Hey, Tara! Thanks for letting me share about my Stinky Stench!

(Umm, P.U., but OK…?)

Over the last year and a half—ever since first book LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST was released—a small handful of bookstores around the country reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in visiting to do readings and signings.

For those in and around New England (my home), I tried to make it happen. But occasionally, a store far out of driving distance asked. And while I was honored, I didn’t have any imminent plans to travel to New Orleans or St. Louis or Los Angeles*.

Well, word got back to my amazing publicity and marketing team at Sterling Publishing. In preparation for the release of the sequel, they offered to send me on a short tour to celebrate THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH and they even worked it out that I could visit a bunch of those stores that had contacted me!

So for the first two weeks of May I traveled from Boston to Allentown, PA to Asheville, NC to New Orleans to Kalamazoo, MI taking a detoured route through Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis, then finishing up in Baltimore.

I had seven bookstore events: The Novel Neighbor, Octavia Books, Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Bookbug, The Ivy Bookshop, and two Barnes & Nobles (Allentown, PA and Portage, MI).

At Bookbug they made these cupcakes:

And I got to hang out with a bunch of nErDcampMI friends.

At the Novel Neighbor, they ordered special Flapjacks Lip Gloss:

At The Ivy Bookshop, it was standing room only!

But the best part was that I got to visit 19 schools in those ten school days.

Some days I visited three different schools. Other days I’d stay at a single school all day and do multiple presentations.

Sometimes I’d be reading to a single class or grade at a time. Other times I presented to entire elementary schools—from 600 students in the gym to 200 students in the auditorium to 150 students in the library to 20 preschoolers in the art room—I tried it all.

One school got creative with life-size minecraft and Pirasaurs!

Sometimes I had slides and a microphone.

Other times I had neither. Luckily I’m not a diva …yet (traveling with a personal masseuse is totally acceptable, right?).

One school that I had Skyped with previously got me to read my poem about my cat that poops all over the house.

So I’d like to thank Sterling for everything! From the tour all the way back to taking a risk on the slush pile submission in 2013 that was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (yes, it was a slush pile submission – Sterling accepts unsolicited submissions via snail mail – see guidelines here).

*Don’t worry, Los Angeles. I promise I’ll get out to you eventually!

Josh is giving away YOUR CHOICE:

  • EITHER a personalized signed copy of THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH
  • OR a written critique of your picture book manuscript (Josh values this at an estimated $1 billion)

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (9.19.17), Albie Newton (Spring 2018), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (2018), and more coming soon!

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He’s written a free 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books available on his website here.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more about Josh at his website joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Narwhals are fascinatingly cool, and lucky us, there’s a whole buncha new books that feature these unicorns of the sea. One such hilarious take is Ben Clanton’s new _____ book series NARWHAL AND JELLY. I asked Ben to share the backstory of his most awesome underwater adventure…

Ahoy Tara,

I’m thrilled you like NARWHAL AND JELLY! Thank you!

NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA! started out as a PB, or actually a series of picture books. There have been a number of iterations, but ever since NARWHAL first swam into my brain I knew one book wouldn’t be enough for me.

I first got it into my head that I wanted to make a book featuring a narwhal after seeing the book POLAR OBSESSION by Paul Nicklen several years ago. The book has some absolutely stunning photographs of narwhals in it and my mind was o-fish-ally blown. I must confess before seeing Nicklen’s book I didn’t really know about narwhals. That such a creature which seems so fantastic actually exists caught my imagination. I started doodling little narwhals even more than monsters, dragons, robots, or my other usual favorite subjects.

However, my first attempts at writing a story about one of these little narwhals didn’t turn out so great. Most of my initial ideas centered around a narwhal getting lost at sea and separated from its pod. I finally realized I was trying to force too serious of a story on this narwhal when standing in line for ice cream (Molly Moon’s in Seattle). Something about the smell of newly made waffle cones in the air and thinking about how they look like horns (or perhaps a narwhal tooth?) flipped a switch in my head and it suddenly clicked for me that Narwhal is the sort of character that is as sweet and awesome as waffles and ice cream AND that Narwhal’s story should be too.

