by Wendi Silvano & Lee Harper

Thanks Tara, for hosting us on your blog! We are excited to have our 5th book in the TURKEY TROUBLE series releasing August 1st from Two Lions Press (TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL).

We thought it might be interesting to chronicle a little bit about how this series has evolved and how an author and an illustrator each have equally important roles in creating a picture book.

Wendi:

The series started with TURKEY TROUBLE (2009). Lee Harper was chosen to be the illustrator. I had never heard of Lee, and (as is common in picture book publishing) had no contact with him regarding the book. The editor and art director worked directly with Lee. In fact, I never met Lee in person (or talked to him) until after TURKEY CLAUS (the 2nd book) was out, and, by chance, we ended up doing a joint book signing in Salt Lake City while Lee was visiting schools in the area.

We have met one other time for a joint signing in Pennsylvania (after the 3rd book, TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT, came out) when I was presenting at the SCBWI Conference in New Jersey. Now we are Facebook friends and occasionally communicate by email (but never so I can tell him how to illustrate the TURKEY books).

People often ask if it bothers me not to have input on the illustrations, but I LOVE what artists can add to my stories if they have the freedom to work their own magic. The very best picture books are those where the text and the illustrations masterfully combine and interact to form something completely unique and magical. What would the TURKEY books be without the delightful and hilarious illustrations that Lee provides?! As an author, I must trust that the illustrator will stay true to the story, while bringing his or her own brilliance to the work.

I always work hard to leave room for the illustrator to use his or her own creativity to add to the story. What are some ways I do that?

I leave things unsaid: I don’t add details that will be in the art—no descriptions! (Just look at this delightful illustration Lee did with no suggestions on my part!)

I allow the art to advance the plot. (All I say in the text is “Then, he found it…” and I let Lee show what that idea is in the illustrations).

I use words and phrases that create room for the art to take over. (“Until…”, “but then…”, “And just when everything was good…”, “There was just one little problem…”, etc.)

I use sparse text that leaves opportunities for the illustrator to interpret and expand the idea. (How the animals “went” was Lee’s choice).

Those are just a few of the ways I leave room for the art. I hope they give you a few ideas of how you might do the same.

Even now, as we work on our 6th Turkey book together (TURKEY-TINE… due out in December, 2022), I just sit back and watch Lee work his magic. It’s delightfully fun!

Lee:

Thank you, Wendi. Though my primary goal as an illustrator is to stay true to your story, I love that you write in a way that leaves lots of room for creativity in the illustrations. This approach is a key ingredient to the special sauce that makes our collaborations work so well. Leaving room for me to add a layer of my own also makes it more fun, which I think comes through in the results.

When I begin thinking about illustrating your words, I ask myself which elements of a particular scene are necessary to propel the story forward. And, in the same way you leave things unwritten and let me ‘show’ the story in the illustrations alone, I leave things unillustrated and let your words stand alone to ‘tell’ the story. Your words and my illustrations share the work.

As an example of how that works, I’ll use the page in our new book Turkey Goes to School that reads:

Pig pilfered a cart filled with food. Turkey pushed it right into the serving line and began to parcel out pizza.

There’s a lot of action in these two sentences. I could illustrate Pig pilfering a cart with food, or Turkey pushing it into the serving line. But I decided to let your words alone do the work of telling that part of this sequence, and concentrate my illustration on the moment Pig and Turkey are parceling out the pizza.

So, I drew the main elements first: Pig and Turkey parceling out pizza. Next, I drew the lunch lady to show what Turkey was attempting to impersonate. (This is a recurring visual joke that permeates the series, which might be one of my added layers.) Lastly, I drew the children in the lunch line and a hint of the cafeteria serving station to set the location.

In this case I didn’t add any extra silliness because I thought the humor was in how thoroughly Turkey believes he looks like the lunch lady.

Wendi:

Something that has been especially fun with the Turkey books is seeing how the characters have evolved over the series. And it’s crazy, but it has happened pretty organically. In the first two books, Turkey’s farm friends are just there mostly in the background, but by the third book they have a much larger role, helping Turkey figure out his disguises and what to do with each failure. Their personalities have blossomed and each has their own individualities. This has happened a good deal in the art. If you get a chance, look at the Turkey books in order and notice how each character has developed over time. I will let Lee tell you more about that evolution (as it was a good deal his doing).

