You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Author Interview’ category.

by Wendi Silvano & Lee Harper

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

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

Wendi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendi:

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

Lee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR BEST ADVICE:

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

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

Thank you, Wendi and Lee!

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

To enter the giveaways, comment once below.

Random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


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

Follow her on Twitter: @WendiSilvano and Facebook.


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

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

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

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

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

You can visit him online at Leeharperart.com.

Today we’re revealing the cover of Jocelyn Rish’s debut BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester.

Did you know manatees swim using farts? Or that herrings communicate by passing gas?

Butts are used for breathing, eating, swimming, talking, and even killing in the animal kingdom. Focusing on ten different animals and their derrières, and offering fun facts about their origin, habitat, and “posterior power,” this hilarious book captures the wonder of our ecosystem. Which animal has the coolest butt power? That’s up to you to decide!

Jocelyn, what inspired you to write about animal butts?

I was doom-scrolling Twitter very, very late one night, which is a bad habit I indulge in way too often, but this time it was a good thing! I ran across a tweet with this meme, which says manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting.

I giggled and thought that can’t possibly true. So I Googled it. And it is true! And as a delightful bonus of my search, Google told me about other animals that do weird things with their butts. I don’t think I slept that night as I went down a research rabbit hole of bizarre booties.

I tutor elementary school students who struggle with reading through a program called Reading Partners, so I’ve always wanted to write a book that would appeal to reluctant readers. After hours of reading about these fantastic fannies, I knew this was IT!

Did I ever imaging my debut would be about animal butts, farts, and poop? No.

Am I over-the-moon excited about it? Heck yeah!

And I hope even reluctant readers will be unable to resist a book with animal butts on the cover. Check out these delightful derrières!

What were your thoughts when you first saw the cover?

First of all, I have to say that David is both clever and hilarious (and of course super talented). I can’t wait for y’all to see all the little funny moments in the illustrations.

Anyway, my editor (Allison Cohen) sent me his sketches of several potential versions of the cover. They were all great—one was even set on a stage like the animals were competing, which is how I first envisioned the butt battle—but we all agreed the trophy version was the winner. I just loved the concept of the title on the trophy with our names on the stand—too perfect!

Once I saw the final version, not going to lie, I cried. I never imagined that a cover featuring animal rear ends would be so pretty! The bright colors. The way the greens and blues blend together (half the animals live on land, the other half in the water). The whole thing makes my eyes and my heart happy.

And I’ve never asked David if this is on purpose or if it’s my posterior preoccupation reading too much into things, but the trophy has butts on it! The top of both handles, the bottom of the cup, and the bottom of the stand have light reflections that are butt silhouettes. And even the handles themselves are booty shaped! Or maybe I’m taking this tushie theme too far.

Regardless, I’m thrilled our cover is now out in the world, and I can’t wait for kids to start reading the book!

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS will release from Running Press Kids on September 28, 2021. Pre-order a copy online today or through your local independent bookstore.

Jocelyn will give away one copy of BATTLE OF THE BUTTS to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in September 2021!

Leave on comment to enter.

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

Good luck!


Jocelyn Rish is a writer and filmmaker who never imagined her cheeky sense of humor would lead to a book about animal butts. When she’s not researching fanny facts, she tutors kids to help them discover the magic of reading. Jocelyn has won numerous awards for her short stories, screenplays, short films, and novels and lives in South Carolina with her booty-ful dogs. Visit her website jocelynrish.com.

 

 


David Creighton-Pester is an illustrator and designer from Hamilton, New Zealand. Inspired as a child by picture books, animation, and all things arty, he spent endless hours drawing crazy characters and coming up with silly stories. And still does now! David is also the owner of Scorch Design, a graphic design company he started in 2009. You can see more of his illustration work at davidcp.com.

 

It’s the age-old question: what’s for dinner? Pizza? Or Tacos?

Tough decision! Pizza could have anything ON it, but then a taco could have anything IN it. Limitless possibilities! So who’s the best?

Luckily, author-illustrator Stephen Shaskan has settled the debate with his newly released chapter book:

This is the first in a delicious new illustrated series!

I like to interview folks about their books, and luckily, both Pizza and Taco were available to take a seat, and they didn’t even leave melted cheese on my couch! Not a chunk of cheddar or a morsel of mozzarella! What polite guests.

What? Don’t you like tunafish sandwiches?

Guys, come back!!! I’ve got pickles, too!

OH WELL.

Maybe you want to figure out who’s best. (Do so quickly, because you don’t want to be late for their BEST PARTY EVER in the Spring!)

Stephen is giving away a signed copy of PIZZA AND TACO: WHO’S THE BEST? to a lucky winner.

Just leave one comment below to enter.

