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by Joanna Rowland

A few years ago I started following Tara Lazar on Twitter. Not only does she have a great blog that is full of resources and is helpful to writers, but she’s also a great author herself. Then I discovered Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo). I used to try and fail at NaNoWriMo, but writing 31 different ideas for a month sounded like a goal I could reach and it would be fun.

I had just sold my second picture book THE MEMORY BOX: A BOOK ABOUT GRIEF in November of 2016 and I needed some time to figure out what to write about next.

Luckily, as a teacher I have the beginning of January off so I can really focus on Storystorm at kickoff. In January 2017, I was up at the family cabin when a snow storm came in. So there on my second day of  Storystorm I just wrote the word storm.  There is so much I love about storms. The only problem was I didn’t have an idea of how to tackle the story. What was my story?

What I’ve learned about my writing process is that sometimes I get a topic before the story. With my first book ALWAYS MOM; FOREVER DAD (Tilbury, 2014), I knew I wanted to write a positive picture book on divorce. I knew I wanted the topic of divorce before I knew what my story was. I was reading WHEN I WAS LITTLE: A Four–Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth by Jamie Lee Curtis to my Kindergarten class. Her book went back and forth with memories of when she was little to her now big age of FOUR. Something struck me in that moment of reading and I thought, What if I write a book about a child that goes back and forth between time with mom and time with dad? I wrote ALWAYS MOM; FOREVER DAD based on that structure and it allowed me to write about divorce and separation and the child’s relationship with each parent in a positive light.

A month before ALWAYS MOM; FOREVER DAD was to be released, a relative that was intended to receive my picture book on divorce and was one the inspirations behind it, tragically lost her father. So then I knew I needed to write a book on grief. I didn’t know what my story was, but I knew it needed to be written. About a month after trying to write about grief, our synchronized swimming team got devastating news that one of our beloved swimmers and coaches was diagnosed with cancer. Within six months, our sweet Marisa, who I used to coach and who swam with my niece and daughters, passed away.  It was so heartbreaking.

I had to get this story right. I think going through grief and taking my youngest to her first funeral at age six, helped me find a way to talk about death with my youngest and find the heart of the story. It still took me over two years to get the story right, but again the topic of grief came before the story.

THE MEMORY BOX: A BOOK ABOUT GRIEF won a gold from The Mom’s Choice Award, St. Jude Hospital read it on their Day of Remembrance to families that attended around the world, and it recently sold Dutch and Simplified Foreign Rights. It’s been such a blessing to see and hear how hospitals and counselors are using it. I think my editor Andrew DeYoung was also touched to see how this book has been helping people. He emailed me on his paternity leave to pitch an idea for a companion. Coming Spring of 2020, THE MEMORY BOOK: A GRIEF JOURNAL FOR FAMILIES will be out. Families will be able to write, add pictures, and draw in their own keepsake journal of their loved one. This can be something they add inside their own memory box.

After the years writing THE MEMORY BOX, I now know when a topic lingers, I’m meant to hold on to it.  I kept thinking about storms and what I could do, but nothing really inspired me. Then as I was listening to the radio, Imagine Dragons’ song “Thunder” came on and it really made me feel something. So I kept driving around and thinking. I find thinking/writing about difficult topics usually will bring out my best writing or story ideas. I was actually thinking about a childhood friend that died by suicide and how I wished he had stayed. And then the word STAY hit me and I knew I had found my storm story.

I wanted to show friendship through a storm. So my little word storm that I wrote on the second day of Storystorm back on January 2, 2017 took over 9 months to find its true story, but it finally sold to editor Andrew DeYoung of Beaming Books. He took such great care of my second book THE MEMORY BOX that I was beyond thrilled to work with him again.

STAY THROUGH THE STORM is about friendship during a storm. Many kids have fears of actual storms, so kids will be able to relate that fear and it shows ways of being a friend during a real storm. But it is also a metaphor that I think adults will be able to find their own meaning to. One thing I’m very passionate about is mental health and writing books that may help people through difficult times. This story is about being there for one another during the dark and scary times and knowing the storm will pass. You’re not alone.

So my advice is to listen. What topics won’t let go of you? It may take a month, a year, or more, but search for the story that comes from your heart.

Thank you Tara for all that you do to inspire writers and for creating challenges like this where you encourage writers to stop and take the time just to jot down ideas for a month and see where it takes you.

And thank you, Joanna, for sharing your Storystorm success story!

You can visit Joanna at writerrowland.com and follow her on Twitter @writerrowland.

And please join the next Storystorm—a free brainstorming event open to all writers—in January 2020!

by Gabi Snyder & Robin Rosenthal

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE!

READY TO EMBARK ON A JOURNEY?

When the gate is left open, one dog escapes the yard for an adventure on tricycles, trolleys, and trains. This hilarious story counts up to ten and back down again as more pups join the fun—and one very determined cat goes on the chase!

Coming in May 2020!

We (author Gabi Snyder and illustrator Robin Rosenthal) “met” for the first time over video chat to discuss our experiences creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, which is the debut picture book for us both!

RR: What inspired TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE?

GS: I’d say one part real-life and one part kidlit! The dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in the story was inspired, in part, by my childhood pets. I grew up with a cat we called Kinko (named for his kinked tail) and an assortment of dogs. Kinko was the undisputed boss. Now my family includes one dog and one cat. (They take turns keeping each other in line.)

As a kid, one of my favorite picture books was GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. I must’ve read that book hundreds of times, anticipating the playful and action-packed dog party at the end. The silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic.

GS: Speaking of silly dogs, I adore the characters you’ve created for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE and your bold, colorful style! What drew you to the text?

RR: Thank you! Wow, I love hearing the backstory!

I loved this text when I first read it. It is so simple, and you leave such a generous amount of room for the illustrator to play. The joke is entirely in the illustrations. You really had to trust your illustrator to pull it off! It’s a true partnership of art and text.

RR: How did you make choices about leaving room for an illustrator? Was that hard? What, if anything, surprised you about my art?

GS: Tough questions! I didn’t make a conscious effort to leave room for an illustrator, but I did aim for spare. The text is very simple, but functions as both a counting book and an epic chase! As a counting book, it does specify the number of pups and mode of transportation for each spread, but the appearance and personality of the dogs and the setting were left open to interpretation. I did include a few illustration notes about the cat character and her story arc that’s not obvious from the title or the text!