Lee:

I agree that the development of Turkey’s farm friends has been a process that has occurred very organically, and it is a little crazy.

After I’ve drawn everything essential to the story, I always ask myself, ‘how can I pump this up and make this even funnier?’ That’s when the little quirks of character that aren’t written into the story usually reveal themselves. Over time, these little quirks of character build up, and the character becomes more real to me.  Soon I can hear their voices in my head. Maybe it’s more than a little crazy.

In the original TURKEY TROUBLE, Turkey has a lot of personality as an individual, but the sheep all behave as sheep, the pigs all behave as pigs. I was still getting to know everybody.

In TURKEY CLAUS, the farm animals weren’t featured until the last three pages, when Turkey returned to the farm from the North Pole. But unlike the first book, there is now only one representative from each different type of farm animal which I think is the beginning of the farm animals all developing distinct personalities.

The farm animals evolved further in TURKEY TRICK OR TREAT when they become more anthropomorphized.  This is the first time we see them sometimes walking around on two legs. I began doing this simply because it looked funny. (One of the fun things about the entire series is we’ve been allowed to play very loose and easy with the reality rules.) Sometimes I actually do laugh out loud when I’m working. That’s when I know a drawing’s a keeper.

In TURKEY’S EGGCELLENT EASTER the farm animals become active participants in helping Turkey design and construct his costumes. I think this might be an example of something not written into the story that I added, but I never really know for sure. Wendi and I might have been thinking the same thing.

In our latest collaboration, TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL, the animals are even more in on the plot and at one point Pig (who in my imagination is now Turkey’s best friend) and Turkey team up to appear to be a child with a backpack.

In our forthcoming book TURKEY-TINE, I’m thinking about showing the various animal’s houses as a fun way to reveal more of the farm animal’s individual personalities and pump up the humor. Another example of things growing organically.

OUR BEST ADVICE:

Wendi:
If you’re an author, try to leave as much room as you can for the illustrator to help tell your story, and trust his or her talents.

Lee:
If you’re an illustrator, stay true to the story, but don’t be afraid to take off and run with it.

Thank you, Wendi and Lee!

Blog readers, Wendi and Lee are each donating a copy of TURKEY GOES TO SCHOOL. Lee is also donating a sketch, and Wendi is donating a picture book critique (chosen at random from anyone who subscribes to her website in this next week).

To enter the giveaways, comment once below.

Random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


WENDI SILVANO has always loved children’s literature, and is now delighted to take part in creating books like those she loved as a child. She is the award-winning author of 9 picture books, a dozen early readers, numerous magazine stories and a variety of educational materials. Her picture books TURKEY TROUBLE and JUST ONE MORE both won the IRA’s Children’s Choice Award, while TURKEY CLAUS was named one of the ‘TEN BEST PICTURE BOOKS OF 2012’ by YABC. She is the mother of 5, a former teacher and the owner of a menagerie of assorted pets. Her next picture book (Turkey-Tine) is due out in late 2022 from Two Lions Press. She lives and writes in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she is the Western Slope Local Area Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Region of SCBWI. She is represented by agent Marie Lamba of the Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency. You can find her online at wendisilvano.com.  Subscribe to Wendi’s website (find the button on the bottom of any page of the site) and be entered to win a picture book critique by Wendi. Winner will be notified by email.)

Follow her on Twitter: @WendiSilvano and Facebook.


Lee received his formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he was the recipient of the Louis S. Ware European Traveling Scholarship.

Lee’s picture books have achieved many honors, including the Michigan Reads Award, a Book Sense Hot Pick, Great Lake Book Award, The Gift of Literacy Oregon Book Choice, Amazon Charts Top 20, International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice title, and YABC Top Ten Picture Book.

His books have also been nominated for state book awards in Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Nevada, Florida (Honor Book), South Carolina, North Carolina, Nebraska, Arizona, and Washington.

Artwork from several of his books is included in the permanent collection of The Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books.

Lee has four children and lives on a small farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife Krista, four sheep, eleven chickens, two dogs, two cats, two ducks, two pigs, and a family of barn swallows. (At last count) His favorite hobbies are bicycling, hiking, woodworking, and creating short films for his YouTube channel Stella’s Farm.

