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…because they’ll change!

WHAT, TARA?

Let me explain.

For a dozen years, this post on picture book dummies has been one of this site’s most popular articles.

It presents guidance on page breaks and how many a picture book can sustain.

I first learned about the picture book format when an editor told me my 500-word PB was “too long”. I didn’t understand. She then asked me to mark natural page breaks. I took a pen and went swoop, here! Swoop, there! Swoop, swoop, ta-da swoop! Turns out I had 42 gazillion breaks!

She drew the diagrams above on the back of my manuscript and told me that I had to focus on scenes as well as words. That day, everything about my writing changed. I was embarrassed that I had been writing picture books without any idea of how they were formatted.

The point of the dummy article I wrote (the second I got home) is to inform PB writers about format, like I was informed that day. Every genre has a standard length and general format. To sell a story, you need to familiarize yourself with said format. A picture book is different than a magazine short story, a graphic novel and countless other literary forms.

Plugging your PB manuscript into this format does many things for your story, like demonstrating which scenes have too many words, which have too few, which are necessary, and which can be tossed. It’s also a telltale way to determine if you have changed the scene on a regular basis. It’s a PICTURE book, so the same scene on multiple pages can get ho-hum, hum-drum. Pacing a picture book, with page-turn surprises, is key to its readability.

OK, so you know all this.

Well, also know that it all could CHANGE.

Once an editor buys a manuscript for publication, they may have a different vision for certain spreads and page breaks. Don’t be alarmed; they’re typically genius moves.

“Case” in point: in THE UPPER CASE, the 2nd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, I sprinkled punctuation mark characters throughout the story. My editor at the time, Tracey Keevan, suggested we instead get them all onto one spread. AHA! However, I didn’t feature enough punctuation to make that spread visually interesting. So, I added Period, Apostrophe and Comma—even the babies p and q. Then I wrote them all onto a single spread, and Ross MacDonald worked his magic. Voila!

There’s a reason why you need to be cognizant of page breaks—an editor will sense them as they read your manuscript. But there’s also a reason why I don’t recommend submitting a manuscript marked up with them (unless specifically requested)—they may change as the editor edits your story. (Plus those few words interrupt the flow of the story.)

The layout guides above are there to teach the picture book format so eventually you can internalize it. After writing many manuscripts, you’ll be able to create picture books without plugging them into a dummy at all. Those logical scene changes will appear in your story without you even realizing it.

In short—be aware of page breaks, but be flexible, too!

 


The 3rd book in the 7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I series, TIME FLIES, is zooming your way in April 2022!

In the colorful and letter-filled Capital City, there’s never a moment’s rest for Private I, the city’s best investigator. Trouble seems to always have a way of finding him—trouble with a capital T. On this particular day, T tells Private I that his watch is missing. And T isn’t alone—the citizens of Capital City have lost track of timepieces all over town! Can Private I catch the perp and make up for lost time before it’s too late?

Click here to pre-order!

by Sharon Giltrow

I would like to take the time to thank Tara for hosting my cover reveal for my next picture book GET READY, MAMA! I ‘met’ Tara a long time ago in 2014, when I first participated in PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm), and I appreciate the time Tara gives to support everyone in the KidLit community.

GET READY, MAMA! is a role reversal/how-to story, about a child who has to get her mama ready for the day. In particular the amount of time it takes to do this and the order of events.

Time is familiar to us all, but it is often hard to define and understand. For me it is easier to think of time as a sequence of events. What has happened (the past), what is happening (the present), and what will happen (the future).

In the past (2018) I wrote GET READY, MAMA! It took a long time to write, revise, and re-write my book. Then it took even more time to get a publishing deal (2020).

In GET READY, MAMA the mama is sleeping, which is in the past.

In the present (2021) I am doing a cover reveal for GET READY, MAMA!

In GET READY MAMA the mama is getting ready, which is in the present.

And now it is time for the cover reveal with art by Arielle Li…

GET READY, MAMA!
Written by: Sharon Giltrow
Illustrated by: Arielle Li
Published by: EK Books, April 2022

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, get breakfast all over her top, or… wait, is Mama watching TV?! Learn how to get Mama up and ready despite her mischievous delaying tactics with this essential guide to dealing with morning mayhem!

