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by Colleen Paeff

The year or two leading up to the publication of an author or illustrator’s debut book is a rollercoaster ride of exciting milestones (“I signed my contract!”), new experiences (“Hello, Copy Editor.”), and sheer terror (“You expect me to read my book aloud in front of how many children?”). And, like a rollercoaster, it’s best experienced with friends. That’s where debut groups come in.*

The Soaring ‘20s Picture Book Debuts is a collective of picture book authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators with debut picture books being released in 2020** and beyond. We’ve pooled our resources, talents, and sympathetic ears so none of us has to experience this ride solo—and that’s fitting because we certainly didn’t get this far on our own. We’re all in the happy position of awaiting the release of our books thanks to the authors, illustrators, teachers, editors, or agents who looked at our work and offered targeted feedback to help improve it.

And now we’d like to do the same for you!

To celebrate the launch our new website Soaring20spb.com, we’re giving away 20+6 free manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critiques in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY!

If you’ve been in the picture book game for a while, you probably already know the value of a thorough, thoughtful critique. But if you’re new to writing or illustrating for kids or you’re on the fence about whether or not to hand your baby over to a set of critical eyes, allow some of our members us give you a nudge:

“Critiques have been an essential step (many steps! multiple flights of stairs!) on my path to publication.”

Angela Burke Kunkel, author
DIGGING FOR WORDS: JOSÉ ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ AND THE LIBRARY HE BUILT (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, Fall 2020)

“If you’ve put your all into your work-in-progress and are ready to see it with fresh eyes, a critique is a fun way to open new pathways in your brain and to rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.”

Shelley Johannes, author/illustrator
MORE THAN SUNNY (Abrams, Spring 2021)

“The more we embrace the journey of improving and collaboration, the more we learn and the better we become as authors, illustrators and artists.”

Sam Wedelich, author/illustrator
CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE* TALE (Scholastic Press, Spring 2020)

“I’ll always remember how Jo Whittemore, author of FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF, critiqued me years ago. She called problems in my manuscript ‘opportunities.’”

NoNieqa Ramos, author
BEAUTY WOKE (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spring 2021)

“The more you have your work critiqued, the less personal it becomes. You learn to listen for the gems of advice, questions, concerns, and ideas that other readers/writers have for you. Then when you take those gems and apply them to your work, the proof is in how much your writing is improved and how much your skill grows as a storyteller. And while this process sometimes has you feeling vulnerable and exposed, ultimately when you send your writing out into the world, you will feel so proud of it!”

Anna Crowley Redding, author
RESCUING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (HarperCollins, spring 2020)

Convinced? Go to our website to enter to win a free picture book manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critique in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY by midnight on September 15 and you could be one of 20+6 lucky winners!

*We’re not the only game in town! Check out KidLit411’s list of Debut Year Groups (scroll all the way down to the bottom).

**One of us got bumped up to 2019! Look for Author Saira Mir’s MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: INSPIRATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF OUR TIME (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster) on October 29.

Big thanks to Tara for letting us share the news about our giveaway on her blog!

(And Tara says thanks right back!)

The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) is offering a new award that honors the wonderful spirit and work of late children’s book author Kate Pohl Dopirak. The Kate Dopirak Craft and Community Award will offer one picture book writer:

  • Full tuition to the SCBWI International Conference in L.A. in 2020
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary (Kate’s agent)
  • A 20-minute phone consultation with Andrea Welch of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster (one of Kate’s editors)

The #KDCCAward will alternate yearly between picture book and middle grade/YA. Submissions will be accepted for this inaugural award from September 1 to October 31. 

Please consider applying…and please help spread the word.

Thank you.  ️ ️ ️

#KDCCAward20
#katedopirakaward
katedopirakaward.com

by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at SalinaYoon.com.

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Rosanne L. Kurstedt

I could not be more excited to celebrate my brand-new picture book KARATE KID on Tara’s blog. We all know she loves a good celebration.

KARATE KID introduces readers to karate in a fun and engaging way with an emphasis on how karate can increase confidence. The simple, measured, and meditative text is complemented by playful yet instructive illustrations by Mark Chambers.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few months about launching a book in the age of social media…and about myself. So, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my experience.

My good friend Eva Natiello and I discuss writing and book promotion often. She is a self-published, New York Times best-selling author, so she knows a thing or two about reviews, pre-sales, and also finding angles to market a project.