Jelly, who is a bit of a worrier and skeptic, wasn’t so sure about this new approach for a narwhal story, but that night I came up with three stories (“Narwhal,” “Narwhal’s BEST WEEKEND EVER,” and “Narwhal’s Pod of Awesomeness”) and made quick storyboards and even a mock-up. By the next day I had several more book ideas featuring Narwhal and Jelly. And then a flood of new story ideas by the day after that.

At the time, I just assumed that these stories would/should be picture books. That was the format I was most familiar and comfortable with, but after submitting to several publishers the feedback I received from pretty much everyone was more or less the same . . . the characters are great but the stories seem slight. It was Tara Walker (Tundra Books) that mentioned the stories when viewed together seemed to add up to more than the individual parts. She encouraged me to consider exploring the format and page count. I resisted this idea at first. I didn’t mind the books being light on plot. Actually, that was a part of the appeal to me and one of the reasons I felt they worked well. But as is usual for me with any suggestion Tara gives me that I don’t agree with (which is rare) . . . I eventually came to see she was right. So I tried combining a couple of the stories into a long picture book. It felt forced. It wasn’t until I started to add panels and bonus materials that i found a way to make three 32 page “picture books” into a 64 page ______ book.

This process took years in which I kept revisiting the format and what I ended up with . . . it doesn’t exactly neatly fit into the typical designations of “picture book” or “chapter book” or “early reader” or even “graphic novel.” I suppose “graphic novel for early readers” is the closest. Yet it is really a bit of a hybrid.

Somewhat ironically, even though Tara and Tundra Books had encouraged me to explore the format they weren’t entirely sure about the unusual one I had come up with, but I had been fully converted. I was sure this was the way to go. It took awhile but Tara and Tundra finally decided to take a chance on it.

And aren’t we lucky that they did!

Thanks, Ben and Tundra!

Tundra is giving away a copy of the first NARWHAL AND JELLY book, so leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Five years ago I was reading Joanne Levy’s SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE—such a clever title and a fun read. I thought to myself…what elementary school joke’s punchline could I turn into a picture book title?

And then…

BAM!

I got whacked upside the head…

Why is 6 afraid of 7?

Because…7 ATE 9!

I felt a powerful surge of muse awaken all my senses, sorta like this…

When I get smacked so soundly, I immediate go research my idea. Surely someone already had to have published a 7 ATE 9 book, right?

Well, I should have searched on worldcat.org, but instead I went somewhere else. You can probably guess where.

And somehow I did not find a picture book with that name. I found other items, like a card game, but no picture book. But it turns out, there were picture books with that title—I was just so frantic with inspiration that I missed them. I could have been searching on a typewriter for all the attention I paid the results.

But guess what? That was a good thing. Because if I had found other 7 ATE 9 picture books, I would have immediately deflated…

And sometimes, you just have to go with your gut.

The first thing I imagined was an intrepid Private “I” being hired by a nervous and trembling number 6. The puns just started flying out, I couldn’t even stop them if I tried. I tested them on my kids. After a while, they got sick of me.

And that’s pretty much how I knew I had a good idea. Thanks, girls!

Then, shortly after Disney-Hyperion bought the manuscript, my acquiring editor extraordinaire Kevin Lewis left to pursue writing full-time.

Kevin had known exactly who should illustrate, and the two of us had already had brainstorming sessions to determine the look and feel of the book.

Thankfully, when editor extraordinaire TWO took over, Tracey Keevan hired Ross MacDonald like Kevin and I had envisioned.

I am so thankful to everyone who helped get this book into the world—my family, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Maria Elias, Kevin, Tracey, Ross, and the entire team at Disney-Hyperion. Today 7 ATE 9 debuts and I hope you will check it out.

Here’s the trailer…

It took four years to go from manuscript to book, and it was one heckuva good ride!

 

 

 

 

 

2016 RUCCL Mentors

.

If you’re submitting to RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please know…

The manuscript’s the thing.

If you send your submission to the wrong address, don’t worry, we’ll get it to the right place.

If you forget to send a check, don’t worry, we’ll get in touch.

If you somehow mess up the instructions, don’t worry. It’s OK. We are not here to impose penalties on you. We want you to get in, we really do! We read each manuscript thoroughly and determine its merits. There are no red marks on your paper or strikes against you. We strive to look for the positive in every submission we receive.