In the future (2022) GET READY, MAMA will be released. You will have to wait for that to happen. It may feel like a long time to you! So, to make the waiting easier here is a sneaky peek from GET READY, MAMA!

Best of all, you can pre-order it now in the present, and receive it later, in the future.

Thanks, Sharon! Now, let’s get ready for a giveaway!

You can win a copy of GET READY, MAMA when it releases in the future. Take the time now, in the present, to leave a comment to enter. 

A random winner will be selected soon.

I know what you are saying, in the past you have never won anything, but today could be your lucky day. Good luck!


Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. Sharon has taught for all of her career. Previously a teacher of children who are hearing impaired and Deaf-Blind, she now teaches young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her humorous debut PB, BEDTIME DADDY! released May 2020 through EK Books. CONNECT with Sharon on Instagram and Twitter.

The times we’ve been living through feel drained of color, don’t they? It’s similar to Pruett’s world in Nancy Viau’s latest picture book, PRUETT AND SOO.

Pruett is from Planet Monochrome, where everything is black, white, and gray, and everyone follows the rules and walks in straight lines. And they never, ever ask or answer questions.

But then Soo arrives from Planet Prismatic. She’s bursting with brilliant colors! She zigs and zags all over the place! When she asks Pruett questions, he finds he wants to reply…and his whole world starts to change.

With a palette that shifts from grayscale to full color, this engaging story reminds us that what you feel defines who you are—and sometimes a friend helps you see that best.

CHANGE THE RULES. CHANGE THE WORLD!

Nancy, can you tell us about PRUETT’s journey to print?

PRUETT AND SOO sold to Two Lions waaaay back in the spring of 2017. After the first round of initial revisions, all was quiet for about a year. Jorge Lacera was brought on board to do the illustrations, and that’s when the story went through countless, but amazing and extremely detailed, revisions—For. The. Next. Three. Years.

Since the whole color palette had to change S L O W L Y from black and white to full color, every spread had to subtly sneak in a teeny bit more color. Jorge did a terrific job with this, and I am grateful for his hard work and that of the entire editorial team at Two Lions. They perfected every bit of crazy punctuation, every line, every unique color for dialogue, and more.

Funny story: After many revisions, no one noticed that in the first line I referred to Pruett as an alien. A very savvy editor noted right before the F&G was finalized that since Pruett is from the planet where the story takes place, he is NOT an alien! Only Soo is. Good catch, right? This is why we value lots of editors looking over our work!

PRUETT AND SOO blasts into our universe on March 22, 2022.

And now for the reveal:

Congratulations, Nancy!

Blog readers, you can win an F&G of PRUETT & SOO. Just leave one comment below to enter. 

A random winner will be selected later this month.

Good luck!


NANCY VIAU is the author of the picture books TODAY IS A BEACH DAY!, FIRST SNOW, STORM SONG, and more. Her middle-grade novels include SOMETHING IS BUGGING SAMANTHA HANSEN, SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD (updated for 2019), and others. A former teacher and kid-at-heart, Viau loves to visit schools, libraries, and bookstores across the U.S. to present assembly programs and writing workshops. She currently lives in New Jersey and travels around the solar system in her imagination. Connect with Nancy on Twitter or Instagram @NancyViau1 or via her site: NancyViau.com

by Patti Richards

I’m so excited to be here today to talk about my new picture book, MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books)! The book sets sail on October 19th but will be available for pre-sale on October 5. It’s about the unsung hero of the Ark story, Mrs. Noah, and all she does to get the ark ready AFTER Noah decides the job is done.

It seems like every idea I add to my Storystorm list each year has its own story, and MRS. NOAH’s is one of my favorites. So, here’s how it all happened:

I was packing my family for a big trip to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was our very first cruise and I was running around like a crazy woman trying to prep for the two-day drive to Florida (we thought that would be fun…yep). So along with planning for the actual cruise, I had to book hotel rooms and make sure everyone had enough clean clothes and toiletries for the two days before and the two days after. Not to mention buying up enough pet supplies and snacks for our house sitter, stopping the mail, making sure everyone had a swimsuit and shoes that fit, plus paying all the bills and getting the house cleaned before we could leave. My husband, who always helps, had to work extra hours so we could have this week away. This meant he was at the office until late every night, so I was on my own. And just six weeks earlier, my son had undergone a big surgery to remove a benign tumor from his skull base, so there were follow up appointments to get the “all clear” just a few days before we left. Needless to say, I was a shipwreck waiting to happen.