The story escalates to “Nine daring dogs on a hot-air balloon.” But when we reach “Ten dogs,” there’s a revelation. That tenth animal is NOT a dog! And while my illustration notes made clear who that is, I did not specify where we are. Robin, your illustration there is hilarious and unexpected! I gasped in surprise when I saw it, and yet it seems like the inevitable “of course!” choice. Truly perfection. Thank you!

GS: The humor in your art is fantastic. I especially love the facial expressions and costume choices for the cat. What influences did you draw upon when creating this fun group of pups and one sneaky cat?

RR: When I read the text, I immediately knew that I wanted to create this cat character. In my head she was part Garfield/part Terminator: kind of aloof, but also with strong drive and purpose. I wanted the dogs to be happy, optimistic, and confident. I also wanted each dog to be different so there would be a surprise on every spread. I spent a lot of time getting the expressions right, as they need to convey the emotion of the story without any text to back them up. The clothing is a little bit 80s retro mixed with current kids’ fashion styles.

GS: Part Garfield/part Terminator—ha! I love the 80s retro vibe in your art.

RR: What was your experience like as a debut picture book author? Anything that surprised you about the process?

GS: I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with editor Meredith Mundy and the team at Abrams. The suggested text changes were pretty minor, but definitely strengthened the story. As a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect, but was happily surprised that Meredith kept me apprised of each new development with the art. It was such a delight to watch the characters come to life in your adorable illustrations.

Meredith recently asked me whether the book looked like what I’d imagined when I submitted the text. In truth, the book’s illustrations are even more adorable and humorous than I’d imagined in my head. The 80s retro vibe/wardrobing of your characters is very much in line with my aesthetic. The only big surprise was the “Ten dogs…WAIT!” spread (which, as I mentioned above, I ADORE). And then when I saw the full color illustrations—wow! It may sound clichéd, but there’s something magical about the picture book collaboration between an author and an illustrator. The whole is so much more than the two parts!

GS: What was your experience like as a debut picture book illustrator? Anything that surprised you about the process?

RR: So, first of all, that is so nice to hear! I appreciate that they keep the author and illustrator separate throughout the process, but it is also a little strange to not really know how an author is feeling throughout the process. Meredith would give me very nice updates—like “The author loves the character sketches!”—so that was helpful. I felt a big responsibility with your work!

I think the hardest part for me as a debut picture book illustrator was the pressure I put on myself. This is your first impression, DO NOT blow it! I had to keep reminding myself that the kids are my audience. Will they laugh? Will they love it and want to read it again? I tried to make that my focus.

Meredith and our art director, Hana Nakamura, were a pleasure to work with and they gave me a lot of freedom and great feedback. For the cover, we agreed we wanted to show our three main characters. I drew a lot of options and here are a few.

Meredith and Hana and the team at Abrams picked one and sent some feedback:

And here is the final cover! I’ve just heard they are going to foil stamp the blue type and the scarf stripes, so I am excited to see that when it is printed!

TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE is available for pre-order!

Gabi and Robin will give away one copy of TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in May 2020)!

Leave one comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected next month.

Good luck!

 

I was chatting with my editor last week about my upcoming book with Mike Boldt, ALIEN IN THE DOGHOUSE (working title). I mentioned my philosophy about picture book art notes—how they describe the action that needs to happen for the story to work.

While I teach this at writing conferences and workshops, I never Tweeted it. So…

…and this resonated with a lot of picture book writers.

New writers often hear “don’t use art notes”—but that’s not correct.

I believe some editors/agents say that because new writers tend to misuse art notes. The mistake is overusing them—writing visual instructions that are unnecessary or superfluous. It’s like writing [bunny hops away] when the text already says that the bunny skedaddled.

Misused art notes can also dictate what things should look like when that’s not a writer’s job. Art notes like [she has pigtails] or [green ball] aren’t the writer’s decision. The only time something like that is necessary is when the appearance of pigtails or a green ball act as important plot points. Can the girl have short, curly hair? Can the ball be orange? Does the story still make sense? Then leave out the art notes.

Art notes should only be used when it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. Like when you want to be subversive:

She smiled!

How will anyone know your character is supposed to look upset? Art notes! Erm, I mean ACTION NOTES.

Then Kevin asked me a question…

So, here’s my newest book from Tundra, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, illustrated by the fabulous Melissa Crowton.

I set out to write a story with mostly visual puns and jokes, and this book is the result.

Here’s one of my favorite pages…

My manuscript reads:

Don’t worry, the bus has an endless number of seats! [clown car]

How else is the illustrator supposed to know the school bus is really a clown car?

Then there’s this page…

My manuscript reads:

Walk this way! Your big brother will show you the ropes. [tightrope]

Now, truth be told, I imagined the brothers on a high wire, carrying a balance stick and walking into the school, hence the “walk this way”. However, coupled with the previous page, which had to show the BIG TOP, this was the best way to illustrate the entire spread. Notice I did not dictate exactly how or where the tightrope should go. All the illustrator needs to understand is the literal tightrope.

And this is another hilarious page…

My manuscript reads:

You can let off some steam during recess [circus train], but watch out for other stuff that steams! [poop]

Ahh, what’s a picture book without some well-placed scatological humor?

That’s how I approach art notes, as action notes. Note that I don’t even write “art note” between the brackets—the brackets and italics is enough for the editor and illustrator to know what they are.

I try to be as succinct as possible so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story.

But Tara, I hear you ask, what do you do when the art notes are so plentiful, it does interfere with reading the story?

Well, take a look at the grid format solution. It’s how my agent and I submitted YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

And now that it’s back-to-school time, how about a giveaway?

I have 3 signed copies of YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

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

Good luck—with your art notes and the giveaway!

 

I first met author Michael Sussman when I reviewed his debut picture book OTTO GROWS DOWN, illustrated by Scott Magoon. I LOVED IT! In fact, OTTO remains one of my favorite picture books of all time, and I often refer to it when teaching humor and picture book workshops.

Michael wrote me a lovely thank-you email and we became fast friends and critique partners. He went on to write novels, but now he’s back to picture books and his latest, DUCKWORTH THE DIFFICULT CHILD, is creating a kidlit buzz for its retro vibe and dark humor.