Beginning in January, she started asking me what my thoughts were for promoting KARATE KID. I said I was going to reach out to some local bookstores, schools, and probably do a blog tour. She asked, “but what are you doing before the book comes out—on social media?” I said I hadn’t thought about it much yet. She then told me about an idea she had—find some karate students who are willing to dress up as Karate Kid and film them doing some of the techniques featured in the book. Then promote the book by using the videos on social media. I loved the idea. BUT. I dismissed it. I didn’t have the time. Where would I find kids who did Karate, would agree to dress up, and whose parents would be okay with me sharing all the videos?

I was talking to another friend of mine, the award-winning author, Laura Sassi, and she told me about her neighbor, James, who loves karate. Laura said she’d ask James’ mom if she’d let him be the star of the videos. Turns out James and his mom loved the idea. I was still skeptical. How would we dress him up? How would we film? I don’t have time. Laura and Eva persisted.

When Laura confirmed a date with James and his mom to film, I really had no more excuses. This was happening. I needed to get moving. One night, I went to Michaels and AC Moore with another friend. I had no idea how we would dress James to look like Karate Kid so I bought a lot of items. After much trial and error, for the horns we used a head band, model magic, and pipe cleaners. For the hooves, we used old socks cut and re-sewn, and for the arms and legs, we used fuax fur. Finally, we McGyvered a goatee by cutting and taping and reconfiguring a few stick-on mustaches.

While planning for the video Eva and Laura reminded me that I needed specific hashtags. I decided on #KarateConfidence and #KarateKidTheBook. The day of the shoot the weather was beautiful. With just an iPhone, the help of friends, and a patient and talented young Karate student, James, the filming went off without a hitch.

Next, I had to edit the footage with iMovie, which I hadn’t used in years. After a few mis-starts, slowly but surely the clips came together. I asked James to do some additional audio recordings since the audio from the filming wasn’t loud enough. I was able to layer that in seamlessly (well probably not seamlessly).

Two of the videos are below, so you can see (hear) for yourself.

With the videos at the core of the social media campaign, I also searched for goat jokes, karate quotes, and articles to post throughout the weeks leading up to the book birthday. I even made myself a calendar and designed some posts on Canva.

I’m not sure how effective the campaign has been in how many books were sold because of the social media, but I’m really glad I did it. I stepped way out of my comfort zone. (I’m really uncomfortable promoting myself and my work.) I realized I actually enjoy creating videos and images for posts. In addition, connecting with teachers and parents from across the country has been a real highlight. Below are the four main lessons I learned (or was reminded of) from this process:

  • Lesson 1: Ask for help.
  • Lesson 2: Try the uncomfortable.
  • Lesson 3: Make the time. It might be fun.
  • Lesson 4: I have awesome friends.

To celebrate KARATE KID’s birthday and all that I’ve learned, I’m extending the social media campaign with a new focus. Starting today, I’m beginning the #IAmAKarateKid campaign—kids and adults can send in pictures or words describing how they are a Karate Kid—someone with confidence and focus—someone who embodies the discipline and respect which is at the heart of karate.

So, if you are, or know of someone who is a Karate Kid, tweet, post to Instagram, or to my author Facebook page. Remember to use #KarateConfidence and #IAmAKarateKid. One person will receive a signed book and some awesome swag. If the winner is a teacher or a student, I will also do a free SKYPE visit. Kiya!!!


Rosanne L. Kurstedt, Ph.D. has been an educator for over 20 years. She’s been an elementary school teacher, staff developer, administrator, adjunct professor, literacy coach, curriculum writer, and most importantly an advocate for children and teachers. She is a co-author of Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000) and author of the 100+ Growth Mindset Comments series (Newmark Learning, 2019) for grades K-6. She is currently the Associate Director of READ East Harlem/Hunter College and is so excited about the launch of her new picture book KARATE KID (Running Press Kids)—on sale September 3, 2019.

Finally, she is the founder and president of The Author Experience, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to the transformative power of sharing stories. In collaboration with students, families and educators, The Author Experience provides sustainable experiences that build a culture of literacy—one that elevates connections and delivers lasting impact. Please check us out at http://www.theauthorexperience.org and become a part of the story!

Rosanne can be found on Twitter and Instagram @rlkurstedt and on Facebook @rlkurstedtauthor.

Today we have debuts up the wazoo! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

When Dawn Babb Prochovnic contacted me about debuting her new book trailer, I was intrigued because she collaborated with Annie Lynn, a songstress I knew from Twitter. (Which means today not only is there a trailer debut, but a musical debut as well. Yes, we are dropping music this week just like Taylor Swift!)

Of course, come on my blog! I said. But first, tell me about this awesome collaboration!

Dawn:

There is so much to love about the song that Annie and her team created for the WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? book trailer.

When I first connected with Annie, my thought was that I would send her a copy of the book, and she would read it and magically be inspired to write a song. Instead, she nudged me to write the lyrics for the song before she ever saw the book.