Somewhere in all of the craziness, I had this thought… “If I’m this stressed trying to get everything done before we leave for our cruise, how in the world did Mrs. Noah get everything ready for an ark full of animals and the rest of her family?” This made me laugh out loud. The idea of Mrs. Noah settled in and stayed (I call ideas like this “God whispers”) and by the time the trip was over, I had the first lines of the story in my head.

When I got home, I immediately put MRS. NOAH on my Storystorm list, and that’s where it stayed for six years (yes, you read that right)! Each year I’d sign up for Storystorm, and each year I’d add MRS. NOAH to my list at some point during the month. I wanted so much to write this story, but other projects kept bumping it out of the way. Then, in 2018, I was able to quit my full-time freelance writing job, and for the first time in more than 25 years as a writer, focus completely on my work for children. That’s when the idea finally became a first draft. After a year of sharing it with my critique group, revising, sharing and revising again (I had a total of 13 versions at this point), I saw that a Twitter event called #FaithPitch was coming up and I thought, “Why not?” and I pitched the title throughout the day but didn’t get any love.

Fast forward to February of 2019—I had completed another manuscript (also a Storystorm idea) that I thought might be a good fit for a faith-based publisher. I found three small houses that were taking unsolicited submissions and I sent in that manuscript. Months went by. It was now October and I was enjoying a writing retreat day with my critique group. We’d taken a break and I was checking email and there it was…a message from Little Lamb Books about the manuscript I had submitted called MILLIE’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE. In that email Rachel Pellegrino said they were interested in acquiring this story, but was MRS. NOAH still available? She’d seen it on #Faithpitch and if I hadn’t sold it, they’d like to have both and publish MRS. NOAH first. WHAT?!

I couldn’t believe it. After so many years in the submission trenches, I was finally getting a “Yes,” and not just for the book I’d submitted, but for MRS. NOAH too! And how sweet to get it when I was with my critique group who knew MRS. NOAH well and loved her as much as I did.

That’s the story behind the story! The real Mrs. Noah’s ark journey was 40 days and 40 nights and then some. My MRS. NOAH’s journey was 9 years. One started on an ark and the other on a cruise ship, but both have an ending full of promise and good things to come. I want to thank Tara for giving us the inspiration each year through Storystorm to always be on the lookout for new ideas. You never know what can happen when you look at an old, well-known story and see something new!

Wonderful, Patti! Congratulations on your dual picture book success!

Blog readers, Patti is giving away a PB critique to celebrate.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be chosen in October.

Good luck!


Patti Richards lives with her family in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her first children’s story, “Fishing on the Black Volta,” was published in Boy’s Quest Magazine. She has three nonfiction books, an ebook, and is part of the award-winning poetry collection, THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE. Patti’s work has also been featured in Highlights Magazine and she’s been a Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain honoree twice. She enjoys reading, gardening, singing, playing the piano, painting and tending to her flock, which includes Gracie the dog, Barnabas, the big black puppy, and Willow the cat. Visit her online at pattigail1.com and follow her on Twitter @pattigrichards.

Doing anything tonight?

Now you are!

It’s the annual Carle Honor Awards, virtually. Reserve your spot now!

The Carle is the international champion for picture books. They collect, preserve, and present picture books and picture-book illustrations for audiences passionate about children’s literature.

Every year before this prestigious event, I ask the Honorees a question about picture books and their influence on our lives and world. This year, the question came to me immediately:

In this challenging time, how can picture books and children’s literature provide a sense of normalcy to young readers?