Winner will be randomly selected in July.

(Sorry, actual pizza and taco not included. They don’t travel well.)

 

If you don’t know VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, expect her to ring your doorbell this Halloween. Thousands of youngsters now tune into her tippy-toe Translyvania-to-Pennsylvania travels on Disney Junior. VAMPIRINA also traveled from picture books to TV, or rather from the creative mind of author Anne Marie Pace (and illustrator LeUyen Pham) to animation stardom.

With so many new players in entertainment—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon—film and television producers are increasingly seeking out proven characters and storylines from published books. In recent years we have seen BOSS BABY commute from Marla Frazee’s picture book to the big screen, plus Judith Viorst’s Alexander endured his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in live-action turmoil.

With the release of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW, the newest picture book in the Vampirina Ballerina series, I wanted to talk to Anne Marie about her writing and Vampirina on TV…plus celebrate all her success.

      

Anne Marie, congratulations on your newest VAMPIRINA book!

When you wrote the first VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, was it a standalone story, or did you have a picture book series in mind?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry, as far as I knew at the time, suggested writing one standalone, and if the publishers wanted more, they’d ask.  So I definitely saw it as a one-off. I’m glad that kids have responded well to it so that I can come back to Vampirina’s world again and again.  These days, I do think middle-grade and young-adult series are sometimes envisioned and sold as series, but that would be unusual for picture books.

When did Disney*Hyperion ask you to expand VAMPIRINA into a series? Was it when you first submitted, during production of the first book, or after it proved to be a popular seller?

When I saw this question, I couldn’t remember, so I did a quick search through old emails, and it seems it was about ten months before the first book came out, so that means during the production of the first book! I didn’t remember that! I would have guessed right around the time the first book came out, but I would have been wrong.

What about VAMPIRINA makes her a good subject for a series?

In many ways, Vampirina is like every other child: she wants to try new activities, be successful, have friends. All of those aspects of her character help kid readers relate to her as a peer. But the vampire element obviously makes her stand out from the crowd. She’s realistic and fantastic, all rolled into one.

Vampirina must be very relatable, since she went from book, to series, to TV. Can you tell us how that happened?

It was a long process, and I don’t know all the details. I can tell you what I assume and what I actually know. I have always assumed that because Disney*Hyperion is part of the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Company they send all their new books to the TV/film folks as a matter of course. Someone at Disney Junior must have thought it had series potential. What I know is that Disney Junior bought an option for the series fairly early on. That option was renewed several times while they considered development. At some point, they decided to acquire the TV rights. Even then, it wasn’t positive that it would be a series. So we waited longer until we knew the series was a go. The entire process, from the first time my agent called with the news of the option until the show premiered, was about four years.

Four years! Sounds like the picture book process.

Some PB writers may assume you write for the TV show. Do you? 

No, I actually have nothing to do with writing the series. The Disney Junior folks do their thing for the show, and LeUyen Pham and I do our thing for our books. And that’s just fine—I don’t know how to write for television and I’m busy writing new books, both Vampirina and otherwise. Most of what I know about the series I find out on Twitter!

What has been the most surprising thing about Vampirina on TV?

Since I didn’t really know much about how TV works, I was surprised that it went worldwide right away and that there was merchandise right away. I had assumed that the show would have to do well first in the US, and then it might be translated and that there might be merchandise. I had no idea it would all happen at the same time.

Has the TV show increased your VAMPIRINA book sales?

What a great question, but I don’t really have an answer for you! From my vantage point, it seems that the books bring viewers to the TV show and the TV show brings readers to the book series.

Often you see licensed early readers based on TV shows. Are there any for Vampirina and have you been tapped to write them?

There are quite a few licensed 8x8s and early readers, but no, I don’t write them. I believe some are written by the show’s writers because they are based on particular episodes. I know at least one is by Chelsea Beyl, who will be a co-executive producer of Season 3.

Wow, Season 3 already!

Have you spotted Vampirina in the wild? What are you going to do if kids dressed as Vampirina come to your door on Halloween?

Well, there are thousands of photographs on Instagram of adorable kids wearing Vee costumes or having a Vampirina party or singing into their Vee microphones, but I haven’t personally encountered a Vee in real life yet. If someone comes to my door on Halloween, I’ll probably just smile to myself. It’s a big leap to explain to the younger kids what it means to have written the Vampirina Ballerina book when TV Vampirina looks quite different.

Women in children’s publishing are finally opening up about how male authors & illustrators are given more attention and accolades. I think the fact that you have a book series and TV show should have received more coverage. Do you feel similarly?