Her feeling was that I knew the heart of the story better than she or others would or could. That nudge opened up a whole new creative channel for me—I’m so proud to have been involved in the making of this song, and I’m so grateful that Annie and her music came into my life. I sincerely feel like the song is an extension of the book, versus just a fun extra.

That said, the song is a work of art in its own right that could stand alone without the book’s scaffolding. It’s so kid-friendly and ridiculously catchy. I find myself humming it ALL THE TIME. Good thing I love it!

Well then, let’s hear it!

Annie, how did you get into writing songs for kidlit?

I was lead to kidlit the way I was lead to kindie music (kids + indie musician = kindie). By accident….OR WAS IT????

Sometimes life gives you signs, and if you pay attention, and put the pieces together there is often an exciting path open to you. I went from recording kids music with my son and the students I was working with at an elementary school, to kidlit, as a result of reading with kids.

My first kidlit song was 2 years ago. I gifted OLGA AND THE SMELLY THING FROM NOWHERE by Elise Gravel to my kid neighbor. We read it together out loud and I felt strongly that the words needed music (yes, I do that constantly, lol). I took 97% of her words, added music, made a demo, and ended up asking Elise for permission to share with the world and she said yes. She said she loved it and I could use it as I like. But that’s when I found out that songs are most valuable before the book comes out, especially for book trailers and value-added content for the book. Lesson learned. Completely different model from radio!

My next kidlit song was for Author Patrick Adams. He has this fun kidlit travel series LISA GOES TO… with this stuffed toy bear, Lisa, who can do amazing tricks and is guardian to 3 kids.

That brings me to our latest collaboration, with author Dawn Babb Prochovnic.

We were connected by mutual friends…one knew an author who wanted to write a song with a musician for a book trailer for her upcoming book, the other knew a children’s songwriter. See? THAT is the synchronicity I was just talking about.

However, that songwriter was tied up recording her next album, but had a friend who had been working a few years in kidlit, writing songs. We were introduced in a lovely email, and then began chatting on the phone about concepts and instruments. It quickly became apparent that I had been SENT one of the most lovely and kind people I had ever met. And she likes to talk and joke as much as I do, so we had some memorable, very funny conversations.

I lucked out with Dawn in that I gained a professional Author mentor, as well as learning about word pacing in picture books.  I was used to being Free Range Annie, writing about whatever I wanted to, whenever the Muse visited. If you listen to the back and forth exchange between the Captain and his crew in the book trailer song for WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? there’s a rhythm pattern that would not have occurred to me until Dawn wrote it out on paper. I kept thinking “Wow…she’s good. I just learned something new and useful.”  I also gained a friend and mutual supporter for life.

I also appreciate Dawn’s enthusiasm and vision for music in kidlit, and she has wonderful educational ideas that send my creativity into overdrive. She revealed that she recognizes the power music has to pull all the different pieces together in putting out a kidlit book trailer. And I can’t wait to hear kids singing this song to her on School Author Visits. She can now send it ahead of time, to any school she is visiting. They can learn it and sing along with the video. Kids will love singing her song to her. I always love how excited kids get when they sing my songs for me. And they can see me beaming, which makes them feel good too. Get ready to beam, Dawn!

I also need to mention that this song taught me not to take myself so seriously….I was writing an environmental doomsday song for an enviro group when she called. I needed a little break from heavy subject matter, and a song about a Pirate needing to find a potty quickly sure did the trick. My son is the Captain in the song and my husband Walt and I are the crew. Chris Arms plays guitar & mixed. We laughed so much recording this song. We tried to vocally make seal and dolphin sounds, til we realized we needed to sample the real thing. Listening to samples of seals and dolphins for an hour will make you laugh your butts off! And from downstairs, it sounded like seals were in my studio. I wrote to Dawn in tears after that….the really happy kind.  She brought us a memory that we will always cherish. And it got Alex off the darn PS4! He hasn’t been able to record with me since his voice changed. He’s really happy and proud of his performance; we are too.

Thank you, Dawn and Annie Lynn, for sharing your experience collaborating on kindie/kidlit music! I have a feeling Annie Lynn is about to be inundated with musical requests!

But first, a couple of giveaways!

From Dawn, you can win either a copy of WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? or a picture book critique! Your choice!

From Annie Lynn, you can win a music CD: SONGS FOR SCHOOLS!

Just leave a comment below to enter. Random winners will be selected in September!

Good luck!

Follow these creative ladies on Twitter: @DawnProchovnic & @AnnieLynn215 

In one month, The Carle Museum of Picture Book art will hold its annual Carle Honors, awarding four people/entities who have made significant contributions to the art form.