Carl Lennertz, Every Child a Reader
Angel Honoree

“During these times, young people—and adults—need a place for quiet and escape, and what better place than on the pages of children’s books filled with beautiful pictures and intriguing words. What happier thing than to see kids playing together in a picture book, if they can’t otherwise, or to see a delicious strawberry and a hungry caterpillar? I do feel, however, that kids are much wiser than we give them credit for, and they know something big and scary is going on, and that they don’t always want to be treated like, what?, children. This is also a time to keep their minds open and engaged, not withdrawn. As a society, we need to keep moving forward with all forms of knowledge about history, current events, and, yes, how things need to change. We need the children to lead us, as we haven’t done a job at all about social injustices, hunger and health, the state of the planet and so much more.”

 


Justin Schiller and Dennis David
Bridge Honorees

“With picture books we experience a doorway to the imagination and the ability for children’s literature to guide the reader beyond the physicality of words where images take over to generate one’s own creative expression within the actual storyline. Maurice Sendak once told me that his artwork expands the text a hundredfold and the reader can interpret the story well beyond the actual meaning of the individual words. This also cultivates and enriches the experience beyond the physical pages of a book.”

 


Patricia Aldana
Mentor Honoree

“Picture books, especially when read aloud, talked about, reread, and available for picking up at will, and finding over and over again, are one of the greatest gifts a child can receive. [International Board on Books for Young People] IBBY’s work with children in crisis all over the world has shown us what a remarkably helpful thing it is for a child to have a caring adult sharing wonderful books with [them].”

 


Raúl Colón

Artist Honoree

“Picture books take the readers to another world. Or at least through some sort of journey. Especially wordless picture books, which make the mind enjoy the trip a little more. Now the observers have to decipher what they see in front of them. Bring some sort of coherence to all the visuals that remain in a certain order in their eyes. Once they’re lost in that visual adventure, they leave the physical space they find themselves in, and fly away to another place—the difficult times left behind, if only for a moment. However, the lingering effects of a good story may last for hours—or even a lifetime.”

 

Congratulations to the Honorees and thank you for sharing your wisdom!

Visit CarleMuseum.org for more about the museum and tonight’s event!

The Carle Honors Honorees are selected each year by a committee chaired by children’s literature historian and critic Leonard S. Marcus, who was central to the founding of the Honors. The committee recognizes four distinct awards: Artist, for lifelong innovation in the field; Angel, whose generous resources are crucial to making illustrated children’s book art exhibitions, education programs, and related projects a reality; Mentor, editors, designers, and educators who champion the art form; and Bridge, individuals or organizations who have found inspired ways to bring the art of the picture book to larger audiences through work in other fields.

♬ ♪ “Our house is a very, very, very fine house…” ♬ ♪

Good thing you can’t hear me singing. It’s not as fine as the house.

And it’s certainly not as fine as the house in A HOME AGAIN, coming in November from Two Lions!

A HOME AGAIN is a beautiful story told from a unique perspective—the home’s point of view! A family once roamed its cozy, lively rooms, but then they move out. How does the house feel? What will happen next?

Colleen, this blog is all about story ideas. How did you get this one?

I got the idea for my story when my husband and I became empty-nesters. I thought maybe we should downsize to a smaller house. When I mentioned it to the kids they were upset—which I didn’t expect. One of my sons said, “I can’t imagine driving by and not being able to visit our childhood home.” So I scratched my plans and started renovating their old bedrooms. As I thought about our conversations, I wondered if a house had feelings, how would it feel about us moving. That thought was the catalyst for the story. Once I started writing the words just flowed. In fact, I wrote the first draft on a return flight from New Orleans. While writing I tried to imagine the new family who would bring love back to the house. We had been on vacation with our friends, Michael and Walter, who had recently bought a new house. They were my inspiration for the new family in my fictional house.

The illustrations by Valeria Docampo positively glow with warmth! How did you feel when you first saw them?

I was over the moon when I saw the illustrations. Being an illustrator myself, I worried someone else’s work wouldn’t capture my vision. But they were more than I could have imagined. Valeria Docampo’s work is gorgeous and the feeling she portrayed through her imagery really elevated the story. I feel so lucky that my editor found such a talented person to partner with us on this project.

This book can certainly help children who are moving to a new home. How can other children relate to this  story?