Michael, I’m so thrilled to have you back in picture books! It’s been a while since OTTO GROWS DOWN!

OTTO is the boy who wants his little sister to disappear, and she does. In DUCKWORTH, he himself “disappears,” but he didn’t want to!

For fun, can you compare and contrast OTTO and DUCKWORTH as characters?

What a wonderful question!

First off, I want to thank you, Tara, for all your help in promoting OTTO GROWS DOWN, and for being such a wonderful critique partner for so many years.

To my mind, what links Otto and Duckworth is that they both face dire circumstances which they must overcome without any help whatsoever from their parents. Unbeknownst to his mom and dad, Otto is trapped in backward time and will disappear altogether if he doesn’t figure out how to return to the present. Duckworth’s parents are oblivious to the fact that he has been swallowed by an enormous cobra, and he is left to his own devices to escape from inside the snake.

In contrast to Duckworth, Otto has a loving family, but must come to terms with an interloper: a new baby sister. In order to overcome his understandable resentment and animosity toward Anna, he must grow up and become aware of his burgeoning love for his sibling.

Duckworth is an only child and is faced with a far more difficult predicament: narcissistic parents who are utterly oblivious to his needs and concerns. Although Duckworth is as successful as Otto at conquering his life-and-death dilemma, the ending of his story remains bittersweet, as he is still stuck with woefully inadequate parents.

Poor Duckworth, stuck with oblivious parents who seem like the despicable adult characters in a Roald Dahl story. DUCKWORTH, as a whole, has a very nostalgic energy, like a picture book from days long ago. Did you get any inspiration from “dark humor” authors of the past?

DUCKWORTH is my homage to the classic picture book, THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN, by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey, soon to be a motion picture directed by Ron Howard. I love the dark humor of Gorey, Dahl, and William Steig’s SPINKY SULKS.

What is it about those dark humor books that you admire? Why did you want to pay homage to them?

I guess I just like dark humor in general, and have featured it in both my picture books and novels. Dark humor presents unpleasant and taboo aspects of life in a satirical manner, taking the edge off and relishing in the absurdity of the human condition. In stories, it allows authors to address potentially painful topics—such as sibling rivalry in OTTO and poor parenting in DUCKWORTH—in a manner that’s less threatening and more enjoyable than a straightforward or didactic approach.

I was also eager to riff on THE TREEHORN TRILOGY because I felt it was under-appreciated and falling into obscurity. Now, thanks to me and Ron Howard, it’ll be rediscovered! 😉

Let’s talk about the illustrations by Júlia Sardà. They are dark and mysterious, with a retro European surrealist vibe. (Maybe I think that because the mother looks like Salvador Dali?) The gorgeous cinnabar of the cobra jumps out and bites you.

The art takes full advantage of perspective—I love the illustration of Duckworth in the serpent’s stomach, surrounded by floating items the cobra has swallowed.

Is the art what you had imagined?

Júlia Sardà’s illustrations are spectacular, and way beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for. Her style, sense of composition, and attention to detail are extraordinary, and perfectly complement the story. The illustrations are so striking that I actually became concerned that they’d overshadow the text, and convinced my editor—the wonderful Emma Ledbetter—to switch to a more dramatic font, and make use of drop-down letters to highlight the first word on some pages.

I was initially surprised by some elements of the artwork that diverged from what I’d expected. The snake is WAY bigger than I’d anticipated, and I think that was a brilliant choice. The mother’s face, body, and attire are quite masculine-looking, which bothered me at first, but I think this allows the parents to be presented as a single unit, which fits the story. (Not to mention that the mother, as I wrote her, is utterly devoid of maternal concern!) I expected Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass, the neighbors, to look British, but they are decidedly Russian in appearance. Finally, Duckworth looks more peculiar than I’d envisioned him, but I’ve grown to like that. Initially, he looked far too old, but Emma and I convinced Júlia to make him younger.

So there were some changes and edits to the art. What about to your original manuscript? Did anything turn out differently than the version you submitted?

Initially, the boy’s name was Bowlby. I wanted an odd name, to parallel Treehorn, and I think I unconsciously selected Bowlby because of the famous British psychologist, John Bowlby, who did pioneering work on maternal deprivation. But Emma wasn’t wild about the name, so I made a list of unusual monikers, and the two I liked the best were Duckworth and Digby. My son, Ollie, preferred Duckworth, which Emma liked as well, so I used Digby for the name of Duckworth’s cousin.

Ha, Bowlby is a funny name, but I do like Duckworth far better!

In giving a workshop on humor recently, I talked about “superiority humor” and how feeling superior to someone else is a cause of laughs.

In DUCKWORTH, the child feels superior to the parents, and I think your reader will also feel superior to the Mr. & Mrs. Was that a deliberate decision to make the adults in the book so hapless?

Superiority theory states that we laugh at the misfortunes and shortcomings of others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. And indeed, a portion of the story’s humor stems from seeing the pompous stupidity and ineptitude of Duckworth’s parents. The vast majority of parents who read the book to their kids will be able to pat themselves on the back, thinking I may have my faults, but I’m a far better parent than these hapless twits.

But I think that Incongruity theory, the notion that humor derives from the enjoyment of a perceived or imagined incongruity, is a better fit here. The discrepancy between Duckworth’s desperate plight and his parents’ haughty indifference and self-preoccupation, is amusing.

Surrealist or absurdist humor is also at play, in that the story presents a ridiculous situation that is impossible to take seriously, and the obliviousness of Duckworth’s parents is exaggerated to the point of absurdity.

Well, I think you use all those forms of humor brilliantly.

I’ll close our interview with how I typically begin…

You know I host Storystorm to inspire writers. So what inspired DUCKWORTH?

Well, I was suffering from writer’s block at the time, so I resorted to my patented Whack-a-Plot™ titanium mallet, which I invented for your 2010 PiBoIdMo (forerunner to Storystorm). Within seconds of regaining consciousness, the story came to me in a flash.

Seriously, folks, the story was inspired by a visual image, which is unusual for me since I have aphantasia, a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery. (I’m not making this up.)