I have been both fascinated and concerned by the revelations and discussions that began publicly last spring with #kidlitwomen and that have continued to take place through the Kidlitwomen podcasts that Grace Lin has been facilitating. I’d urge anyone reading this interview who isn’t familiar with the podcast to check out the excellent content that Grace has been putting out with authors like Kate Messner, Tracey Baptiste, and Shannon Hale, who speak and write so eloquently about the issues. These conversations are much needed, not just in the publishing industry, but in our culture and our world overall, and I’m glad to see people opening up about their experiences.

But as important as those conversations are, I have to tell you that I could not begin to answer your question specifically in regards to my books and career. In our industry, there aren’t clear consistent guidelines for advances, for publicity dollars, for all the ways that books and authors get attention. If I’m working in a factory, and I produce 2734 doodads a day, and the man next to me produces 2734 doodads a day, and my doodads are identical and of equal quality to his doodads, it seems obvious that we should earn the same amount of money per doodad. But books are judged subjectively at every step of the journey, from acquisition to publicity to critical response; that judgment involves literally dozens of variables; and creators are generally not part of that conversation. The discussion about whether or not the creator’s gender affects that response absolutely needs to happen, but on a broader level than I am able to do.

Of course, when it all comes down to it, when I sit down to write a new Vampirina or revise the middle-grade novel I’ve been working on for sixteen+ years, it’s all about the work. I love that Vampirina is a brave and determined little vampire girl; I love that the protagonist in my MG historical fiction learns to speak up for herself and make waves the best way she knows how, given her time and place in history. I think I write them differently in 2018 than I would have in 1998 because I’m a stronger, more informed woman.

I think Grace Lin should ask you to speak on the Kidlitwomen podcast.

So do you feel like you know what it takes to write a book that gets picked up for other entertainment markets? What have your learned from this whole VAMPIRINA process?

Honestly, I don’t. Most books that are picked up for TV have a unique protagonist, like Arthur, Vampirina, Fancy Nancy, or Clifford. But beyond that, I have no idea why one character is picked up and another isn’t.  To me, it feels more like a lightning strike than anything I made happen and I don’t mean to sound disingenuous when I say that  It’s just that in publishing, the work is all you have control over. If you do good work consistently, sometimes good things happen. But other times, nothing happens at all. Don’t we all have manuscripts that we know are well-written and fun and child-friendly—but they simply don’t sell? I have a stack of them. The three manuscripts I believe to be the absolute best things I’ve written have never sold. I have heard authors who complain when others attribute someone’s success to luck. I understand where those authors are coming from, because they’ve done the work and they want credit for doing the work. But I can’t answer your question without recognizing the role that luck played in this whole scenario. Why Vampirina? Why now? I simply don’t have an answer for that. You can substitute the word “timing” for “luck” if you prefer—but either way, there were a lot of factors at play, and I controlled only one of them.

Anne Marie, thank you for answering these questions so thoroughly and honestly. I wish you continued success with all things Vampirina!

Happy VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW release day!

Disney*Hyperion is giving away a copy of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW.

Leave one comment below to enter the giveaway (US postal addresses only, please).

A winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

In the meantime, you can learn more about Anne Marie Pace and her books at AnneMariePace.com.

 

Today IF MY LOVE WERE A FIRE TRUCK illustrator Jeff Mack takes us on a whirlwind ride through his creation process.

Jeff, when you first read a manuscript, how do you begin generating the style and vision of what the art will look like?

I start by making some really rough scribbles on the paper. I don’t think too hard about it. I just sketch whatever first comes to my mind. The sketches suggest the general shapes of the things in the picture because, at that point, I have only a vague idea of what the picture might look like. Some of the scribbly marks may serendipitously give me ideas for details that I didn’t think of at first. So I stay open to those possibilities as I redraw the picture over and over. Then I start adding a range of values in black and white.

For FIRE TRUCK, I used a combination of watercolor, cut paper, and digital to get the style I wanted. So my next step was to create the characters in watercolor and cut paper. Then using my computer, I added the background colors. On some of the pages, such as the lion image, the cut paper really stands out. On other pages, like the dragon image, I used the computer to blur the edges a bit.

FIRE TRUCK went through many versions in the sketch stage. For instance, I considered animating each of the vehicles that the characters rode on. I also created a version that included lots of different fathers with both sons and daughters. But, in the end, I decided that one father and one son was the best way to lead the reader through the story.

For IF MY LOVE WERE A FIRE TRUCK, you insert surprising moments of humor, such as the scene where the small dragon’s fire enables the young boy to toast his marshmallow. How do you arrive at funny additions like this?