You can visit him online at Leeharperart.com.

by Deb Adamson

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA is the product of my love of all things Christmas, especially Santa. Just to illustrate, I carry a keychain that reads, Keep Christmas in your heart all through the year. I know the merry-making seed was planted by my mom who went all out during the holiday season. She created magical memories and traditions that stuck with me, and I hopefully have done the same with my own son!

A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA wrote itself. And for me, that is rare. I am known to simmer with a manuscript, ruminating for weeks or sometimes months until I feel I have what I need to sit at the keyboard and see where the idea goes. But this book came to me in rhyme and rhyming ideas, for me, are oftentimes more intuitive.  I also have another Santa picture book manuscript ready for submission. And that one, written in prose most certainly did not write itself! I came at it from a completely different angle—a super, silly spin on Santa.

Ok, so all that said, I guess I must have a thing for holidays in general because in 2022 my newest board book, A THANKFUL THANKSGIVING, will be published by Cottage Door Press. And I’ve also got another fun witch/Halloween manuscript that I’m just polishing up.

Holiday manuscripts are often said to be a difficult sell to editors because these books have a shorter window during the year to make their splash. There are also so many great seasonal backlist titles to compete with. But it has been my experience through working with my agent, that there are editors who are always open to something new and some specifically request holiday stories. With A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA, Amy Dean, the editor at Blue Manatee Press, loved the manuscript at first sight! She immediately took to the international flavor of the text. She specifically liked paying homage and offering well wishes to Santa on his annual journey as he heads out to treat children from different cultures all across the globe. She, like me, envisions this book as a keepsake—one that will be read during the Christmas season and especially at bedtime on Christmas Eve, year after year.

I can’t say enough about Anne Zimanski’s cover and her illustrations for this book. In fact, I can’t say enough about Anne Zimanski’s children’s book illustrations! I’m fortunate and proud to say this is my third book-pairing with Anne. She illustrated a nonfiction picture book biography I wrote as a pet-project—a fundraiser for The Florence Griswold Museum, my favorite local museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut. FLORENCE GRISWOLD: THE KEEPER OF THE ARTISTS was traditionally published in 2019. Anne also illustrated my recent board book, I MISS YOUR SUNNY SMILE, published by Blue Manatee Press in March of this year. Although I offer some illustration notes, she instinctively knows what I am envisioning, so when I see her initial sketches I am blown away by how she meets and exceeds my expectations. For A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA, Anne created mixed media, watercolor and line, illustrations that depict a traditional looking Santa. The interior spreads show him zipping across the world on a snowy Christmas Eve in the glow of star and moonlight. Several spreads offer a glimpse of how families, draw from their own culture to prepare and welcome Santa on his big night.

Here’s the cover reveal! And I’m adding one interior spread because I just can’t help myself.

Isn’t Anne amazing?!

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Deb is giving away a virtual school visit for the holidays! It can be for your child/grandchild’s class, or your own class if you’re a teacher.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Deb Adamson has two books out this year by Blue Manatee Press—I MISS YOUR SUNNY SMILE (March 2021) and A CHRISTMAS EVE WISH FOR SANTA, (December 2021.) She has another picture book BING, BANG, PLING coming out with Blue Manatee Press (spring 2022). A THANKFUL THANKSGIVING will be published by Cottage Door Press (fall 2022), and more to come!

Deb also writes personal essay. Her homeschooling column was syndicated by Gatehouse News and her essays have appeared in various magazines. For a decade she has been teaching weekly, adult memoir classes. When Deb isn’t focused on writing, she’s happiest hanging out with her family, gardening and pretending to be a visual artist, capturing her flowers in a watercolor-sketchbook-journal that she shares with no one but her trusted- cat, Lumpy. Visit her at debadamson.com or on Twitter @DebAdamsonBooks.

Thank you, everyone, for your outstanding doggo photos! If we had to choose based on appearance alone, it would be a tough call. We loved Bear’s homemade floofers and Library Dog’s regal aura. But we picked our two winners randomly with random.org, and we are pleased to announce them: KENDALL and WILLOW!