One summer evening, while taking a stroll, an image passed through my mind of a snake that had swallowed a child. As I imagined the bulge working its way down the length of the serpent, it struck me as a compelling (if somewhat macabre) basis for a picture book. I recalled a similar image from The Little Prince, but when I returned home, I discovered that the prince’s drawing was of a boa digesting an elephant. (Although, as the prince notes, grown-ups all thought it was a picture of a hat.)

I worried that my concept might be too scary for young children, unless I made it a funny story, so I decided to model the tale on THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN.

Michael, I think you’ve created a new classic! Thank you for chatting with me about DUCKWORTH!

Blog readers, Simon & Schuster is giving away 2 copies of DUCKWORTH THE DIFFICULT CHILD.

Just leave one comment below to be entered in the giveaway.

Two random winners will be selected in mid-August.

Good luck!


Abandoned by a cackle of laughing hyenas, Michael Sussman endured the drudgery and hardships of a Moldavian orphanage until fleeing with a traveling circus at the age of twelve. A promising career as a trapeze artist was cut short by a concussion that rendered him lame and mute. Sussman wandered the world, getting by on such odd jobs as pet-food tester, cheese sculptor, human scarecrow, and professional mourner while teaching himself the art of fiction. He now lives in Tahiti with Gauguin, an African Grey parrot. Visit him at MichaelSussmanBooks.com.

A few weeks ago, I saw a joyous tweet from Minh Lê praising SMALL WORLD, Ishta Mercurio’s debut picture book, illustrated by Jen Corace.

And then I remembered—I’m supposed to be interviewing Ishta about this very book! WHAT A SMALL WORLD!

But no, this SMALL WORLD is not like that Small World. No earworm here.

This book is about our changing perspective as we grow, learn and achieve…and our place in the world through the stages of life. It’s a beautiful book that landed at just the right time.

Ishta, since I run Storystorm, let’s talk about the idea for this book first. How did it originate?

I love this question, because it shows how ideas really can come from anywhere.

I was on a plane (in the window seat, which is my FAVORITE SEAT—it’s one of the perks of being short!), flying home from Oregon, looking down at a large body of water. I noticed that there was a cluster of white flecks on the surface of the water that kept disappearing, then reappearing further along, then disappearing and reappearing again, and it occurred to me that they were probably caused by a pod of whales or dolphins or something. And that got me thinking about how tiny those flecks were from my vantage point inside the plane, but how big a whale would be if I were sitting next to one… And I also started thinking about how much diversity the world holds: in plant and animal species, in cultures, in land forms… And I wanted to explore how a child might sit with and come to terms with that, with this knowledge of the world’s complexity and of our small-but-also-big role within it.

I see your other published book is about insects. Do your ideas often come from nature?

t’s funny, but most of the time, they don’t. Or if they do, I get about halfway through the brainstorming session before I realize that my idea is actually just an extension of SMALL WORLD, or of another manuscript that I’ve already written. Most of the time, my ideas come from something I’ve overheard in a cafe or on the train, or from a news article, or something my kids will say, or my dog. (I have a couple of ideas I’m playing with that have come from my dog…)

OK, I’ll bite! Tell us about your dog and dog stories!

We got him from a rescue organization. His name is Rocket, and his mother was a feral dog in an area that’s a bit overrun with feral dogs, and she gave birth to his litter next to someone’s shed and abandoned them. So we have no idea what kind of dog he is! He looks a little bit Lab/Rottweiler/German Shepherd/Boxer. He’s stereotypically “dog-shaped”. And he’s big! He weighs 80 lbs., which is almost as much as me.

Without giving too much away, my dog stories were both inspired by this one silly thing that he does. But one is serious, and deep, and essentially social commentary, and the other is light and funny and very silly. I don’t know if they’ll both be published, but I’m having fun writing them.

Rocket is a cool name! And so in Nanda, the MC in SMALL WORLD. Can you give us the story behind the unique choice?

Finding a name for this character was a challenge! I went through several different names, looking for the one that was just right. At first, this character was a boy. I’m a mom of two boys, so I think it just felt natural for me to think of this character—who shares a lot of interests with me, but whose story isn’t really based on my own childhood at all—as a boy. But then about halfway through the revision process, I thought, “You know what? I have a lot of common interests with this character. And where are the books about girls who get to do things like this?” And so I decided that this character needed to have a girl’s name.

And then it came down to what girl’s name to choose! It needed to have two syllables, with the stress on the first syllable, to match the rhythm of the rest of the text. I wanted something soft sounding, that ended in an “a” sound or some other open vowel sound (as opposed to a closed vowel sound, like a long “e” sound), because this is a soft flowing lyrical kind of book. And, of course, a name can tell us a lot about a person’s background and family, and Nanda’s family is important in the first half of this book.

One of the things that people might be surprised to learn is that I come from a mixed background: my dad is Italian on his father’s side and Irish and German on his mother’s side, and my mom is Polish on her father’s side and Filipino on her mother’s side. Her dad was an American GI stationed in the Philippines during WWII, and he fell in love with a Filipino woman (my Lola) and they raised my mom and her brothers and sister there. My mom and each of her siblings came over to the US one at a time, as they each finished high school in the Philippines and enrolled in college in the States. And what’s interesting to me is that even though I take after my Filipino side in stature and bone structure and build, which is, like, 90% of my body, because I have my Italian grandfather’s face, most people are surprised to learn that I’m part Filipino. And I think that this is partly because we see what we’re conditioned to see: in other words, if the majority of books and movies and TV shows we see feature Caucasian characters, as most of them do, we become conditioned to look for the signs that point to that heritage. And we miss or gloss over the rest. I want us to be able to see each other more completely, and more clearly. And I want us to accept one another more readily. And giving books to children that broaden and deepen their understanding of people from a variety of backgrounds, and that illustrate the things that are different as well as the things we share, is part of that work.

So I wanted this child to come from an immigrant background. And the rest of the story of how I chose Nanda’s name is in the back matter of the book, so people will have to go and read that for themselves.

I was surprised at Jen Corace’s illustrations because they are a wildly different style from LITTLE PEA (with Amy Krouse Rosenthal), one of my favorite books. I suppose I should know that illustrators are wildly talented! Jen’s style in LITTLE PEA is spare and simple, lots of white space, childlike. While SMALL WORLD also has a childlike feel, the art is complex, layered and bursting with color. It emits a palpable energy!