If you get in, rejoice! It means the reading team liked your submission AND we had a mentor to pair you with. Sometimes we have more mentors for YA than picture books, or more for MG than non-fiction, although we try to keep all genres balanced and fairly represented. So if you don’t get in, do not despair. It does not mean anything bad about your work. It might mean we just do not have enough room for you this year and we hope you will try again. Our conference grows each year. Last year was our biggest RUCCL One-on-One Plus ever, and this year will break the record books once again.

This being said, let’s review some of the issues found in last year’s crop of fiction picture book submissions. Pay attention to these things and polish your manuscript to a high sheen!

  • Not picture book language

Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that is essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.

  • Story arc needed development

Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.

  • Concept needed development

Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?

  • Common concepts need a fresh take

If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.

For more on the RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please visit ruccl.org.

 

This year’s guest speakers were recently announced—Pat Cummings as the Keynote and Kate Dopirak as the Success Story.

Submissions are being accepted NOW, postmarked  through June 27, 2017.

Good luck and I hope to see you there!

Today I invited author Laurie Wallmark to pontificate on a female computer science pioneer…and to introduce her new picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, illustrated by Katy Wu.

Laurie and I first met ten years ago (!!!) when I joined her critique group. Who could imagine that a decade later, we would be celebrating each other’s books?

Laurie, this is your second PB biography about an important female computer scientist (the first being award-winning ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE). What drew you to your subjects?

People say, “write what you know,” but I disagree. If you’re not familiar with a topic or an idea, you can always research it. I’d rather say, “write what you’re passionate about.” After all, you and your story will be together for a very long time. From your initial idea to that first draft, from innumerable revisions to a published book, you will read your story over and over and over again. If you’re not passionate about the topic, this will turn from a joy to an agony.

I’m passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Two of my four (so far!) careers have been in computer science, one as a programmer and the other as a professor. Therefore, it seemed logical that I write my first two picture book biographies about people who contributed so much to the field.

My other passion is wanting to make sure that all children—regardless of sex, race, religion, physical or mental challenges, etc.—realize that it’s possible for anyone to have a love for, and possibly a career in, STEM. Picture book biographies of strong women STEM show girls that they too can succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field.

What about Grace Hopper’s story inspired you to write it?

It bothered me that someone who was so instrumental in shaping today’s world of computers had been entirely overlooked in the children’s trade-book market. Grace is the person who made it possible for anyone (including kids) to be able to program a computer, not just engineers and mathematicians. By sharing her love and knowledge of computers and programming, she encouraged others to consider a career in software engineering.

Shouldn’t our children know about the accomplishments of someone who was so important to the birth of our modern technological society? Yes, there are a few school/library titles about her, but these are not books a child would pick up and read. They’re dry recitations of the events of Grace’s life. In addition, they contain factual inaccuracies.

Without Grace’s idea to use English words to program computers, probably fewer people would have chosen programming as a career. Without enough programmers, there would be fewer programs and apps written. Without programs and apps, our computers and phones would not be much less powerful.

So that’s why I wrote this book—to introduce children to one of the most important computer scientists who ever lived.

You write both fiction and biographies. Which do you prefer? (Am I pulling a Sophie’s Choice on you?)

I can’t believe you’re asking me to choose between my beloved children. And what about my third child, poetry? Luckily, as a writer, I don’t have to choose. In fact, my master’s thesis combined all three—fiction, biography, and verse. I wrote a novel in verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace.

If I did have to choose, the answer would have to depend on my current project. I’m working on a biography of a woman mathematician right now, so biography is the favored child. Not to worry, fiction and poetry, you’ll soon have the chance to be number one in my heart.

What interesting facts about Grace Hopper did not make it into the book?

Because of the limited word count, one of the many challenges in writing a picture book biography is deciding what to include and what to leave out. For example, my book has a scene of Grace constructing a doll house. What’s not included in the book is she decorated that dollhouse by making her own tiny furniture, curtains, and rugs. She also sewed clothes for her dolls taking up residence.