Kendall (Jyn Hall)

Willow (Lyn Jekowsky)

Mike Boldt will BLOOPIFY them both! Congratuations to owners Jyn Hall and Lyn Jekowsky! I will touch base with you on Twitter!

And now, here’s a gallery of all the BLOOP-lovin’ doggos! What good boys and girls!!!

Ellie

Chili & Layla

Hank

Rosie

Library Dog

Maylo

George

CuzO

Bear

 

Today for BLOOP’s book birthday, illustrator Mike Boldt and I have cooked up something amazing.

This is Mike’s dog, Tula. And this is Tula on BLOOP:

You can win a custom BLOOP-IFED portrait of your fluffy bestie by illustrator Mike Boldt!

Mike will provide you with a high-quality digital illustration print.

We’ll randomly select one winner from Twitter and one from Instagram. TWO WINNERS! YEAH!

All you have to do is take a pic of your canine BFF with a copy of BLOOP, like this:

(That’s Rollie enjoying a good read.)

Then post it on Twitter or Instagram. Please include the following hashtags…

#BLOOP #HarperCollins #picturebook #BLOOPIFY

…and tag @taralazar on Twitter or @taralaser on Instagram.

Your mission lasts exactly one week!

You have until Tuesday, July 13th at Midnight PST to post your photo. Two random winners will be selected on Wednesday the 14th and announced here!

Let’s get BLOOPING!!!

Good luck!

 

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Hi Tara! Thank you for having me on your blog today and hosting the cover reveal of ABDUL’S STORY, a picture book written by me and illustrated by Tiffany Rose (with art direction by Tom Daly).

ABDUL’S STORY is about a young boy who has many stories to tell about his community in Philadelphia. However, during writing period in his class each day, he never writes these or any stories because he’s ashamed of how he writes. His handwriting is sloppy. He misspells many words. Sometimes, he even writes some letters backward.

On top of these struggles, he also doesn’t see the stories of his community as being welcome because the stories read in his classroom are about people and communities that are not like the ones he knows.

Mr. Muhammad, a writer who looks like Abdul and tells stories like Abdul’s, visits his class and helps him to change his view. Abdul learns that the story he has to tell is valuable even if he struggles with writing, and even if his story is different.

The Story Behind the Story

The idea for ABDUL’S STORY came out of my work as a writer working in Mighty Writers community centers for kids. My main job was often to help kids see themselves as writers. I once taught a workshop for children, called “Get Published, Kids!” The goal was to help kids write stories for publication in magazines. There, I met a student (I’ll call him H) in this workshop who wrote one sentence in his writer’s notebook and told me he was done.

When I encouraged H to write more, he gestured to the other kids busily writing at his table with full pages in their notebooks and said, “I can’t be a writer like them.” H was only maybe six or seven years old at the time. It troubled me that a child so young could see himself as already incapable of doing something. The more I talked with him about his story, the more I realized that H lacked confidence because he couldn’t write neatly and had trouble spelling words. Still, I pushed him to write much more and to see value in the things he wrote.

At the end of our workshop session, H proudly showed his father the many pages he wrote that day. He did something he thought he was incapable of and was smiling from ear-to-ear. While that was gratifying, I thought a lot about other kids similar to H who don’t have empowering experiences with writing. What is a story that could help them?

Words of Advice for Aspiring PB Authors

My advice for PB authors is the same advice I would give to Abdul in my story and H: Remember that there is value in the story that you have to tell. Mine your experiences for the best material, and don’t dismiss your experiences just because they aren’t represented in books. Often the stories that are missing  are the best stories. Additionally, don’t underestimate yourself just because you need to grow as a writer. Keep trying. Keep doing the work. You never know what you might be capable of.

And now…the cover reveal!

ABDUL’S STORY releases March 29th, 2022 from Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster. Pre-order a copy today online or from your local independent bookstore.

And Jamilah will be giving away a signed copy of ABDUL’S STORY once it releases.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a Philadelphia-based educator and award-winning children’s book author. A curriculum writer and former English teacher, she has educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for over 15 years. Her picture books and middle-grade fiction center young Black Muslim protagonists and have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, Read Across America, and NPR. Her books include Mommy’s Khimar and Your Name is a Song, an Irma Black Honor book. Her upcoming books include ABDUL’S  STORY (2022), HOLD THEM CLOSE (2022), and SALAT IN SECRET (2023).