Jen Corace did such an amazing, amazing job with the illustrations in this book. I love the way she picked up on the geometry references in the text and took them to a whole other level. But my favorite thing, and the most delightfully surprising thing, was the spread of Nanda building a cityscape with blocks in her bedroom! I love the way the city skyline she sees through her window echoes the skyline she’s building, and the star chart on her wall, and I especially especially love the pictures of female astronauts on her wall. When I recognized Sally Ride and Mae Jemison and Kalpana Chawla’s portraits, I gasped. Seeing these real women on the walls of this fictional character–tying Nanda to real kids, in the real world—was such a special moment.

What is the hope that you want to pass onto those who read SMALL WORLD? What do you want your readers to feel as they finish the book?

I want them to be left with the feeling that even though each of us is one small person, we can still do great things. And I also want them to have a deeper appreciation for the Earth, which is the one place in all the Universe that we call home. It’s ours, and we *all* belong here.

Thank you, Ishta, for the interview and this gorgeous new book!

A book that blog readers can win!

Leave one comment below and a random person will be selected to receive a copy of SMALL WORLD, which is available in bookstores now!

A winner will be chosen in August.

Good luck!


Ishta Mercurio was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, until she was 16. Then she attended college in the Berkshires, spent a rustic summer on a Maine island, grew up and got married in England, found her home in Scotland, and made a new home in Canada.

She has been an environmental activist, a barista, a behavior therapist, an actor, and an author. I still am most of those things, but I only do a couple of them for money. Mostly, I am a storyteller.​

Pull up a chair at ishtamercurio.com.

At the risk of dating myself, I’ll mention an old commercial tag line from the 1970’s—“when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when Holiday House contacts you and asks if you’d like to chat with two-time Caldecott and Geisel Honor book winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you also stop everything and LISTEN!

Laura’s latest book is a charmer, snuggle-worthy for the littlest ones. It’s titled, simply, WHY?

I met Laura last year at the Irma S. Black Award ceremony where she served as keynote speaker. She showed us her newest book at the time, BLUE, about a boy and his best friend. (Notice how the die cut on each page forms a new part of the image with each turn.)

 

Laura, you must know you are the only PB creator to make my husband tear up, as you read BLUE. And he’s never even had a dog! He was incredibly moved. How do you inject so much heart into your stories?

With every book, I try to distill the story down to its essence and I always draw upon strong feelings and beliefs while writing and illustrating.

With BULLY, for example, I’ve always felt a deep sense of empathy for anyone who was bullied or feeling left out, so it was important to me that above all else, empathy is the most important aspect of that book.

BLUE is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever created. It really comes from a deeply personal place. As a young child, I’d experienced the sudden loss of a family member—my brother—and that very complicated trauma was never really worked through. Consequently, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear and dread of loss. BLUE is a kind of therapeutic, cathartic personal exercise, but more importantly, it’s an attempt to offer comfort, as well as a starting point for deeper discussion with young children, (or anyone, really).

Your husband’s reaction truly means a lot to me!

So with your new book WHY?, what did you distill its essence down to?

WHY is a about curiosity, patience, and understanding. The little rabbit is having a bit of an existential crisis, and at one point in the book, the apparently all-knowing bear is faced with a similar crisis as he realizes that he can’t explain everything after all. Ultimately, their loving and enduring friendship is more important than anything, even when there are unanswerable questions. (I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions…)

Why do you think WHY? is a child’s most pressing (and frequent) question?

Well, given that children are witnessing everything pretty much for the first time, I think it makes sense that they would seek to have a deeper understanding of what they’re seeing and hearing.

I think adults often take for granted their surroundings, even if those deeper meanings were never fully explored or questioned.

Why are the characters in the book a bear and a bunny—instead of a bear and cub (or rabbit and bunny)? Why is the relationship shown as one of friendship instead of parent-child?

Ah, I thought long and hard about that.

With this book, as with many, I had an immediate vision that I wanted to stay true to. I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be very large, and one super small, which in many ways ended up dictating the decision about whether or not they’re related to one another. I also wanted them to be friends rather than relatives because friendship is a voluntary relationship, which I felt made the story more interesting in many ways.

Also, from the beginning. I’d envisioned a bear and a rabbit, but I did explore a substitute for the bear because I was worried that there might be confusion between the bear in WHY, and the bear in my DOG AND BEAR series. In the end, I felt the bear was undeniably perfect, and I was confident that the character would be distinctive in its own right.

He is distinctive! And so lumpy in a furry-cuddly way. Plus, it’s more visually interesting to showcase contrasting characters!

Speaking of your art, it’s gorgeous, full of depth and texture. Can you tell us a little about your illustration process for WHY?

Sure! With each book, I try to envision an art style that will match the text I’ve written. Hence the multiple, various art styles over the years.

With WHY, I envisioned a softer style, unlike any of my other books. It’s been years since I’ve worked with watercolors, and I had such a great time painting the art for this book!

So, I began each painting with a pencil drawing, and then I painted over the drawings with watercolor paint. I repeated this process lightly, many times, which gave the art depth and a layered feel, without any thick paint or brushstrokes. This way, the softness was retained and the pencil lines showed through.

Once all of that was done, I still felt it needed something – a bit of grittiness and a little more depth. I wanted it to feel more organic.

So, I finally broke out a fabulous gigantic Japanese brush I’d bought a few years ago in Singapore and I soaked it full of water so that it was completely saturated. Then, I brought it into my backyard where I dipped the sopping wet brush into India ink and flung it at watercolor papers. When I was finished, I had a huge stack of paper, each sheet full of splotches, spots, drips, etc. I created so many sheets because I didn’t want to repeat any of the elements.

Then, I scanned my original watercolor paintings and all of the “splotch” art sheets. For each painting, I overlaid several different “splotch” art sheets, I isolated the splotches, and I either lightened or darkened those areas on the original paintings.

Your process is fascinating! I love the thick and chunky Japanese brush!

What’s so lovely about the illustrations is that they feel soft and safe for a young child who is asking WHY, who is questioning the world around them. What do you hope that young reader will take away from your story?

I think with WHY, I’d love to encourage curiosity and the freedom and “permission” to question absolutely everything, which ultimately I believe, would encourage independent thought and informed decision-making. I also hope WHY is an example of patience and understanding, for sure. And lastly, I hope that young readers understand that not all questions have immediate answers, and that’s okay.