One of the things that drew me to the story was how Luke Reynolds’ text leaves plenty of room for visual interpretation. In the best picture books, where the text and images support each other, leaving this kind of space for the illustrations this is the mark of a highly skilled and clever author. Overall, FIRE TRUCK has a perfect little story arc. At the same time, each of Luke’s rhymes suggests a story of its own. So when I was thinking about each image, I wondered what else could be going on in the scene. What details could I add to make the scene spin off into its own story? What will give the readers something extra fun to talk about? On the dragon page, it’s the marshmallows. On the elephant page, the monkey has swiped the dad’s watch and hat. On the whale page, they’ve hooked a giant blue whale from their tiny fishing boat.

How do you decide what projects to work on, and how long does it take for you to craft the art for an entire book?

I take on few stories by other authors because most of the time I’m working on projects I have written myself. So I have to really love a story to illustrate it. When I’m considering a manuscript, I ask myself “What job does this story do?” or “What important thing will this book add to a young reader’s life?” I ask the same questions of my own stories.

Here’s what I wrote to my editor at Doubleday, Frances Gilbert, about the FIRE TRUCK manuscript:

“Have I mentioned how much I love this book? When I took on the project, it was Luke’s clever, lyrical, emotionally rich poetry that sold me on it. I love that this is about fathers and sons expressing their feelings for each other. Too many guys grow up in our culture with pressure to be tough and to hide their emotions. Luke’s story encourages them to communicate their feelings starting at an early age. He’s given kids and parents something they can really share and connect over. And the wild range of vehicles and animals make it so much fun! I imagine some parents will get a little teary over the ending too.”

It takes me about a month to make the dummy. That’s the process of drawing and redrawing and re-redrawing the sketches. The finished color pictures usually take me between two to three months depending on the style and the amount of detail.

What do you hope readers remember from your artwork in FIRE TRUCK?

When I was young, there were often odd little details that stuck with me about certain illustrations. For example, I loved the way H. A. Rey drew donuts in one of the Curious George books. Do I know why I became fixated on his donuts? I do nut. But I do know that I tried to draw donuts the same way. It got me practicing and working on my own drawing skills. So I guess I hope readers notice and remember some of the little details in the illustrations and that those might inspire them to make their own drawings. By the way, my three favorite images in FIRE TRUCK are the rocket page, the parade page, and the dragon page. But I’m sure readers will have their own favorites different from mine.

What’s your favorite snack while you work?

Coffee, Mint Chocolate Brownie Cliff Bars, more coffee, Skinny Pop popcorn, and then a lot more coffee.

Thanks for the fascinating inside look at your illustration process, Jeff! 

Blog readers, leave one comment below for a chance to win an original sketch by Jeff Mack.

I’m overdue selecting winners for many giveaways, so I will announce them all next MONDAY, just in time to give as holiday gifts!

Jeff Mack studied art at SUNY Oswego, Syracuse University, and Scuola Lorenzo De Medici in Florence, Italy.

In 2000, he moved to NYC to try to sell his stories to publishing companies. He didn’t have much luck at first. After a few more years of practice and persistence, he became a published author in 2008. 

Since then, he’s written and illustrated a long list of picture books, chapter books, and early readers. And his book GOOD NEWS BAD NEWS, which has only four words in it, has been published in twelve different languages!

Learn more about Jeff at JeffMack.com.

Photo credit: Richard Trenner

Margery Cuyler, editor extraordinaire, was the featured professional at a NJ-SCBWI first page session nine years ago. That evening I listened to everything this sharp kidlit veteran had to say and left with a notebook full of invaluable tips. Her comments about my writing gave me the confidence to keep working toward my dream of becoming published.

Although she no longer edits books, Margery Cuyler has continued to write them—and this fall she’s releasing three new titles, including her 50th, the humorous monster tale BONAPARTE FALLS APART, illustrated by Will Terry.

     

I was eager to talk to Margery about her career because she has ridden all the ups and downs and twists and turns of the children’s book market…and come out with her name ABOVE the title.

Margery, you have been successful in this business for more than forty years as an author and editor. What is different in children’s publishing now that you are launching your 50th book as opposed to when you were releasing your first book?

When I applied for my first publishing job in 1970, publishing was mainly a cottage industry; children’s books depended largely on library sales. Most publishers, for example Charles Scribner’s Sons and Harper & Row, focused on acquiring excellent books, not necessarily books that would elicit strong sales. The editors, such as Ursula Nordstrom at Harper, had a powerful voice in deciding what should be acquired, not necessarily consulting with the sales/marketing divisions.

All that changed when independent houses were sold to publicly traded corporations whose eye was mainly on sales growth. In addition, the chains—Borders and Barnes & Noble—became a significant vehicle for selling books as library funding contracted due to governmental budget cuts. Sales and marketing became increasingly involved in editorial decisions, thinking about the consumer as well as the librarian as their end customer.