Find Jamilah online at jamilahthewriter.com, on Twitter @jtbigelow, and on Instagram @authorjamilah.

by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

First off, thank you to Tara for hosting my cover reveal on her blog!

HAPPY DIWALI is my most personal book, yet it has been a first for me in a lot of ways.

It will be my third picture book, but it is the first one that I wrote with someone else. The story is about a small girl celebrating Diwali with her family and how she overcomes her initial shyness. It was inspired by my daughter Kiran, and her love of family celebrations but her nervousness of large groups of people.

Diwali is the Hindu celebration of good over evil, light over darkness. This book follows how my sister-in-law Sanyukta brings the joys of Diwali to our culturally- and racially-mixed family in the US.  Sanyukta has been involved every step, from writing the first draft (on the phone) to revisions, cultural notes, tips on how to draw a sari, or what should be on the endpapers. When we couldn’t meet in person, we would meet on Zoom. It has been an amazing experience to create a book with her! The photo below is our author photo in the book. It is from long ago but is our favorite picture together.

It is the first book in which every character except one (the main character) is an actual member of our family. I emailed or messaged each parent and asked for photos and tried to include every child in the family. Some might resemble the actual child more than others, and I did age down most of them, but it was a lot of fun!

Here you can see my daughter in her favorite lehenga, and how I drew it in the book.

Below is one of my favorite images from the book. In in, the kids are painting diyas. Every year Sanyukta creates a craft, my favorite is painting clay diyas because I can re-use them every year.

It is the first book where the (amazing) editor who acquired the book moved to a new publishing house during the illustration process. Thankfully, the book was left to another wonderful editor. The publisher and art director also moved to new publishing houses, but we were very lucky in that our new editor kept everything chugging along.

It is also the first book I worked on during the pandemic. It took me a few months after Covid first hit the US and everything shut down before I could draw again. Thankfully I had been allocated plenty of time.

Because it had been so long since I have seen many members of the family in the book, I keenly felt the loss of family gatherings as I worked and really look forward to them again soon.

I hope this book can be a thank you from me to my husband’s family for making me feel so welcome in their homes and for always including me in and teaching me about their traditions and culture.

The designer pulled an image from the interior of the book to make the cover.

Here is the color sketch:

And here’s the final cover!

On the front is my sister-in-law Sanyukta and her daughter Priya drawing rangoli. They do that every year to welcome the guests. On the back cover is a group image of the kids eating, which is one of my favorite things to do at Diwali!

Courtney, thank you for sharing this beautiful book and your family traditions.

HAPPY DIWALI will be released September 28, 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Blog readers, you can win an original sketch of a character (Rajini) from Courtney’s book!

Just leave one comment below to enter and a random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Sanyukta Mathur is a social scientist and studies how to improve the health and well-being of young people around the world. She is the author of various research publications; HAPPY DIWALI! is her first children’s book. She lives in Maryland with her family. 

Courtney Pippin-Mathur is the author-illustrator of MAYA WAS GRUMPY and DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL!. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, three kids and one very energetic dog. She is hugely grateful to be part of a diverse and welcoming family who work hard to bring their traditions to the United States and to pass them to new generations. You can find more of her work at pippinmathur.com or on Instagram @pippinmathur

by Refe & Susan Tuma

When we set out to design the cover of our new picture book, we knew we were in for a unique challenge.

For our first picture book, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, we worked with our designer at Little Brown to create a cover that was simple, colorful, and bold, and that put the dinosaurs and their mischievous personalities front and center. The cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL uses a similar format, swapping out the blank wall and crayon scribblings for a classic green chalkboard.

We spent a lot of time going back and forth between the two of us, with Mary-Kate our editor, and with our design team at Little Brown trying to come up with a way to use that same format for the cover of WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Maybe the title is scribbled across the gift tag of a giant present, or on the surface of an ornament hanging on the tree. These options were fun and Christmas-y, but they didn’t do a very good job of conveying the scope of the story and, more importantly, they didn’t give the dinosaurs much to do.