What a wonderful take-off point for a meaningful discussion between adult and child. 

Thank you, Laura, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process!

WHY? is available from Holiday House on August 13…or you can win a copy here.

Leave a comment below and someone will be randomly selected to receive a copy in a couple weeks.

One comment per person, please.

Good luck!


Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book, and a 2-time winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. She is also the recipient of both the Massachusetts Reading Association and the New York Empire State awards for “Body of Work and Contribution to Children’s Literature.”

She earned her BFA degree at the School of Fine Art and Design at the State University of New York at Purchase. She then moved to Manhattan and began a career as an animator, artist, designer, and editor in network television. She created show openings and special segments for NBC and ABC for many years and won an Emmy Award for an opening animation for an NBC Special.

Laura and her husband, Chris, have two wonderful sons, Drew and Dylan. They live in Rockville Centre, New York. She loves painting, writing, surfing, boating, tennis, running, playing the piano, and spending time with her family and friends. 

Visit her at www.studiolvs.com.

 

by Tammi Sauer

In the spring of 2013, two unlikely friends swam onto the picture book scene—Nugget and Fang. From the start, Nugget & Fang, written by me and illustrated by Michael Slack, did really well. I was proud of our standalone. It never even occurred to me to write a sequel.

Then in 2017, my new editor at Clarion, Lynne Polvino, asked if I’d be interested in revisiting a certain underwater world.

Now, all these years later, my favorite fishy friends are back in the SEA-quel, NUGGET & FANG GO TO SCHOOL.

When Fang the shark is invited by his friends to attend Mini Minnows Elementary, he thinks it’s a great idea! But then his first day of school arrives . . . and suddenly, he’s not so sure. He’s not very good at reading or math. He doesn’t exactly fit in with his classmates. And the teacher looks crabby! Can Fang’s best friend, Nugget, and the other minnows help him discover that school really is FANG-TASTIC?

When a publishing house asks you to write a sequel, please know this situation comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • You already know your characters.
  • You already know the tone.
  • You already know the style.
  • You already know the voice.
  • You already know the general setting.
  • You already know the basic pacing.

Disadvantages:

  • The book needs to be written.
  • The book needs to be at least as good as the original, preferably better.
  • The book needs to appeal to fans of the original as well as to people who have never read it.
  • The book needs to meet a deadline.
  • The book needs to get approval from the publishing house, and, if the book does not get this approval, you can’t submit it elsewhere. Plus, you, um, still have to write a sequel that gets approval.
  • The book needs to be similar to the original. Oh. But it needs to be different, too.

But how do you actually write a sequel????? In my experience, such a task involves gallons and gallons of tropical tea, endless quantities of chips and salsa from Torchy’s Tacos, and a critique group that reminds you that you can do this.

These are the three things that were most helpful to me as I wrote Nugget & Fang Go to School:

  1. I read the original. Then I read it again. And again. And again. After that, I read it again. This not only helped me to dive back into Nugget and Fang’s world, but it helped me to rediscover the rhythm of their story.
  2. I typed out the text of the original and paginated it. This gave me a clear and concise visual of my pacing and page turns. I kept the paginated text of book 1 right next to me as I worked to create the text for book 2.
  3. I played with words. (Book 1 incorporated lots of wordplay so book 2 had to have that as well.)

First, I compiled a list of the wordplay that I had used in book 1:

  • Holy mackerel!
  • Swim for your lives!
  • Sounds fishy to me.
  • Oh, my algae!
  • I feel seasick!
  • Have you lost your gills?
  • Catch of the day
  • Fang’s heart sank.
  • You’re fintastic.
  • Fanned his gills.
  • Wrung his fins.

This served as a cheat sheet. I knew what wordplay absolutely could not go into book 2. I then wrote a long list of different potential wordplay to use in the sequel. These are the items that made their way into book 2:

  • Other fish in the sea
  • Oh, my starfish!
  • Swim for cover!
  • Cool as a sea cucumber
  • School of fish
  • Crabby
  • Sea of faces
  • Fang-tastic
  • Best friend in the whole underwater world
  • Made a splash
  • A fish out of water
  • There was nothing fishy about that.

Having lots of new wordplay to choose from allowed me to give book 2 a similar feel to book 1, but it helped me to make the new book fresh as well.

Overall, writing a sequel is quite a challenge, but, if my editor asks me to write another book about Nugget and Fang, well, wild seahorses couldn’t pull me away!

Luckily, wild seahorses aren’t pulling away our giveaway—a copy of the chummy SEA-quel to one lucky blog reader. Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 28 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her book Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently made into a musical that is currently touring planet earth. (Well, the United States anyway.) Visit her at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

by Kevan Atteberry

GHOST CAT all began because, well, I have a ghost cat in my house. I never really see it—just darts and blurs out of my peripheral vision. There may be any number of logical explanations for this phenomena but I’m going with the ghost cat explanation.

We had a cat, a black cat, that showed up at our house years and years ago. It just appeared on our porch for several days in a row and eventually my wife, Teri, stated feeding it. I warned her if she fed it it would stick around. And she did, and it did. It came to us as an outdoor cat but eventually became an indoor/outdoor cat. If it had other places to be he was free to go there. He didn’t, preferring to live with us. And he did for about a dozen years. One day I hadn’t seen him around and went looking for him. I found him lying dead in the side yard.

When the cat died, my wife was five or six years into a diagnosis of young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I had to tell her several times over the next few days that the cat had died. Each time it was like she was hearing it for the first time. Eventually she forgot that we even had had a cat.

Jumping ahead, a year or so after the cat died I ended up having to place Teri in an Adult Family Home. I had been her primary caregiver for seven years of decline but it got to the point I couldn’t do it anymore and still make a living, let alone have a life. I can’t remember if it happened before I placed Teri, but this is when I started noticing the “ghost cat appearances.” Maybe because I was home alone all of the sudden with no responsibilities.

It was always interesting and I don’t think I really believed I had a ghost cat, but I kept almost seeing it. So, naturally, as a writer, I thought I’d write a story about it. I had no idea what the story was, but I knew it would be different than anything I had written before. When I shared the first few drafts with my critique group, I was encouraged by their acceptance and suggestions. A year later, several more drafts, and they told me, “Kevan, this is your story,” which of course it was. I’d written it. “No,” they said, this is YOUR story. You have a ghost in YOUR house.” And what they meant is that ever since I had placed Teri in a home, I really was living with a ghost in my house. It became imperative at that realization that I get the story absolutely right. And I understood where exactly it needed to go. This was a story about loss, moving on, and the permission to love again while never giving up the love that came before.