Today, of course, publishers are selling books through many venues, maximizing exposure through online marketing. In addition, authors are expected to do more of their own marketing, utilizing social media as a tool by which to communicate. It’s really a whole different ballgame, although I firmly believe that editorial, design, marketing, and sales teams continue to work toward publishing excellent books, but excellent books that will sell. That’s the difference between now and 47 years ago.

I have heard recently that the market is saturated with picture books…but with good reason. What makes them more relevant than ever? What makes them the bright spot in publishing today?

I hear the same thing—that the picture-book market is robust. I think it’s for several reasons: parents/grandparents seem to prefer to introduce their children to literature by offering them books that allow for a cozy, intimate reading experience. In addition, a finely produced picture book might be a child’s only exposure to high culture. Stunning artwork, a well-written text, and high quality paper and packaging could contribute to a child’s ability later to discriminate between good quality and poor quality books. I guess I sound like an elitist, which isn’t quite accurate because truthfully I’m happy if kids are exposed to any kind of book rather than no books at all. Still, I am partial to picture books that are works of art. I firmly believe they help build the interior architecture of a child and I think many adult buyers and librarians know this.

Finally, publishers have their eye on China, as China has woken up to the importance of picture books and has been active in acquiring the rights to English-language books to translate and sell in the Chinese marketplace. And last, a beautiful picture book is the perfect antidote to the hatred and tension in the larger world. Picture books are a great escape, and I’ve noticed that recently more have been published on the themes of kindness and peace.

What theme most often recurs in your work and why do you keep coming back to it?

biggestbestsnowmanI tend to write about friendship, perhaps because I remember how important my friends were when I was a child. I think all children value good friends, but as with adults, friendships can be challenged when trust is violated or circumstances, such as a friend moving to another community, destroys the relationship. Conflicting loyalties, shyness, lack of confidence are other psychological barriers to forming strong friendships. I strive for psychological verisimilitude and happy endings, which I hope helps give children the courage to overcome obstacles that impinge on their positive feelings about a friend. And then, too, I like to write humorous stories, since I think children—and the adults reading to them—need a pleasant way to escape some of the raw realities surrounding them in the larger world.

skeletonhiccupsOften my humorous stories (i.e., SKELETON HICCUPS or BONAPARTE FALLS APART) are populated with ghosts, monsters, skeletons, etc., perhaps because I grew up in a house that was built in 1685 and was allegedly haunted. I came from a family of storytellers and artists who loved to make the most of scary characters when we played, and some of those characters have popped up in my books.

Next time you will have to come back and tell us all about that haunted house!

But for now, let’s give away a copy of the punny BONAPARTE FALLS APART, which is now available from Random House/Crown.

bonaparteint

This is the tale of friends who try to help BONAPARTE from falling apart, leading up to the first day of school. It combines Margery’s love of friendship stories with her monstrous sensibilities.

Leave one comment below to enter (US only)...and a winner will be randomly selected before the end of the month! Good luck!

Margery Cuyler has had a distinguished career in the children’s book field. In addition to being the author of 50 children’s books, including the newly released Bonaparte Falls Apart, The Little Fire Truck, and Best Friends (a Step Into Reading title), she has held executive positions at Holiday House, Henry Holt and Company, Golden Books Family Entertainment, Marshall Cavendish, and Amazon Publishing. Although she retired from full time work in 2014, she continues to write and also consults for a variety of companies, including digital llc and PJ Library, a division of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Visit her online at MargeryCuyler.com.

by Tammi Sauer

When writing picture books, I like to challenge myself to try new things. With TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE!, for example, I wanted to tell a real deal story for the younger crowd that incorporated a wide variety of trucks and as few words as possible. I also loved the idea of framing a story using the familiar kids’ game “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

Three things in particular helped me to create this 45-word story about a silly goose who, unbeknownst to him, creates—then fixes!—a terrific truck traffic jam. Those three things were mentor texts, art notes, and flexibility.

  • Mentor Texts:

I studied the books RAIN! and NO DOGS ALLOWED! by Linda Ashman. Linda is a master at creating books with limited text. She even shared the manuscripts for these books on her website, lindaashman.com.

One thing I learned from Linda’s examples was that it was helpful to paginate my limited-text story. Not only did paginating my story allow me to better visualize each spread, but it pushed me to establish the necessary pacing of the story and provide compelling page turns as well.

  • Art Notes:

In TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE!, the pictures convey the bulk of the storytelling. Many spreads contain only one word. Three spreads are wordless. But here’s the thing. Each spread in this 40-page book is necessary for the story to build to a climax and an eventual resolution. This means Zoe Waring, the oh-so-awesome illustrator, had to present a truckload of information in her art.

Typically, I only include a few art notes in my manuscripts. This was not the case withTRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! In my notes, I had to share what was not readily obvious in the text…which was A LOT.

