious that Dan captured your personalities perfectly for this book. So let’s show our blog readers by having a little giveaway.

lollipopcapergiveaway

Please leave a comment to enter, letting us know if you prefer Lollipops or Capers.

A winner will be randomly selected in about a week! Good luck!

And be sure to check out THE GREAT LOLLIPOP CAPER by Dan Krall, available today!

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?

penguinonvacation

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!

penguin1 penguin2penguin3

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!

penguinbeachball

salinabeachPlease 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!

Good luck!

hothotroticoverOh 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?

farhanaziaThe 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?

hothotroticookI 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!

hothotrotiinterior

Do you have a recipe for hot, hot roti to share with us?

Certainly!

Ingredients:
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

hothotrotipileMethod:
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)!

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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