Also that evening, September 26th, final bids will be accepted on original artwork by picture book masters. Today, The Carle Honors are pleased to announce the artists whose work will be auctioned this year.

The auction will go live on Friday, August 30th and you can register to bid here.

For the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to ask the Carle Honorees a question about picture books. My question this year is…

“Picture books exude a certain kind of magic. How would you describe that magic?”

Melissa Sweet
2019 Carle Honors Artist

In a picture book, the magic begins as a swift and surprising connection to the art and design of a book, and later the words.

Often I dissect a book from cover to flaps to endpapers and everything in between, in order to figure out the decisions that make it compelling.

But in thinking about magic, I also think of magicians. One thing that makes a magic trick awe-inspiring is the set-up, which takes practice, timing and repetition, and drawing in the audience.

Then a myriad of decisions so that every word, every movement, points to witnessing something extraordinary.

Creating a picture book also requires minute decisions by a cast of dozens. The words, images, and design come together to create something wholly new.

Often there’s a moment when a book seems to have a mind of its own.  And when the final book feels effortless and like something we’ve never seen before, it seems…like magic.

 

REFORMA
The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking
represented by Kenny Garcia, President
2019 Carle Honors Angel

‘Picture books allow readers to imagine a world or a future that the reader exists in and thrives. It opens up new possibilities, words, and worlds full of love, hope, expressions, and emotions that affirms the reader’s life. This magical spark empowers children to imagine and create a better world for themselves and their communities. Multicultural picture books can be such a transformative experience for all of us, but for children of color, the ability to see and read picture books by illustrators of color can nurture the idea that they can also have a future career in writing and illustrating books, and continue the magic for future generations.

 

Chihiro Art Museum 
represented by Takeshi Matsumoto
2019 Carle Honors Bridge

statement by Yuko Takesako          
Executive Director of the Chihiro Iwasaki Memorial Foundation
Chief Curator of the Chihiro Art Museum (Tokyo & Azumino)

When children open the cover of a children’s book, a special kind of magic bubbles up. It gives a glimpse of a world yet unseen, enables the reader to experience something never done before, or brings back a memory of an event long forgotten.

The magic of picture books especially has a great impact on children of different nationalities or languages, or on babies who still cannot read, or at times on children who are not so adept at communicating with others. The visual magic cast on a young child once he or she opens a picture book is so powerful that memories of the book may suddenly come alive when the book is placed firmly in their hands—once again after a forgotten period of 10, 30, or even 50 years.

In this fashion, the yearning, understanding, and sympathy found through experiencing a different world helps to create another sort of magic which is respect and love for people of different cultures and the world they live in.

Such is the magic that exudes from picture books—something all too precious and special.

 

David Saylor
VP, Creative Director, Trade Publishing

Publisher, Graphix
Scholastic Inc.
2019 Carle Honors Mentor

What I love most about picture books is how the words and artwork blend to create an enhanced and perfect entity: the book itself. Their heightened interaction is the alchemy that every picture book hopes to achieve, that moment where words spark a thought and the pictures expand the narrative spaces between and around the words and sentences. For that reason, my favorite picture books are fully alive with emotion and artistry.

I’ve often wondered why picture books that were read to me as a child have stayed so vivid in my memory. I don’t think it’s simply that my young mind was eager to discover the wider world. I think it may also be that hearing my mother and father read aloud to me was my first experience of artistic communication. Those moments—the warmth of a lap, the sounds of words, the lively pictures on the page—brought to life a moment where a writer and an artist spoke directly to me, to my innermost self. I felt suddenly more alive, more aware, more full of life than I had felt just a moment before.

There’s a beautiful scene in the play Wit, by Margaret Edson. The main character is Dr. Vivian Bearing, an English professor, dying from ovarian cancer.  Her mentor, an older professor, visits and tries to comfort her by reading aloud. Then her mentor does something extraordinary: she lays next to her in bed and reads a picture book that she had intended for her grandson. The books is Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny, and it’s one of the most beautiful and touching moments I’ve seen in any play. In her final moments of life, when Dr. Bearing’s ebbing life has been paired down to the elemental, only a picture book could express the right feeling with such simplicity and depth.

Thank you, Honorees, and congratulations!

Blog readers, I hope you’ll visit the Carle Honors Auction, attend the Honors gala, or donate to The Carle Museum for all they do to celebrate picture books. Just visit carlemuseum.org.

You can celebrate, too, if you’re the winner of Eric Carle’s THE ARTIST WHO PAINTED A BLUE HORSE. Simply share this blog post and comment that you’ve done so…and you’ll be entered into the random drawing to win a copy. A winner will be selected next week.

Good luck!

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.

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COMING SOON:


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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