Another incident, also from childhood, is when Grace’s canoe capsized. After her mother shouted for her to remember her great-grandfather, the admiral, Grace didn’t abandon ship. Instead she kicked her way back to the shore, dragging the canoe behind her.

These stories emphasize Grace’s self reliance and can-do attitude. But so do some of the stories that did make it into the book, so these two weren’t needed. Stories like how Grace convinced the Navy to let her enlist even though she was too old and too skinny. Or how she convinced her colleagues and the world how important it was for computer languages to use words instead of only numbers.

Laurie, thank you for decoding Grace Hopper’s life and presenting the world with another picture book biography about an important female computer scientist. Congratulations on all your work and success!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography about Grace Hopper.

Sterling Children’s Books is giving away a copy of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE. Please leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Today is the day that my second written and illustrated picture book DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! will be released into the world!

It’s the story of a dragon whose land had been invaded by two adorably horrible princesses who change everything. As you have read on other posts on Tara’s awesome blog and during Storystorm, you know that characters are very important in picture books. A strong character can inspire strong emotions and getting his/her/their look is extremely important to the book.

DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL is comprised of three main characters; a grumpy dragon and the two princesses who have invaded his land.

Below, I’m going to share a quick, edited run through the many, many, many different versions of the Dragon and the Princesses. Just like revisions in the text, there are revisions in the art.

The story originally started out with the dragons invading the princess’ land, but in a Eureka moment (brought on by delirium from the stomach flu) I flipped it.

After I settled on this new plot, I wanted to create the cutest dragon I could. These were my first attempts; I was going for a combination of a dinosaur and a chicken.

Here it is with various emotions.

Reasonably happy with this version, I did a few color character studies to try and learn exactly who the dragon was. (You’ll see that I call him Fred.)

I wasn’t totally happy with this version, so after several sketches, I decided to try to combine two of the coolest things ever—Elvis and an alligator.

I had it! The perfect image of a snotty little dragon. Here he is on a sketch of the first page of the book. I loved him.

A color sketch:

I completed the first draft of the dummy, sent it to my art director and waited. A few weeks later, I got an email from her. It was wise. It was great advice. It was tragic. (Not really, but it might have felt so at the time)

She noted (with great wisdom) that the dragon looked a bit too snotty. Perhaps we needed to make him cuter.

So, I created 4 new sketches, cleaned them up and sent them to her.

As you can see, I really wanted to keep the Elvis hair.

Can you guess which one she picked? Yup. The only one without the pompadour. (cue tiny violin music).

I did a version in full color. And once again, I was in love.

After a few more tweaks, he started to look like this.

And then, at the very last stage of illustrating the book, he got a snout job.

The princesses did not take quite as many attempts. This is how they looked in one of the first color pieces I created for the first dummy.

They were not quite right, so I did a few more sketches.

and a few more…

and this tiny one.

She was a winner! But none of the other princesses seemed right, so back to the drawing table I went.

I knew how I wanted her face to look. We (me and the wise AD) just weren’t sold on her hair.

And then I sent this.

Finally, we had our main characters. While all of this was happening there were also settings, other dragons, creatures and princesses ball gowns considerations as well as a general color pallet.

But that is for another post.

For some more dragon-y fun, you can take a personality quiz based on DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! Are you a dragon, a princess, both or something else entirely?

www.pippinmathur.com/quiz

You can also follow me on Twitter at @pippinmathur.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur moved from Texas to a suburb outside of Washington, DC. She shares her home with a knight, a princess, and two unruly dragons, which leads to many exciting and loud adventures.

Thanks, Courtney, for showing us how art edits evolve. (And as an author-only,  I will never complain about edits again! Well…we’ll see…)

Courtney is giving away a copy of DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL!, which releases today! Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

by Tammi Sauer

I have been a part of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo) ever since Tara introduced it back in 2009. Each year, as a guest blogger, I have shared one of my idea-getting strategies. I’ve mentioned everything from “celebrating the weird stuff in your life” to starting with a setting to playing with various structures. Each year, I have also accepted the challenge to come up with at least 30 picture book ideas.

And, each year, do you know how many of my 30+ ideas are good ones?

25? 10? 5?!

The answer is 1. Occasionally 2.