Publisher’s Weekly said it well…”The heart, it seems, has room for everyone we have ever loved.”

It may also be notable that this is the first time I’ve jumped back into traditional medias to create the art for GHOST CAT. Every book before has been primarily digital. And the illustration style, obviously, is completely different than anything in previous books.

Initial thumbnail for spread 10-11.

First sketch for page 11.

Problem: page 10 and 11 were too similar. And besides that, the boy is not supposed to see the cat, yet he seems to be looking right at it.

Decided to keep page 10 as it was but change the angle on page 11 to more of a profile, putting the cat out of the sightline of the boy. This first rough sketch.

Created final pencil work (I would clean up in Photoshop.)

Created final illustration in Photoshop using pencil lines and the painted sources below.

These are the uncorrected colors and textures I used in coloring most of Ghost Cat.

Kevan, thank you so much for sharing the very personal story behind GHOST CAT–which was released June 11th!

You can win a copy here by leaving a comment below. 

A winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!

Last week I texted Stacy McAnulty because I heard the most amazing news!

Stacy, I just learned your new book MOON! will be on Elon Musk’s next SpaceX rocket. How did you arrange to be the first picture book in space?!

Ha! Wouldn’t that be something. I love seeing my books in stores and in libraries. Knowing it’s in space would be amazing. Yet not as amazing as seeing MOON in the hands of young readers. Astronauts and aliens are welcome to read my books, but I do write for kids.

OK, so your book isn’t going to the moon, but other objects from earth have…and have stayed there to form their own colony! How on earth did a pair of nail clippers get left on the moon?

I wish I knew! NASA has a list of what’s been left behind, but they don’t include the why. And since there’s no weather (no wind, rain, snow, etc.) on Moon, the objects could technically be right where the astronauts left them. However, with hardly any atmosphere, Moon is pummeled constantly by space rocks (asteroids, meteoroids). There’s a chance things have been destroyed by impact—including the nail clippers. If the next astronauts brought back those nail clippers, I wonder what they’d go for on eBay. They probably belong in the Smithsonian.

Now that’s an auction to break the Internet!

In your book, Moon and Earth are besties. But what if we had two natural satellites instead of the one moon—would all three be best friends, or would there be a lot of push and pull between them?

Earth is certainly capable of having multiple best friends. She’s so kind—she lets us live here after all.  But I can imagine Moon being slightly jealous of another natural satellite. Moon’s life revolves around Earth. Literally. She’d be a little bummed to share that spotlight. Luckily, Moon doesn’t have to share. Unlike Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune, and Uranus, which all have multiple moons. Moon is a one and only!

We know Moon has many different phases. What do you think is Earth’s favorite look for her BFF?

Full Moon for sure!  We get to see her whole, beautiful face. But we don’t want to phase-shame. Moon looks gorgeous all the time. Earth and I agree on this.

Do you have a favorite moon fact that didn’t get into the book?

I learned about synchronous rotation:  Moon rotates on her axis and revolves around Earth at the same rate, approximately 27.3 days. That means we see the same face of Moon. I do talk about this in the book, but I never get to use the term “synchronous rotation.” It’s such a nerdy-sounding phrase. I love it. “I suffer from synchronous rotation.”  Also, here’s a fun-fact that didn’t make the cut. Moon is moving farther away from Earth at a rate of one inch per year. Bye-bye, Moon!

No, no, don’t go away Moon! I mean, Moon probably likes to get away, but with her best friend. Do you think Earth and Moon like to go out and do cool things together? Like sing karaoke?

Oh, yes! They’d very much be into karaoke! Who isn’t? Their song would have to be a duet. Maybe “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. That works!

That’s a fun one! They definitely don’t want to try “Blue Moon” or “Bad Moon Rising”!

OK, kidding aside, you made this entire non-fiction series so fun for kids—by letting Sun, Earth and Moon narrate their own stories. How did you discover that unique angle?

Like all great discoveries, it was by accident. Sort of. I like to tell the story of Earth’s birth when I visit schools. Before I wrote Earth, I wrote a story about a pet rock. It was fiction like everything else I’d written to that point. In the manuscript, this pet rock lived with numerous children for thousands of years—going from caveman times to today. I shared this pet-rock story, and my critique grouped hated it. But what I realized through their candor, was that I wasn’t writing a story about a rock but about Earth. She’s been here a long time and us humans are pretty new. So I penned a story about our planet, and from the first draft, I knew it had to be narrated by the star of the show, Earth! (Of course, Earth is not technically a star.) When I tell this to kids, I always ask, “Was that pet-rock story—that unpublished story that only lives on my hard drive—a failure or a step in the process?” They always give the right answer.

Those kids are so smart! Thanks for chatting with me about your newest book, Stacy.

MOON! EARTH’S BEST FRIEND launched into bookstores nationwide this week! Be sure to check it out! (And you don’t even need a telescope!)

Astronaut Lazarbeam approves!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I recommend kidlit writers secure an agent. Literary agents provide many crucial services that go far beyond selling manuscripts. A good agent guides you through every step of your career—the ups, the downs, the slumps, the triumphs. They are your ever-hopeful cheerleader and your biggest fan (often the smartest one, too). As one literary agent states, “There’s no greater professional joy than championing a book that you believe in and watching the world delight in it.”

Today I’m delighted to interview that agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. She serves as Senior Vice President of Trident Media Group. 

Alyssa, why (and how) did you get into representing children’s literature?

When I was a second-semester-senior English major in college, I suddenly found myself finding a way to tie children’s literature into all my term papers. I wrote one called “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out” about tea in Alice in Wonderland. And for my History of India class I wrote another about the British Raj in India as shown in the works of Hodgson Burnett and Kipling. I took this as a sign that I was meant to work in children’s publishing. And later that summer when I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course, I found myself making a bee-line for all the kidlit jobs, although nobody really used the term kidlit back in 1998.

