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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.

goldiint3

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)!

Ever heard of the picture book THE LOUDS MOVE IN? It’s one of my all-time favorites, with a cast of unique characters like Miss Shushermush, who eats quiet meals of leftover mashed potatoes. When the Loud family moves onto Earmuffle Avenue, the chaos begins and friendships are eventually [noisily] forged.

Ever since I read THE LOUDS I have been a huge fan of author Carolyn Crimi. So when I heard about her newest book PUGS IN A BUG, and then saw the illustrations by Stephanie Buscema, I nearly fell off my chair with an attack of acute cuteness. Punch-buggy green! Gotcha!

PUGS is a “catchy canine counting book” with a jaunty joy-ride rhyme and a groovin’ get-up-and-go beat. It’s so much fun to read aloud with its twists and turns in language—and in the road. Chugging along, the pugs meet up with a pooch parade, so there’s not only pugs in a bug, but bulldogs in a taxi and poodles on skateboards. This book proves that it’s not always about the destination but the journey. Beep, beep! Bow wow! I know you want to win it now!

So Carolyn and Stephanie are both here today to talk about the creation of PUGS…and yes, you can win it!

TL: Carolyn, are pugs your favorite kind of dog? Do you own a pug? Why PUGS?

CC: I actually love all kinds of dogs. I met a Newfoundland yesterday that I was ready to take home with me. Alas, she was a big dog and probably would not have fit in my car. But pugs are probably my favorite. They’re the comedians of the dog world. When I walk down the street with my pug Emerson people laugh. I kind of love that about him—he brings laughter with him wherever he goes.

Not that he cares about that. All he really cares about is food. If he had to choose between me and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken I’m afraid there would be no contest. KFC would win, paws down.

Not only do I own a pug, I also own a VW Bug. It’s even green, just like the one in the book. I came up with the entire idea for PUGS IN A BUG the very first time I took Emerson for a ride in my car. That was way back in 2001. I still have both the pug and the Bug. I highly recommend both!

I’ve attached a pic of Emerson for your amusement.

TL: Aww, I love Emerson! His tongue is hilarious.

So you had the idea for the book over 10 years ago. How long did it take you to write it?

CC: Boy, I wish I had a timeline for this book, but I don’t have a clear idea of when I wrote the first draft. I don’t think it was submitted until 2003. Of course the whole submission process takes forever and a day. I also probably revised it a bunch of times to no avail. Then I think it took a while to find the right illustrator.

In other words, same ole same ole.

My first drafts don’t usually take long at all. Maybe just a couple of days. It’s the many revisions I do that take years. Yup, years. I’ll put something away for a while if it doesn’t sell right away. I’ll take another look at it years later and will sometimes be able to see the changes that need to be made. Sometimes I can’t see how to change it. I have a lot of unsold manuscripts lurking in my computer just waiting for the day when I can fix them.

I often tell new writers that this is not a microwave career where you stick in a hastily written manuscript and a six figure income pops out thirty seconds later. It takes oodles of revisions and a lot of “thinking time” to polish a manuscript into submission-ready form.

TL: I remember you once said that an illustrator never does what you imagine—they do far better than you ever could have imagined. What did Stephanie do with PUGS that really surprised you?

CC: Lots of things!

She gave them all hats, which I love, especially since I have been known to, um, dress up my pug on occasion. This lends a distinct personality to each pug. Genius!

Something else that surprised me was that two sweet little birds appear on every spread. (TL: Can you find them below?) That’s the kind of thing kids love to follow in a book. Also, toward the end a rascally squirrel jumps onto the back of the Bug, unbeknownst to the pugs riding in it. So fun! Stephanie has added so many details like this. It’s the kind of book that has endless surprises in the illustrations. I’m still finding things in it that I hadn’t noticed before!

TL: Stephanie, what drew you to PUGS IN A BUG?

SB: When I got the manuscript for PUGS, I was thrilled with the subject matter (I love drawing and painting animals) and was immediately drawn to it! The story had so much room for play, color and lots of fun character designs. I’m a big fan of Carolyn’s work, so it was an honor to illustrate one of her books.