I think of the house as a child learning about the world. Children can experience all types of loss—divorce, the introduction of a step parent, or even the loss of one or both parents. The story shows that even though situations may change, love in still possible.

I also wanted the story to speak to diversity and non-traditional families. The second family has two dads, but it is not the focus of the story. Children should see all types of families in picture books and accept them as normal.

Colleen, thank you for such a heart-warming story!

Blog readers, Colleen is giving away a copy of her book, which will be released with Two Lions on November 1st.

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


Colleen Rowan Kosinski writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her picture books include LILLA’S SUUNFLOWERS, A HOME AGAIN, and LOVE MADE ME MORE (2022). Her middle grade novel is titled A PROMISE STITCHED IN TIME. For the last year she has been working as an editor at Reedsy.com and teaching classes on picture book writing. She is also involved in her local chapter of the SCBWI, and the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. Colleen is a graduate of Rutgers University, as are her husband and sons. Her daughter followed the bright lights to work in the film industry in LA. Colleen works from her Cherry Hill, NJ studio with her canine assistant, Sage. Visit her online at ColleenRowanKosinski.com and follow her on Twitter @ColleenKosinski.

It’s no secret that I love fun words, so when I saw Kathy Doherty’s THE THINGITY-JIG, I had to take a closer look!

Bear is bored one night, so he wanders into people town and finds a discarded couch. But, to Bear, it’s not a couch at all—it’s a THINGITY-JIG—and he uses it not to sit, but to bounce and play.

Kathy has given her main character, Bear, the perspective of a child. The child reading the story can immediately understand the mindset of Bear—it’s exactly how a kid sees a plump, springy couch! (Much to Mom’s chagrin.)

This childlike perspective is echoed in the illustrations by Kristyna Litten. The huge moon lingers over bear, and he looks small yet determined to experience adventure in people-town.

Besides the wide-eyed wonder of Bear, the story uses onomatopoeia as a repetitive refrain. It’s not only fun to say “smack, wallop, whack,” but it signals to the reader new action in the story. Something big is about to happen.

Onomatopoeia is a delight to read aloud (which is what we do with picture books), bringing the action of the story to life.

When Bear endeavors to bring the couch home, he invents contraptions to do the work his tired friends are too snoozy to do. Kathy continues in the vein of THINGITY-JIG to introduce a…

ROLLY-RUMPITY,

LIFTY-UPPITY, and

PUSHY-POPPITY.

It’s a rolly-rockity group of Rube-Goldberg-like machines! What kid doesn’t love to invent and build? Bear keeps his curiosity alive throughout the tale.

And the ending—well, it’s both surprising and inevitable, which is how a good conclusion should be.

Put it all together and you get THE THINGITY-JIG, by Kathy Doherty and Kristyna Litten, released by Peachtree in April 2021.

Since I’m an idea person (you know Storystorm if you’ve spent any time on this blog), I asked Kathy how she arrived on her story concept.

When I’m asked where I get my story ideas, I say, “From reading piles of picture books…from everyday life…and from childhood memories.”

The idea for THE THINGITY-JIG sparked one day while I was walking in my neighborhood. I spotted a discarded couch. I thought back to my childhood when I’d jump on the couch when my parents weren’t looking. I could envision its gray nubby fabric and bullion fringe.

As I walked along, I played “what if?” What if a cub couldn’t sleep one night and wandered off into people town? What if he found a couch and had never seen one before? What would the cub do with it? What would he name it? What if he wanted to keep it? The more I played “what if?” the more the story took shape.

Thank you, Kathy! It’s such a fun book!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of THE THINGITY-JIG right here (if you don’t rush out to buy it immediaely).

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

(In fact, when I get back from vacation, I have a whole long list of winners to announce…)

Good luck!


Kathleen loves bringing kids and quality literature together. She’s a reading specialist and an educational specialist in curriculum and instruction. She’s written standardized test items for Pearson Inc. in alignment with the Common Core Standards. Her love of learning has led her to graduate from four different universities.

Nothing scares her. Kathleen has taught elementary school for over 30 years. A student once told her she’d make a great vampire because she’s tall and her teeth are sharp.