So, we abandoned the format of the previous books and began exploring other ideas.

Our biggest source of inspiration ended up being movie posters for classic Christmas movies. Nightmare Before Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, even Ernest Saves Christmas. (Our riff on Nightmare Before Christmas was a lot of fun, with the tip of the tree bending down in front of the moon instead of the curled cliff of the original, but it a bit too abstract.)

We landed on the rooftop scene for a few reasons. First, getting the dinosaurs outside the house was a great way to highlight the magical, moonlit nighttime vibe that threads throughout the interior art. It also gave the dinosaurs the opportunity to explore somewhere they’ve never been in any of our previous books, which was fun. If you look closely, you’ll see we even got to sneak a nod to one of those classic Christmas movie posters…

With the concept set and the design sketched out, we got to work on the actual composition. And it was a lot of work!

Photographing an idyllic snowy rooftop under a moonlit sky is challenging enough under the best of circumstances. Doing it in the middle of the summer (after months of pandemic-related production delays) happens to be just about impossible. As a result, the final cover art is a composite of more than 17 individual photographs and effects, including the rooftop, lights, sky, snow, and of course the dinosaurs themselves.

This required some practical trickery. For example, to match the angle of the rooftop, we photographed the dinosaurs on piece of white posterboard tilted to roughly the same degree. We did something similar when photographing the string of lights to ensure they’d wrap naturally around the chimney.

The title treatment is our biggest link to the rest of the series, since it appears in about the same spot as on the other two covers. This time, instead of purely hand-lettered type, we pair it with something a bit fancier. We loved the way the swooshes on this font resembled dinosaur tails, as if it were created by splicing traditional Christmas type with just a hint of reptilian DNA. Better yet, the gold lettering on the dust jacket will be embossed in gold foil.

All in all, we’re thrilled with how this cover turned out and we can’t wait to share the rest of the book with the world!

WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS is available for preorder now anywhere books are sold.

And blog readers! Refe and Susan are giving away a picture book critique!

Just leave one comment below to be entered.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Refe and Susan Tuma are a husband and wife team whose previous books include WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT, WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID LAST NIGHT: A Very Messy Adventure, and WHAT THE DINOSAURS DID AT SCHOOL. They live in Kansas City with their kids and a dog named Boris. Visit them online at dinovember.com, on Twitter @refeup and @sutuma and on Facebook at Dinovember.

by Jennifer Buchet and Little Medusa

A few Novembers ago, I was inspired to write a picture book story about snakes. Snakes are—

Little Medusa: Beautiful! Amazing! And very cuddly.

Actually, I was about to say that snakes rattle lots of people. They’re squeamish because…well…

The hissing. The slithering. The fork-tongues.

LM: Awww, how cute!

Not to everyone! But that’s the thing, Li’l Medusa. After attending a reptile show with my daughter at our local library, I…

LM: Best. Show. Ever!

…I wanted people to know that snakes are really fascinating. Did you know that snakes smell with their tongues?

LM: Of course! Snake are sssssuper sssmellers!

I drafted a story about pet snakes, but it needed more sparkle and less fang. Around the same time, I discovered PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) was reformatting to Storystorm, and that come January, there’d be a whole new set of inspirational writing tips and tricks. Definitely something to look forward to because the holidays were knocking impatiently at the door. Instead of drafting stories, I was juggling magazine deadlines and planning the annual holiday party menu.

LM: Yummy! Did you serve buggy burritos?

Not quite (this party is rather swanky). I desperately wanted to vamp up the menu. Yes, tempura shrimp is delish, but having it at every special occasion “because it’s a tradition!” was constricting my appetite. With editors to please and taste buds to appease, I turned to mundane housework to alleviate the stress. Whilst sorting socks and sweaters, a real live mini-Medusa skipped into the laundry room.

LM: She didn’t turn you to stone, did she?

No, but she did scare me! This mini-Medusa was actually my daughter with a headful of tangled, knotted, serpentine-looking hair.

LM: Mama said I’d get used to traditional Gorgon hair but I don’t like Addie on my head.

Well in that moment, several events converged at once and I knew I had a tale about a Gorgon girl challenged by eons of family tradition.