TL: What kind of tricks do you use to keep so many similar-looking characters diverse? Did you name the Pugs as you drew them?

SB: I didn’t name them, but I did add in little pug accessories so that the reader would know each pug was different (and so I could keep track, haha)!

TL: LOL! Yes, I love all the little details like the bow ties and hats, although I confess the girl with the flower in her fur is my favorite. Or maybe it’s the cool jazz dude. Or the one with the pink horn-rimmed glasses. Oh, I can’t choose!

What was your favorite spread to illustrate?

SB: I have to say, I enjoyed most of the spreads. I think my most favorite spreads to paint were the pages at the beginning of the book. It was really fun to push myself with the landscapes and scene changes. If I had to chose one? I think the spread with the 3 pugs driving into the city was my favorite to paint. The entire book was painted in gouache and cel-vinyl (animation) paints on watercolor paper.

TL: Do you do any Photoshop or computer work once your paintings are finished?

SB: Nope, I work 100% traditional. Sometimes we’ll have to clean up a little spot here or there, and of course in the proofing stage if something isn’t bright enough we’ll bump it up. But other then that, I don’t use Photoshop in the art stages at all.

TL: How do you hope readers will react to the illustrations?

SB: Like any job I do, I always hope the readers enjoy the visuals and pick up on the sense of joy I get out of painting a book.

TL: I think that is totally obvious with this book—the bright color and playfulness just jumps out and slaps a seatbelt on you. Sit down and enjoy the ride!

Carolyn, you  have published so many terrific books—WHERE’S MY MUMMY?, HENRY & THE BUCCANEER BUNNIES, DON’T NEED FRIENDS—and now PUGS is added to that list. Can you even pick a favorite?

CC: Well, I have to say based on the writing alone, I like my book DEAR TABBY the best. I love all my books, but I think DEAR TABBY is the funniest. And while I don’t believe in heavy-handed message books, if you read the last page you’ll know my philosophy of life. More importantly, I had a ton of fun writing it!

TL: And those are the best books–the ones that gave the author the most pleasure often give the audience the most fun. Your joy and enthusiasm shine through. 

Thanks, Carolyn and Stephanie! I know everyone will have a blast with PUGS…so let’s give them a chance to win it!

See the pugs on the cover above? Which is your favorite? And just what *is* that pugs name? Name that dog! (Which also happens to be another book illustrated by Stephanie.) I hope you come up with names as creative as Carolyn’s nicknames for Emerson: Sir Scratch and Sniff, Mr. Wiggle Butt, The Mayor and Circus Dog.

You get an extra entry for each share on social media—just mention it in the comments.

Comments close the end of April 30 and a random winner will be chosen shortly thereafter.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Beep, beep! Bow wow!

Visit CarolynCrimi.com and StephanieBuscema.com to learn more about their books!

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!

Some of you are probably hoping this is a post about tracking Ammi-Joan Paquette, the [amazing] agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency. But it’s not. It’s about tracking Ammi-Joan Paquette, the author!

Yes, Joan (as she prefers to be called) made her kidlit debut with THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES from Tanglewood Press. She has since released NOWHERE GIRL, a middle grade novel, and now, another TIPTOE GUIDE!

And what’s it about?

MERMAIDS!

Who doesn’t love mermaids? They’re pretty, they have flowing manes of hair, they can breathe underwater, and they start name crazes like “Madison”. (OK, anyone under 30 isn’t going to understand that reference.)

TL: Joan, first fairies and now mermaids. Why do you think children are so fascinated with these creatures?

AJP: I think fairies and mermaids are two of the creatures which most fire the imagination—I was going to say “of the very young,” but actually, the appeal is open-ended! Perhaps because they feel just one step removed from reality, it’s easy to visualize them lurking just out of sight, right around the edges of perception. Who knows what might be possible, if you truly believe? For this reason, I don’t think our collective love for fairies or mermaids will ever wane—they’re just too likely.

TL: Your TIPTOE GUIDES combine photographs with whimsical illustrations. Whose idea was it to combine these two styles?