My other 29+ ideas? They are okay ideas. But okay ideas do not result in offers.

During PiBoIdMo 2013, I jotted down this snippet of an idea: funny rules for having an unusual pet.

I felt the idea had potential. But I needed a story. I needed a beginning, middle, and end. I needed a character readers could care about. I needed conflict. I, um, needed a lot.

Also, around this time, I had been wanting to write a book using the how-to structure.

Hmm.

Then one spring day, while I was in PetSmart with my son, everything clicked.

I saw a rack filled with brochures. Each brochure provided information on caring for a particular pet. There was a brochure on dwarf hamsters, a brochure on guinea pigs, a brochure on geckos.

 

I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do! I was going to write a pet care guide for a lion!

My favorite part about working on this manuscript was that I wanted the text to play the straight man to the art. I wanted the text to read as if caring for a lion is easy. I wanted the art to show that it is anything but. Because of this, I included more art notes than usual.

CARING FOR YOUR LION sold at auction to Sterling.

We ended up finding the perfect illustrator in Troy Cummings. Not only did Troy get the humor of the manuscript, but he amped it up to ridiculously wonderful proportions. Plus, he created the purrr-fect case cover for this book. (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal it here.)

This is what Kirkus had to say about Caring for Your Lion:

“Sauer’s terse text, presented as the steps in the care manual for the lion, are tongue-in-cheek smile-inducing, as are accompanying black-and-white diagrams from the manual. However, their interaction with Cummings’ full-color, digitally created illustrations of a light-brown-skinned child and the full-grown male lion that was delivered instead of a kitten are laugh-out-loud fun. Allow plenty of time to giggle over the details.”

I am so grateful to Tara for creating this challenge. Because of StoryStorm, the following books got their start:

  • Nugget & Fang (HMH, 2013)
  • Your Alien (Sterling, 2015)
  • Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016)
  • Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017)
  • Truck, Truck, Goose! (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Wordy Birdy + a sequel (Doubleday BFYR, 2018, 2019)
  • Knock, Knock (Scholastic, 2018)
  • Go Fish! (HarperCollins, 2018)
  • The Farm that Mac Built (HMH, TBA)
  • Quiet Wyatt (HMH, TBA)

Plus, I recently received an offer on a book that began as an idea in StoryStorm 2017. I think this world needs Tara Lazar Day. Until then, I came up with one small way to celebrate Tara. One of the aforementioned books is dedicated to her.

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish (but no lions). Visit her at tammisauer.com.

 

Tammi is giving away a Caring for Your Lion prize pack to one lucky commenter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

This pack may or may not come with a real lion.

You’ve been warned.

 

WAY PAST BEDTIME is out today!

I was harrumphing and galumphing around the house, complaining that I had no trailer (once again) when my daughter took matters into her own hands…and handed me some video clips. Teenagers—you can’t live with ’em, and you can’t do technology without ’em!

 

Enjoy!

WAY PAST BEDTIME is available in bookstores everywhere.

Get one before bedtime!

by Tami Charles

When Tara asked me to write a “Success Story” for PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm), I thought to myself:

Hooray!
I get to be one of the cool kids, like Tara!
I AM a success…right? RIGHT?

And then that familiar feeling surfaced:

I have no clue what I’m doing.
Any second now the literary gods will figure this out.

But all writers face this, I assume. That self-crippling doubt. Followed by euphoria. Only to return back to that place of doubt all over again.

C’est la vie!

Growing up, I never knew I could be an author. Sure, I loved to read and write. But it never dawned on me that I could write books like Beverly Cleary or Lois Lowry. While I loved Ramona Quimby and Anastasia Krupnik, they didn’t necessarily reflect me or the friends I grew up with. So, knowing this, I tucked that author dream in my pocket and moved on to become an elementary school teacher. I don’t regret this decision one bit. My students were the ones who helped me rediscover my passion. Thanks to them, I began writing again.

PiBoIdMo came at the “write” time in my life. (See what I just did there?) When I finished the challenge in 2013, I had several ideas and even a few manuscripts under my belt—all tossed into the black hole never to be seen again, naturally. But there was this one story that I kept returning to. Not because it was awful. (Not because it was any good at the time, either!) But because this story helped me realize the type of writer I wanted to be.