These are the original opening spreads for TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! (The art notes are presented in brackets. The text is presented in boldface type.):

End Pages
[A roundabout is filled with bustling traffic. Its central island is a lovely area.]

Title Page
[Goose is packing a big picnic lunch for himself. A map shows his intended destination is the center of a roundabout. It looks like the perfect spot for a picnic.]

4-5
[At roundabout.]
Truck . . . [pickup truck]

6-7
Truck . . . [dump truck]
Truck . . . [mixing truck]

8-9
GOOSE!
[Goose interrupts the flow of things to get to the center of the roundabout. He’s holding a picnic blanket, umbrella, goose crossing sign, etc. He has so much stuff he can’t carry it all at once.]

  • Flexibility:

After Zoe completed the first couple of rounds of sketches, it was obvious that some things weren’t quite working. Jill Davis, the editor, Rachel Zegar, the art director, Zoe, and I did lots of brainstorming to make this seemingly simple story less complicated.

One suggestion I made, for example, was to set up the story a bit more specifically in the very beginning. Now, before we even see the first truck, we see Goose holding a to-do list.

This is the new text addition:

PICNIC TO-DO LIST:

Choose picnic spot.

Pack a big lunch.

Take everything I need.

Not only does this addition clearly let us know what Goose’s goal is from the start, but we know a little bit about his personality right away, too. He’s a guy who tends to go a little overboard. The art shows that he packs everything from bananas to a swim floatie to a giant red piano for his picnic that takes place just a few feet from his house.

TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! sold in a two-book deal to HarperCollins. Goose and company return for more mayhem next summer in the companion book, GO FISH!

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

Tammi is giving away a copy of TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE! to one lucky duck commenter.

Leave a comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected in about two weeks.

Good duck! (Err, LUCK!)

by Ross MacDonald

Over the years I’ve been approached by illustration and design students who share an internal struggle: that they have other interests—cosplay, metalwork, bookbinding, writing, prop replication, embroidery, cobbling shoes (I kid)—and they feel the need (often encouraged by their instructors) to set aside these other “hobbies” to focus on their illustration and design skills. As if these things that they love are somehow an impediment, that they need to kill them off or they’ll never get better at the “real” discipline.

I do believe that staying on task and zeroing in on the work at hand is an important skill—maybe the most important one. As an illustrator, I always say “Illustration is easy, you just need to stare at a blank sheet of paper till the blood runs out of your ears.” In other words, don’t get up from your drawing board until you’ve finished the job, even if every fiber of your being is imploring you to leap up and see what’s in the fridge.

But speaking as someone who has always done a jillion different things, I’m a firm believer in doing all the things you love. No matter how seemingly unrelated they are, these passions can cross-pollinate. I see it happen all the time! Working hard at one thing doesn’t take away from other things, it adds to them.

Whatever it is that I’m working on, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from other interests, and getting ideas that I can use in other projects. I have one of those multi-hyphenate careers: I’m a graphic designer/illustrator/author/movie prop designer and fabricator/letterpress printer. I might be researching for a period movie prop job, and get a great idea for an illustration. Or doing an illustration might inspire some poster project, or a written humor piece. I don’t know if I could do just one thing at this point—I worry that I’d run out of ideas.

7ate9coverA good example of this cross-pollination is 7 ATE 9—a picture book written by Tara Lazar that I was lucky enough to illustrate. It’s a hilarious story of a private ‘I’ who is baffled by the age-old mystery of why 6 is afraid of 7 (spoiler alert—it’s because 7 ate 9!!!). When I was reading Tara’s manuscript, a vision popped into my head of 19th century wood type letters and numbers coming alive and sprouting little arms and legs and fedoras and bow ties. Luckily I have a letterpress shop full of 19th century wood type, so I was able to play around with the idea. And whaddaya know—it was just crazy enough to work!

5678

img_7477

32-copy


rossmacdonaldRoss MacDonald’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, and he is a contributing artist for Vanity Fair. He has written and illustrated several children’s and adult humor books.

His work was the subject of a one man retrospective at the New York Times, and has been honored by American Illustration, 3×3, Print, Communication Arts, the Society of Publication Designers, the AIGA, and the Society of Illustrators, from which he received a gold medal for book illustration in 2011.

He has also worked on many movies and television shows as an illustrator, prop designer and consultant on period design, printing, paper and documents. His work can be seen on 5 seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, on the Cinemax series The Knick, and in the Tarantino movie Hateful Eight.

Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats and a large collection of 19th century type and printing equipment. View his portfolio online at ross-macdonald.com.

prizedetails

Ross and Tara are giving away a copy of 7 ATE 9 (upon publication in May).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment…

fangirlminions

I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the bookshelf. They took up permanent nightstand residence.