AJP: The first book in this series was inspired by a nature walk/fairy tracking adventure I took with my daughters when they were young. As we walked, I took photos of our discoveries and wrote down a lot of ideas and notes, many of which (the notes, not the photos!) were incorporated into the final manuscript. So early on there were definitely photos in my head. As I polished the story into an actual manuscript and eventually sent it on submission, though, I really put the illustration side out of my mind—and once it was acquired as a picture book, I just assumed it would probably be illustrated with art. My wonderful editor, Peggy Tierney of Tanglewood Press, was the one who conceived of this combined artwork/photography medium. I couldn’t be more thrilled with Marie Letourneau’s finished products—they are even more gorgeous than I could ever have imagined!

TL: So your TIPTOE GUIDES are about finding a little more magic in the world. Why is this an important message?

AJP: I think a hopeful outlook is like a cherry on top of life’s sundae. There’s a childlike quality to expectancy, to being open to the possibility of more that can open some of the most amazing doors. Message? I don’t know. I just like the way it feels to me.

TL: Is there a third tiptoe guide in the works?

AJP: Not yet! But who knows what may lie ahead?

TL: Well, maybe our blog readers know!

So let’s have a contest to give away a signed copy of THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS! Our last drawing contest was such fun; let’s do another.

Parents, have your children draw the cover to what they think should be the NEXT TIPTOE GUIDE!

It can be a guide to anything. Tracking bonobos? Tracking robots? Tracking mud? OK, these are bad. But I just know YOU have an idea for something GREAT.

Send your illustration (one per child) to tarawrites (at) yahoo [dot] com by the close of April 15. I’ll pick a winner on April 16!

Have fun and good luck!

One of the most frequently asked questions by new kidlit writers is “why do editors say not to write in rhyme?” There’s plenty of picture books written in rhyme, right? They get published somehow!

Well, the answer is a bit complicated. It’s not that editors don’t necessarily LIKE rhyme. It’s just that it is very difficult to do well. Here’s why:

  • Rhyme scheme can dictate story–but shouldn’t. Tales should unfold organically, not be forced into the confines of the rhyme. Often it’s suggested to write in prose first—so you don’t get locked into a plot that doesn’t work—then translate it to rhyme.
  • Common rhyme schemes can be stale. Editors see them again and again. Avoid overly simple, one-syllable rhyme schemes like  go/show/know, to/you, me/be/she/he/see, run/fun/sun, day/may/way/say. If your reader can guess the word at the end of the line before they get there, your rhyme scheme may be too common. Editors want to read rhyme that surprises them.
  • Forced rhyme or near-rhyme can ruin a story. This is when words don’t exactly rhyme unless you mispronounce them. Once in a while this is acceptable, but more than a few times in a manuscript and it distracts.
  • The meter (or beat) must be spot-on. That doesn’t just mean the number of syllables in each line, but the emphasis on those syllables. Meter shouldn’t be so sing-songy and constant that it lulls the reader to sleep (unless maybe it’s a bedtime book) or so rough that it tongue-ties the reader and forces them to speak unnaturally. Some good rhyming books offer a break in the rhyme scheme for variety—not unlike a bridge in a song.
  • Rhyming books are difficult to translate into other languages. An editor may not want to lose out on foreign book sales, so they’ll pass on a rhyming project.

However, if your heart is set on rhyme and if you have a talent for it, you should go for it. At first, Karma Wilson listened to the “don’t rhyme” advice.

“When I first started submitting some 15 years ago all the guidelines said, ‘No rhyme and no talking animals!’ For THREE years I avoided rhyme and talking animals. But guess what my first book sale was? BEAR SNORES ON! And guess what the guidelines said for McElderry books? NO RHYME AND NO TALKING ANIMALS! My passion is rhyme, and talking animals are great as long as they have something interesting to say.”

Yes, you can break the rules like Karma. But get your rhyme critiqued and know whether or not you can nail it.

Me, I’m terrible at rhyme and I know it. I cannot “hear” meter. I’ve tried and failed. My friends have coached me, but I still don’t get the right beat. I can’t dance to it. (I can’t dance anyway. Think Elaine from Seinfeld. Sweet fancy Moses!)