“Freedom Soup” is a story born out of love and family tradition. Early in my twenty-year friendship with my husband, his family introduced me to the delicious flavors of Haiti. They weren’t that far off from the Caribbean/Soul/Latin cuisine that I’d enjoyed as a child. Dare I say, I fell in love with Haitian food before I fell for my husband! (He doesn’t need to know that though.)

My husband’s late grandmother, Tí gran, was the one who gave me my very first bowl of Freedom Soup, also known as Soup joumou. As soon as I tasted it, I knew there had to be a story behind that taste of pride, victory, and joy. Seriously, if you haven’t tasted this soup, I suggest you find yourself some Haitian friends stat!

In a nutshell, “Freedom Soup” is written in tribute to the undying spirit of the Haitian people. Today, many people associate Haiti with poverty and earthquakes. But long ago, on January 1, 1804, Haiti made history as the first black republic to free themselves from the bondage of slavery. When slavery still existed on the island, slave masters rang in the New Year by eating Freedom Soup. They didn’t grow the vegetables or prepare the soup, of course. Their slaves did that for them. And for all of their hard work, slaves were not even allowed to eat the soup to celebrate the New Year. After twelve years of uprisings and fighting for their freedom, Haiti claimed their independence from France. Do you know how they celebrated? By eating Freedom Soup, of course! What a testament to their faith and resilience!

Before writing this picture book, I’d received plenty of rejections from literary agents and editors. And rightfully so. I wasn’t writing what spoke to me. I’m so grateful that this story
did. I’m happy to announce that “Freedom Soup” sold to Carter Hasegawa at Candlewick Press. I have so much to be thankful for:

  • Following my gut and creating stories that reflect the beautiful cultures in my family
  • Tí gran and the wisdom she shared with me before leaving this Earth
  • Storystorm for giving me the kick-in-the-butt inspiration I needed to jumpstart the sale of my debut picture book
  • For the chance to appear on Good Morning America, where I presented a Thanksgiving version of my Freedom Soup. (Michael Strahan smelled nice and all, but not better than my soup…just sayin’.)

GOOD MORNING AMERICA – Ocean Spray sponsors GMA’s ultimate cranberry challenge on “Good Morning America,” Tuesday, November 22, 2016, airing on ABC. (ABC/Lou Rocco)

I don’t know how much of a success I am right now, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel comfortable with calling myself that. I mean this could all change if I hit Tara Lazar status. Then I can puff out my chest and say “Why yes, I am quite the success, aren’t I?” (in a British accent, of course!)

In the meantime, I’ll just keep writing the stories that matter to me and collecting all the nuggets of wisdom I can along the way. And for the aspiring authors out there, I wish you success and prosperity as you do the same.

Congratulations, Tami. Best wishes for the launch of Freedom Soup in Fall 2019 (when I hope you’ll come back to show it off)…and for a long and prosperous kidlit career!

You can visit Tami Charles online at tamiwrites.com and follow her on Twitter @TamiWritesStuff.

 

You ever have that moment when you discover an illustrator YOU LOVE…?

At last year’s NJ-SCBWI conference, I listened to Nancy Brennan, Associate Art Direction at Viking, speak about how much difficulty they had finding just the right illustrator for a spin-off chapter book series. The ELLRAY JAKES character had run his course and they were hoping to develop EllRay’s little sister, Alfie, into a whole new property–ABSOLUTELY ALFIE.

They wanted illustrations to appeal to a young audience, but the art had to be a distinctly different look than EllRay. If Alfie was going to step out on her own, she deserved a whole new style.

One illustrator’s style caught their eye, but she was European and caucasian—not exactly someone who could bring life experience to a female African-American character. They wanted an illustrator who could identify with Alfie’s childhood.

And then they found Shearry Malone.

Not familiar with newcomer Shearry, I immediately looked her up. And WOW. I nearly screamed, “She’s a modern-day female Quentin Blake!” (Although she will probably prefer to be known as a modern-day Shearry Malone.)

 

ABSOLUTELY ALFIE makes her debut this summer and I hope to get you acquainted with her. In the meantime, let’s get acquainted with Shearry!