So when Elisa contacted me about hosting her for THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY: A San Francisco Story, I babbled high-pitched incoherent excitement like a Minion. Let me see if I can pull my overalls together to conduct an enlightening interview…

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboy
Elisa, in your new book’s backmatter, you mention that THE GINGERBREAD MAN was one of your favorite tales as a child. What made you want to rewrite it with your city AND a different ending?

When I was a kid, it seemed to me that almost everything had a life of its own. As in a fairy tale world, or in the eyes of Native American peoples, everything from stones to trees… to paper dolls, piñatas and gingerbread people seemed to have feelings and a spirit. And while I wasn’t too sensitive to eat my share of gingerbread people, I always had some qualms when it came to nibbling their smiling heads (I’d start with the feet, which seemed less “alive” and work upwards.)

I remember being simultaneously fascinated and upset by the original tale of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Of course it was exciting to see the cookie-boy come to life and race out into the world with pluck and glee, daring everyone to catch him. But when he finally did get caught, in the jaws of the fox who had promised to take him across the river to safety, I felt his tragic sense of betrayal.

In my version of the story, THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY, the cookie is just as energetic and confident as his forbear, but even more defiant: determined not to get eaten, but also to eat—everything in sight! He starts out with petty thefts: his makers’ school lunch (of which he was meant to be part), fruit and candy, noodles and milkshakes. But as he gets bigger, his fantasies grow more grandiose, and he threatens to chomp on the Golden Gate Bridge, gulp down San Francisco Bay, and even “swallow the sun, like a butterscotch drop.”

When the hungry gingerbread boy finally realizes that his creator, a little girl, would rather play with him than eat him, his anger disappears and he becomes both loved and lovable.

As for the story’s setting, San Francisco is such a beautiful city that on certain days and in certain lights it looks delicious. Of course there are many un-pretty aspects to it: homelessness and poverty, but there is also a wealth of exquisite details, including its famous “Gingerbread” architecture, the whimsically colored and decorated Victorian houses and buildings. And the city is also home to lots of amazing and diverse cuisine, So it was fun to let an imaginary cookie-child loose in the city and watch him eat his fill!

sanfranhousesSpeaking of the San Francisco architecture, when I was visiting the city years ago, I was fascinated to learn that there are “color consultants” who help people choose the hues for their Victorian houses—the shingles, the shutters, the trim—every little swirling detail. Likewise, your new book is a feast for the eyes—so colorful and detailed. How would you describe your unique style—and how did it evolve?

Wow, Tara, I didn’t know that there are color consultants for the Victorian houses! And yes, they are amazing in every confection-like detail.

As for my art style, it grows right out of my childhood—or, more accurately—I never outgrew my childlike love for bright colors, tiny details, and enchantment. I used to spend hours making miniature dollhouse worlds, gingerbread houses and people, toy merry-go-rounds, and detailed paper characters and settings. When I grew up, this urge did not go away, but evolved into a passion for the magical worlds inside of picture books.

Well, I’m staring at your illustrations in wonder because there are so many teeny-tiny details. How do you plan your illustrations out? What is your medium and method? How long does it take to complete an illustration?

I make a book dummy, with pencil sketches of the illustrations and type pasted in. I often use photo references at this stage, especially if I’m depicting real locations (as opposed to fantasy or dream landscapes, which I pull out of my imagination). Once the publisher approves the sketches, I go on to the finished art. I combine watercolor, ink, collage, pastels and whatever else works to create the finished picture. I create everything in my pictures by hand, gluing, snipping, painting. And while I admire a lot of digital illustration and the technical wonders it can accomplish, I’m pretty tech-averse when it comes to creating my own images. I love the feel and textures of materials in my hands.

It takes me an average of two or three weeks to complete an illustration. Creating the rough sketch is actually the most difficult part, because I’m using a pencil and blank piece of paper to create a new little scene. Once the sketch is finished, it takes a week or two to create the finish.

chinatowngatelchinatown-rough-draftp-14-chinatown

drum-bridge

boy-in-golden-gate-park

hunter-with-ingredients

these-peanuts-will-be-good-copy

The Gingerbread Boy in progress:

sketch-ggbridge

photo-6

hhun_22-23

Thinking about your other books, I think I see a theme in your work. In THE PAPER PRINCESS, a handmade gift blows away but returns to the person it was intended for. In THE APPLE DOLL, a girl makes a friend she cherishes. In SUN BREAD, a warm sun is baked on a cold winter’s day. The Gingerbread Boy comes home to the girl who created him. You write about creative pursuits mixed with thoughts of love at home—and speaking of home, this book is not your only one that features San Francisco. Do you think there is a common thread woven through your books?

thepaperprincess theappledoll sunbread

What a thoughtful and interesting question, Tara. The theme of creativity is definitely woven through all of my stories (as is the theme of flying). As a child I spent many happy hours creating all sorts of things, from paper dolls to decorative breads and bread sculptures, to apple dolls, and yes, gingerbread people and houses. (My mother and grandmother were both accomplished artists, but neither of them made particularly cheerful or colorful art). I suppose I created the art I wanted to see as a child, and the worlds that I wanted to live [and fly around!] in.