LM: Oh, that’s me!! Just like you didn’t want shrimp, I didn’t want snakes in my hair!

Exactly. But I wasn’t sure how to morph this meatball of an idea into a grand bolognaise sauce. How would I make one of the most villainous figures in Greek mythology kid-friendly? I turned to Storystorm for tips on humorous writing and how to find the funny.

LM: My great-times-eight Granny Medusa is not funny. She was scary and mean. I don’t want to turn things to stone with a stare.

Nor do you like having Addie slither through your hair.

LM: Nope! Stony stares and slithering hair are not my kind of tradition. They’re more like pythonic problems!

Every day, I read the guest post and partook in the Storystorm exercise; you never know what new idea might happen, from a jazzy sentence or title, to a brand new story  idea! By the end of January, not only did I have a bunch of new ideas, I also knew exactly where I was taking Little Medusa’s tale. I’m not sure where I’d be without Storystorm!

LM: Not having Storystorm? Now that’s a pythonic problem for you!

Absolutely! And the rest they say is hissss-story! Thanks to this wonderful, supportive and wise kidlit community, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA is now on shelves, and in the hands and hearts of littles.

LM: Can we play Snakes ‘n Ladders now?

Sure!

LM: Hissy kissies, everyone!

P.S. The menu did include Tempura Shrimp—with Blood Orange Sauce!


Some days Jennifer Buchet rocks her own tangled Gorgon ‘do, but hopefully you won’t find a snake sliding through her hair! She’s an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kidlit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she’s a feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books, chapter books and yummy recipes.

Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing, May 2021) illustrated by Cassie Chancy, is on shelves now.

You can swap tales & recipes with Jennifer at buchetbooks.wixsite.com/mysite or on Twitter @Yangmommy.

You can easily support authors by leaving book reviews, asking libraries to carry their books and of course, purchasing their stories.

by Alli Brydon

Tara, thank you so much for hosting me on your blog (one of my favorites, btw) to celebrate World Ocean Day coming up on June 8th!

World Ocean Day has been designated by the United Nations as a day “for humanity to celebrate the ocean.” On June 8th every year, the global community comes together to recognize how essential our oceans are to our worldwide ecosystem and how important it is that we protect them. There are over a hundred virtual and in-person events planned all across the globe and for all ages, from Coralpalooza to a Smithsonian Museum Shark Talk to tons of beach clean-ups. Check the World Ocean Day event page to see about joining in the celebration!

How does this tie in to children’s books, you ask? My picture book LOBSTAH GAHDEN, which published this spring, contains themes of ocean conservation, collective action, and pollution solutions. I’m also excited to be hosting an Instagram Live reading on June 8th at 4pm ET to celebrate our world’s oceans.

Follow me on Instagram @allibrydon and come along! I might have a special guest or two.

LOBSTAH GAHDEN is a delightfully punny story about ocean life, conservation, and cooperation. Walter is a proud lobstah whose greatest dream is winning the annual Swell Gahdens contest. But, year after year, that honor always goes to his chowdah-head neighbor Milton. One day, when heaps of gahbage show up in their yahds, the rival lobstahs must join forces to find out how to prevent the trash from floating down from above. With wicked ah-some Boston accents, these lobstahs work together to save their gahdens from being ruined by heaps of gahbage.

Our oceans are beautiful, colorful, diverse ecosystems that are home to over a million species of underwater creatures. Unfortunately, humans are putting our friends under the sea at risk by polluting Earth’s oceans daily. Lobstah Gahden helps kids understand the importance of conservation, and additional backmatter about sea life and pollution shows readers practical ways they can help preserve our oceans.

The ocean has always been important to me, having grown up in a beach town on Long Island, in New York. And now my kids are beach babies, too. We all care about ocean conservation, and are trying our best to stop contributing to the problem and be part of the pollution solution.

My co-author, EG Keller, and I hope that young readers will learn about the importance of ocean conservation, especially through the story’s humor and the bonus backmatter pages about sea life and pollution. And we really hope the book will inspire kids to follow Walter and Milton’s lead and help save our world’s oceans.

In addition to celebrating World Ocean Day along with the lobstahs and me, you can check out some other organizations that are doing great work to protect Earth’s oceans:

And here is an IGTV video that I posted in April to celebrate Earth Day. It offers 5 tips to being less “shellfish” and more caring about our Earth.