Shearry, when did you discover your passion for drawing?

I’ve been drawing since I was a kid and I always had a passion for it. I started by mimicking comic book art and later discovered that I really liked portraiture. I’ve always felt that there’s something really fun and challenging in trying to capture the essence of a person in a drawing. I never expected children’s art to be my foothold into the illustration world but life can be funny that way.

So if you never expected it–how exactly did you get into it?

It’s kind of an odd story. I answered an ad on Craigslist for a guy who was looking for an intern in his art studio. Turns out he was a local children’s book illustrator with 30 years experience in the field. I was supposed to help run his office, answer phone calls, learn the ins and outs of the business side of things, etc.

I did that for free for the first 3 months and then it became a paid office manager position. During that time, he was curious to see if I could do children’s art, so he gave me little assignments to do at home and we’d discuss them the next day. I’d add the images to a website we built together and he’d look them over on the weekends when I wasn’t in the office.

 

 

Long story short, I eventually showed that website to my sister, who happened to take a yoga class with a friend of hers who also happened to be in the book publishing business. She liked what she saw and passed the website over to a few agencies she was familiar with. That lead to a few offers for representation and eventually I decided on the CATugeau Artist Agency.

So, I feel like I fell into this line of work by complete happenstance. Children’s art still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always challenging. But I can’t help but think I’ve been given this opportunity for a reason and I intend to follow it through!

Wow, what a story. How did Viking find you? How were you approached for ABSOLUTELY ALFIE?

I received an email from my (very excited) agent Christy, the day after I signed with CATugeau saying that one of the art directors over at Viking was interested in working with me on a new series of chapter books. I didn’t even know what chapter books were! She happily explained and advised that I should strongly consider the opportunity. It didn’t take long. I said yes, and I’ve been working on ABSOLUTELY ALFIE ever since!

I should clarify that I don’t really know how Viking found me and so quickly—other than that maybe they happened to be looking around the CATugeau agency website? Right time. Right place?

Most definitely. Perfect timing. What else are you working on?

I’m basically focused on Book 3 of the ALFIE series right now. I’m hoping (fingers crossed) for a second round of books in this series and for more doors to open up for other illustration opportunities in the future. Having so little experience, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with projects and deadlines so I passed on a few other book offers after accepting the series with Viking. Time will tell, but nothing would make me happier than to do this kind of work full time for a living.

So what was your original intention with your art career? Do you see yourself moving in that direction, or sticking with kidlit?

Honestly I didn’t expect to have one. I jumped at that Craigslist ad because even with no pay, it’d still give me a chance to be in an artistic environment. My thinking was that I may not be creating the art but at least I’ll get to wear jeans and a t-shirt and be surrounded by it!

I always saw myself having a typical job, like most, and if I were lucky enough I’d carve out time to pick up paint brushes again. Believe me, no one is more surprised by how things have turned out than I am! I still love the smell oil paint and turpentine so it would be wonderful to get back to that in my spare time. It’s still a goal, but it’ll probably be awhile.

Has anyone ever told you that your art is reminiscent of Quentin Blake?

Yes. And I’m honored! I’m a fan of his work. Loose, quirky and timeless! I’ve got a quirky eye myself. It’s hard for me to recognize proper proportions for some reason, so a lot of times a leg will be longer or wider than another or a head is too big or too small for a body. I rely heavily on others to point it out to me because I just don’t notice it! I’m drawn to Blake’s work because he doesn’t seem to care much about those things at all either and it gives his work a certain looseness and a lot of life and personality that I truly admire.

What are your plans for the future?

For the immediate future I plan to finish the two remaining books in the Alfie series and keep an eye on how the first two do once they’re on the shelves. After that, I just hope some awesome person out there wants to give me more work! Artistically, things are still very much up in the air for me but that keeps things exciting.

In the meantime, I dabble in website design. I finally got around to finishing my own—shearrymalone.com. I’ll continue playing around with some of that until my next illustration opportunity arises!

Shearry, thanks for answering my questions and best wishes with ABSOLUTELY ALFIE and your somewhat accidental kidlit career!

Keep up with Shearry on Twitter  .

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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