As for the theme of homecoming, who doesn’t want to return to a home, experienced or imagined, full of love, warmth and reassurance? Through my characters and stories I’m able to go to places I long for, and that I think many children long for, too. My favorite childhood memories are of playing in a dollhouse I made myself, while my mother worked on her own art in her studio in our backyard. I’m able to access that feeling of creativity and security when I write my stories and create my illustrations.

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been my home since I started college at U.C. Berkeley (with the exception of a year spent in Boston). I never stop being moved by its beauty, both geographical and architectural. Its hills and waters, bridges and buildings, cultural diversity and creative food culture inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that inspiration with others, especially children, through my books.

Thank you, Elisa, for your gorgeous books and for stopping by on THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY blog tour.

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboyElisa’s publisher is giving away a copy of the book—just leave a comment to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only please. You have until December 13 to enter so the winner can get their book in time for the holidays. GOOD LUCK!

 

carlehonors

Tonight the Eric Carle Museum will present four winners of its prestigious Carle Honors. I will be there to capture it all and report back to you, picture book devotees. In the meantime, I asked the honorees to answer one important question about the state of our craft and business:

Six years ago, The New York Times published an article about the demise of the picture book. Fast forward to this past January, and a picture book won the Newbery Medal. Plus, the current market has been heralded as “the golden age of picture books.”

Why have picture books defied the Times’ portent of doom–and why do they continue to remain a strong and important art form? Why are picture books more loved now than ever?

stevenheller“Is there any better medium for bringing together such varied artists and writers and stories and styles? The book has not died after 500 years and the picture book continues to be the most accessible of media. It’s not a fad. It’s not obsolete technology. It is an intimate tactile entity for making ideas come alive. As long as there is paper, what better way to use it?”
~Steven Heller, Bridge Honoree

allensay“A lot of American mothers today have become what the Japanese call “Education Mamas.” They want their offspring to start college at 12 and retire at 30, and book merchants are hell-bent on accommodating them. They have forgotten the Alice who asked for all children: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Thanks to the conversation of Lewis Carroll and pictures by Sir John Tenniel, Alice is very much alive today. Would anybody remember Alice without Sir John?”
~Allen Say, Artist Honoree

jasonlow“The demise of picture books is connected to other mistaken predictions like the death of the print book when e-books came on the scene years ago. There is a general backlash against electronic books because of the amount of time people are spending on their phones, online, and binge-watching TV. People need a break from screen time. Also, the e-book experience, when compared to the tactile experience of a print picture book is not significantly better. The time spent reading an actual book is still a great past time that relies on the power of imagination, and the close relationship of words and pictures.”
~Jason Low, Angel Honoree

reginahayes“I never believed in the demise of the picture book! Picture books will always remain a vibrant art form. They are constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented as new authors and illustrator enter the field. Styles change; a new style surprises and delights, then there are imitators, and eventually something different will turn it all around again. I’ve seen a style dismissed as outdated, then a few years go by and it is fashionable again, maybe even considered classic.

“The rise of e-books have, ironically, made publishers and the public more aware of the importance of the book as a physical object, an object that should be beautiful. I notice more and more care being lavished on paper and binding and innovative jacket treatments.

“I don’t think children should ever be urged to give up picture books when they are ready for chapter books. In my experience, children constantly go back and forth. They return to old favorite picture books even when they reach double digits, perhaps because the books provide a feeling of security, of coming home, perhaps recapturing the warmth and closeness of being read to by a beloved adult. And for that, a real book is essential!”
~Regina Hayes, Mentor Honoree

ericcarlemuseum

.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Honorees, and congratulations on being recognized.

To learn more about the Carle Honors and this year’s Honorees, please visit The Carle Honors website where you can also bid on the charity art auction.

Follow me on Twitter @taralazar, as I will try to live tweet from the event. A recap of the evening will be published here later this week.

 

Like this site? Please order one of my books! It supports me & my work!

Enter your email to receive kidlit news, writing tips, book reviews & giveaways. Wow, such incredible technology! Next up: delivery via drone.

Join 12,923 other followers

My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
January 2, 2022

TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 2022

Blog Topics

Archives

Twitter Updates