In the spring of 1999 I was hired by S&S Books for Young Readers where I spent over seven years as a children’s book editor. And in year six of those seven years, when I decided I wanted to segue into the more entrepreneurial pursuit of agenting, I only ever considered doing so if I could be a children’s book agent. I’ve heard it said that children’s literature is the body of literature people know the first and the best, and that’s definitely true for me! Luckily for me, Trident specifically sought out a children’s book agent in the Fall of 2006 and they were open to hiring someone with an editorial—rather than an agenting—background.

How did the years spent working as an editor influence your agenting style?

I think my years spent working as an editor taught me a lot about the importance of having an editor who is an advocate, someone who can really sell the publisher’s sales force on an author’s book and make them realize they have something really special on their hands, as opposed to just another book in a sea of many books that will fly under the radar.

I always try to make editors realize that they need to pound their drums about the book and get the jacket just right if they want the book to really shine.

I also learned about the importance and transformative powers of revision. If I fall in love with an author’s voice, I will still take on the project even if it means a year or two of editing until the plot and the story arc are in the shape they need to be in order to sell.

Can you pinpoint a particular quality that makes you fall in love with a voice?

I’m a huge sucker for setting so the ability to conjure a sense of place that feels palpable always goes a long way with me. When I think back on the books I love, both front list titles and those that I still hold dear from my childhood, the #1 thing that stands out to me is how much I love the characters. So, when voice grabs on and makes me care, like really care such that I’m still thinking about the characters after the fact, then I know the voice has done its job. Lyrical lovely language that I want to quote doesn’t hurt anything either, of course!

I know agents get asked this a lot, but is there anything specific you’re dying to see? What’s on your wish list?

With the popularity of graphic and middle grade novels, I’m trying to expand my stable of illustrators and author-illustrators at the moment. I’m also very influenced by my rising-4th-grader son’s love of shorter books, so I’d love to find more fictional manuscripts for middle grade in verse or alternative shorter text formats that still manage to tell a full, high-stakes story. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction and history, and while the category in younger MG has kind of exploded already, I still think the market could really use a series like I SURVIVED, but for upper elementary age and middle school readers; there’s a big hole for kids after they finished many of the I SURVIVED and WHO WAS/IS books. And I’m also keen for books that are laugh-out-loud funny, as I never see enough of those in either MG or YA. And I always gravitate towards books with vividly-drawn settings, bonus points for those regional, cultural, and ethnic flavors that I’ve yet to see much of in kidlit before.

Beyond the writing, what else do you look for in a client?

I tend to look for clients who are hardworking, passionate about their craft, and good at marketing. Again, a sense of humor in life as well as in art is a virtue. And also patience is a big plus.

Speaking of patience, can you explain why it’s an important virtue in authors? What do you advise your clients to do during the wait?

It’s rare that things happen exactly as we expect them to. Sometimes books take a long time to sell and sometimes they sell quickly but the contracts due to various reasons take time to be finalized. Sometimes there’s an auction but bidders are on vacation, so the whole timeframe gets pushed back a month. Everyone has their own “dog ate my homework” story when it comes to waiting and publishing. And once the book is sold and paid for, odds are there will be more waiting, whether it’s for an edit letter, marketing plan, illustration sketches, sales figures etc. I always tell my clients to keep busy when their books are on submission: Try writing or outlining new works. Revise your five year goal plan. Get a lot of exercise. Binge watch a worthy show. Spend time in the company of loved ones and dear friends. A watched pot never boils!

Does a potential client have to have a blog and/or a large social media following for you to sign them?

If it’s celebrity- or news-driven nonfiction, having some social media out of the gate holds value when getting editors to read a proposal. But for fiction and more scholarly nonfiction or picture books, it’s certainly not a prerequisite when I go on submission. It’s nice if by the time of publication authors have a way for readers to reach them online. And I’ve had several clients tell me that booksellers have reached out to them on Twitter pre-publication, so again, it does hold value, but I always put the most stock in the book itself.

When you have a client project ready to submit, what steps do you go through? How do you strategize the submission process?

When a project is ready for submission, I love creating a submission list that includes a variety of different editors. Generally, these include a mix of imprints at larger houses and smaller houses, and includes editors at all different career stages. The common thread is that I know these editors to be hungry for this particular type of book. I usually learn who is looking for what by doing research on PubMarketplace and Manuscript Wishlist. And since I’ve worked with a bunch of editors over a number of years at this point, sometimes I also intuitively just know who might like what. Depending on the type of book, I usually submit to be between 8 and 14 editors at any given time. That way, the list is small enough to make each editor feel special. But the body of editors reading is large enough to have a healthy competitive situation if it goes to auction.

Over the course of your agenting career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

I love seeing client dreams come true, and quite a lot have in my 12+ years as an agent. I’ve had my hands in numerous long-running bestsellers, a major motion picture and the early stages of a Broadway musical. I’ve seen clients win Caldecott, and Printz Honors and Siebert and Belpre Awards. I’ve helped put in motion author tours, conference appearances, and front-of-store promotions, and have been instrumental in keeping titles in hardcover for years. I’ve negotiated offers that doubled and tripled from where they started. But my greatest achievement is overall is not doing anything by rote, and always trying to think outside the box. Because of this, each new situation becomes a wonderful learning experience that often sheds light on the next book…and the one after that.

What changes and challenges in publishing do you foresee happening over the next few years?

Children’s publishing is incredibly competitive with many more agents and one less big six (now big five) publishers in town now, and I wouldn’t be shocked by further consolidation in the future. Clearly bookselling in the era of amazon.com offers up many challenges for booksellers and authors generally. The fact that B&N, after having been owned by one individual for so long, has been recently purchased by an equity firm is leaving a lot of people wondering about the future of book chain retail in the digital age. That said, there are several new kidlit publishers  as well as Indie bookstores on the rise, and I think audio originals and graphic and illustrated books are growth areas. As long as libraries and schools continue to have book-buying budgets and people continue to have kids, I’m relatively optimistic about the future of kidlit publishing.

And lastly, are you open to submissions?

I am open to submissions, five pages in the body of a query letter for longer works, complete PB texts in the body of a query, and any art or illustrations inserted as links in a query letter, no attachments. Email to ahenkin@tridentmediagroup.com.

Alyssa, thank you for an informative and engaging interview!

Good luck with your queries, kidlit writers!

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illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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