You can buy LOBSTAH GAHDEN—for ocean activists young and old—at your local indie bookstore, through bookshop.org, and from any brick-and-mortar bookstore or internet retailer.

Take care, chowdah heads…and don’t forget to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

In honor of World Ocean Day, Alli is giving away a copy of LOBSTAH GAHDEN!

Follow her on Instagram and leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Alli Brydon is a writer, kidlit editor, and New Yorker, and when she is not writing or editing, she loves to visit art museums, discover new music, chill at the beach, race her family down ski slopes, explore forests, and read books written for children and not-children. She is the co-author of Lobstah Gahden (Sourcebooks, April 2021) and author of Myths & Legends of the World (Lonely Planet Kids, October 2019). She has fiction and nonfiction children’s books forthcoming with National Geographic Kids, Disney, Odd Dot/Macmillan, and Amazon/Two Lions, and is constantly tuned to the world for new ideas. She is also a children’s book editor with 15 years of experience helping authors and illustrators create outstanding children’s books. Alli now lives with her family in the rolling hills just outside of London.

Learn more about Alli’s work at allibrydon.com (author site) and allibrydoncreative.com (editor site), and follow her on Twitter at @AlliBrydon and on Instagram at @allibrydon.  

with author Charlotte Offsay

Hi Tara! Thank you for having me on your blog today and for hosting the cover reveal of my upcoming picture book HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER!

Charlotte, please tell us about the book!

If your grown-ups bring home a small monster, er, baby, don’t panic. Just send it back!

HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is a humorous how to story about a child who can’t believe it when her parents bring home a fussy, stinky, parent-stealing monster. She hatches a plan to send it back to where it came from… and along the way, she learns that maybe siblings aren’t so bad after all.

Do you have a fun behind-the-scenes story about creating the book that you’d like to share?

I tend to get my story ideas from the things in my life that are taking up the most room in my heart. When I first began writing what would eventually become HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER, I was consumed with second-time mom guilt about no longer being able to give my daughter the same amount of attention. She was just starting pre-school and I felt terrible separating from her for the first time and spending that time with her baby brother.

I had also heard countless stories from friends of how older siblings were reacting to having a new baby at home. I heard everything from ignoring to harming, and while it was clear these children loved their new siblings, one overarching theme prevailed—it was a hard adjustment for the older sibling to no longer be the sole focus of their parents’ attention.

My worries about my daughter made their way to the written page and I began writing a story about an older sibling feeling replaced by a new baby. ​I first wrote a traditional narrative arc story about a train feeling replaced by a shiny new train, but the story felt too much like a sad twist on Toy Story. ​

I wanted to capture and normalize the emotions around feeling replaced, but I also wanted to write a fun and entertaining story that kids would be able to connect to in a positive way. After one long brainstorming (venting) session with my husband, I realized that in order for the story to work it needed humor. I kept re-envisioning characters and story structure and eventually arrived at a humorous how-to story about a child who tries to return her sibling in the mail. This is the manuscript that is being illustrated by the talented Rea Zhai and will be published this September by Beaming Books.

How did you find your publisher?

I first connected with Beaming Books during #PBPITCH on Twitter.

I was querying at the time and had just been asked for more work by my now agent, the wonderful Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary. I signed with Nicole and we accepted the offer from Beaming Books!

Any words of advice for aspiring PB authors?

Don’t be scared to take the core concept/heart of your manuscript and start over. Play with structure, try an entirely different narrator, change the setting – you may just discover the key to unlocking that stubborn work-in-progress! Happy writing!

Blog readers, Beaming Books is giving away a copy of HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER when it’s released! Just leave one comment to enter.

A random winner will be selected.

Good luck!


Credit: NataliaL Photography

CHARLOTTE OFFSAY was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. She is the author of, The Big Beach Cleanup, (Albert Whitman 2021). How to Return a Monster is publishing this September from Beaming Books, followed by A Grandma’s Magic, publishing in March 2022 from Doubleday Books for Young Readers. 

Learn more about Charlotte’s work at charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter at @COffsay and on  Instagram at @picturebookrecommendations.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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