So what is successful rhyme? I’m glad you asked! I’ve got a few examples for you.

In HUSH, LITTLE DRAGON, Boni Ashburn spoofs the lullaby “Hush, Little Baby”. Instead of buying her baby a mockingbird, the mama dragon in the story brings her darling son various villagers to eat. It’s delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Some of the best lines:

Here she comes with a fresh magician.
Don’t mind the taste—he’s good nutrition.

…and later on…

If Mama finds a mean old queen,
Honey, you are lucky—that’s good cuisine!

Notice how these rhymes are out of the ordinary. They’re surprising and fun, plus the words have multiple syllables. She also rhymes “flee” with “fiery” and “bolt” with “revolt”. I challenge you to find these rhymes in another book! You won’t—and that is what makes this story so special.

Jean Reidy’s LIGHT UP THE NIGHT is an example of rhyme that elicits glorious illustrations. Remember that in picture books the art tells half the tale, and these lines create an expansive view of our world (click on image for larger version)…

This is my country, with highlands and plains,
with farmlands and cities and highways and trains…

Notice how there is a break in the rhyme scheme at the end of the stanza—and that line is set apart in the illustration for emphasis. Coincidentally, Jean blogged today about her decision to write in rhyme. Go check it out!

In Corey Rosen Schwartz’s THE THREE NINJA PIGS, the rhyme is infused with porcine puns. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the humor:

She then gave a swift demonstration
With backflips and butterfly kicks
The wolf looked quite shaken
but hollered, “Yo, Bacon!
I’m not at all scared of your tricks.”

There’s more great piggish laughs (like my favorite “pork-chop” line) but you’ll just have to wait until it’s released in September!

So I hope I’ve provided you with some background on why rhyming picture book manuscripts are a hard sell…but that if they’re done well, they can be spectacular.

What are some of your favorite rhyming picture books? Please share in the comments!

Before Michelle Kwan, before the whole Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal, there was a figure skater who exhibited that perfect balance of power and grace: Kristi Yamaguchi. She had the high jumps and fast spins, but she also had a style and effortless elegance no one else could match.

OK, so why am I gushing? I used to be a competitive figure skater, but no where near the level of Kristi Yamaguchi. She was a role model to me. So today I’m very pleased to share with you her new picture book, IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG! And yes, it’s about figure skating!

First, let me introduce the main character, Poppy. Isn’t she cute? In her first book, she had the courage to DREAM BIG and chase after her goals.

Now, in the sequel, Poppy receives an invitation to Paris to compete in the International Games. She musters up her porcine prowess to travel far from home–with encouragement from her friends and family, of course.

When Poppy arrives in Paris, she’s overwhelmed. She doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t know where to go. But Poppy is great at making friends. She bumps into Li, a panda snowboarder. And Poppy finds out that even though they are from different countries, they “both smile in the same language.”

According to John Sellers, children’s reviews editor for Publishers Weekly, “There’s certainly a need for books that portray, mirror and show the value in all kinds of families: same-sex families, mixed-race families, stepfamilies, families with grandparents as guardians.” I also believe that books should reflect the diversity in the world around children. In my own neighborhood, there are families from Brazil, India, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, China, Taiwan, Denmark, and Mexico. So I was pleased to see that Yamaguchi’s book introduces readers to animal competitors from all over the world.

Tim Bowers illustrates with such adorableness (is that a word???), bright colors and a jovial quality. You can’t help but smile at the wonderful world he’s created.

IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG brings together many cool themes (besides ice): following your dreams, making friends, diversity, independence, and doing your best. And it’s all rolled up in a figure-skating package! What could be more perfect?

Well, I’ll tell you! One hundred percent of Kristi’s profits from IT’S A BIG WORLD, LITTLE PIG will benefit early childhood literacy programs supported by her Always Dream Foundation.

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My Picture Books


Available now at:

Coming Soon:

I THOUGHT THIS
WAS A BEAR BOOK
illustrated by Benji Davies
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
August 2015

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD
illustrator TBA
Random House
October 2015

7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY
illustrator TBA
Disney*Hyperion
2016

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