Kathleen was first published in TIME Magazine with a letter to the editor about Charles Schulz. Her work has also appeared in The Mailbox, Spider Magazine, Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, and Highlights for Children. She’s won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry contest, and a letter of merit from SCBWI’s Magazine Merit Competition.

THE THINGITY-JIG received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews. Visit her online at kathleendohertyauthor.com.

by KT Johnston

Tara, thank you so much for having me on your blog to reveal the cover of my upcoming narrative nonfiction picture book, JUBILEE: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream! (February 1, 2022, from Capstone).

JUBILEE recounts the true story of Danish dressage competitor Lis Hartel, who was determined not to let polio keep her from riding again. She found that an inexperienced horse named Jubilee was just the partner she needed to develop a new way of riding—all the way to the 1952 Olympics!

I ran across Jubilee and Lis’s stirring story when researching my first book, RAILWAY JACK: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon (Capstone, 2020), which Amazon Editors have labeled “Best Nonfiction for Kids”. Jubilee hit all the notes for me: an animal who’d had a remarkable impact on an everyday person’s life, in a way that left ripples in society today. No widely-known celebrities; no heroic animal feats; just a life that any of us could be living.

Olympic dressage was not open to women in Lis’s day, but she didn’t let that deter her from aiming for the stars. I won’t say too much about the story, but here’s an awesome fact: the back of a horse will get you three feet closer to the stars.

Inspired by the horse who’d lifted her up, Lis pioneered the world’s first therapeutic riding center. Also inspired by Jubilee and Lis, riding as therapy was quickly endorsed by the medical field, and within a decade, centers sprang up around the globe. And there I saw the crowning element of their story, and knew I had to tell it: Jubilee’s ripples in society.

And now, I’m excited to reveal to you the cover of JUBILEE: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream!

In this tender illustration, artist Anabella Ortiz captured the partnership between Jubilee and Lis nicely. Lis’s hand is loose on the rein because her hands remained weak throughout her life, though gentle Jubilee didn’t need a firm grip regardless. Lis’s outfit and Jubilee’s braided mane and warm-up blanket indicate they’ve just finished in the ring. You can tell it has gone well by the calm look in Jubilee’s eyes, and the happiness and admiration in Lis’s. One of Jubilee’s ears is forward, alert to Lis, as always. Jubilee’s face is contoured nicely and you can visually feel the velvety softness of her muzzle. The twinkles in the title evoke the stars the pair reached for. …And wrapping the scene in ethereal warmth, “the summer sun beam[s] down like a spotlight on a stage.”

You can see a photo of an actual horseshoe Jubilee wore in the pair’s most famous performance at www.ktjohnston.com/Jubilee!

Any day now, JUBILEE: The First Therapy Horse and an Olympic Dream can be preordered through your favorite bookseller and added to your To-Read shelf in Goodreads.

Thanks for showing off your horse and rider, KT!

Blog readers, KT is giving away a copy of her first book, RAILWAY JACK: The True Story of an Amazing Baboon to a lucky commenter.

Leave one comment below. 

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


KT Johnston writes historical narrative nonfiction about ordinary animals from the dusty past who had an extraordinary impact on a person’s life, and in the process, left a mark on humanity itself. She aims her writing from accelerated younger readers through reluctant older readers, though her stories are for any age because true stories belong to us all. KT earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife studies before settling into a more stationary corporate career. She and her husband live in Minneapolis and have two grown children. KT hopes to inspire children to be curious about our world and to find greatness in the humblest of its creatures, one true story at a time.

Follow KT on Twitter @KTDidz, Facebook,  and Pinterest @ktjohnstonauthor.

You can see more of Anabella’s work at anabellaortiz.com.

by Wendi Silvano & Lee Harper

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

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

Wendi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendi:

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

Lee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR BEST ADVICE:

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

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

Thank you, Wendi and Lee!

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

To enter the giveaways, comment once below.

Random winners will be chosen soon.

Good luck!


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

Follow her on Twitter: @WendiSilvano and Facebook.


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

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

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

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

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

You can visit him online at Leeharperart.com.

by Deb Adamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t Anne amazing?!

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

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


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

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

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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

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