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I’m a sucker for a good pun. And when that pun serves a holiday that I celebrate, well, I have to celebrate the pun, too! So author Laura Gehl is here today with her new book, HAPPY LLAMAKKAH!

Laura, what sparked your idea for HAPPY LLAMAKKAH?

This was one of those books where the title came first. What’s not to love about a llama/Hanukkah combination? Usually when a great title pops into my head, I discover a book with that title already exists. I was amazed to find that wasn’t the case with this one. My Internet search found plenty of ugly Happy Llamakkah sweaters (my entire family is getting matching ones for Hanukkah this year…shhhh!), but no books. Still, figuring out the right story to go with the title was harder.

So many to choose from! Who knew?

I started off in a completely different direction from where I ended up. My first draft involved a human family encountering a llama family while backpacking over Hanukkah. That draft included, among other Hanukkah/llama connections, using llama poop to start a fire to light the Hanukkah candles (based on my research, this is completely possible, and I recommend everyone try it). A few of my critique partners gently pointed out that the jaunty tone of the title didn’t quite match with the text, which actually had a fairly serious storyline despite poop playing a key role. They suggested perhaps a rhyming story aimed at younger readers, with Happy Llamakkah as a refrain, would work better. After that, the book came together quickly, with no humans and no poop—only llamas and latkes.

What a hilarious story! Now I gotta think of a follow-up question to that!

Do Llamas celebrate Hanukkah any differently than humans?   

Short answer—no! Longer answer: the Llama family in the book enjoys all the same Hanukkah activities as my own family…including lighting candles, playing dreidel, eating gelt and sufganiyot, and exchanging gifts. The only key differences are that the llamas in the book make a snow llama instead of a snowman (one of my very favorite illustrations by Lydia Nichols!) and that the Llama family gets to have friends come over to celebrate with them, since COVID is not a part of their world. Speaking of which, when you are finished looking up “ugly Happy Llamakah sweater,” you should look up “llama antibodies COVID-19.” A truly fascinating rabbit-hole into which to descend. You’re welcome.

Now we all know coal, carrots and a scarf make good snowman decorations. Do you have any tips for building snow llamas?

Why yes, Tara, indeed I do!

  1. Invite a real llama over to be your model.
  2. Build a llama body and head out of snow.
  3. Add ears and fur with hay and grasses. Take a photo quickly before Step #4.
  4. Watch the real llama eat all the hay and grasses off of the snow llama.
  5. Snuggle with the real llama while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate and wearing your Happy Llamakah sweater.

But don’t forget the llatkes! (Did you see that clever spelling?)

Umm, sure.

And llighting the Menorah!

OK, Tara.

And spinning…wait for it…the driedellama!

Great.

Are we done here?

Yes! Thank you for stopping by and for offering a signed copy to one of our blog readers! (US only)

Please leave one comment below to enter.

A winner will be selected on December 1! Good luck!

And…if you order a copy of Happy Llamakkah by December 7 from any independent bookstore, send your receipt to Laura at AuthorLauraGehl@gmail.com to receive a personalized Hanukkah card, bookplate, and llama stickers.


Laura Gehl is the author of more than twenty picture books, board books, and early readers. Her 2020 releases included Baby Paleontologist, Judge Juliette, May Saves the Day, Cat Has a Plan, and The Ninja Club Sleepover. Laura loves to snuggle up with a llama while reading a good book. Or at least she would love to give it a try! Visit her online at lauragehl.com.

by Kira Bigwood

Thank you so much, Tara, for having me on your blog today. I’m thrilled to share my story—a Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature success story…that almost wasn’t.

It was 2018, and the third year in a row I was applying to the annual RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference. If I’m being honest, I was feeling a bit deflated. The previous two years, I submitted what I thought were my absolute-slam-dunk manuscripts…andddddd got rejected. That year, I didn’t feel I had anything that resembled even a layup. I waited until the very last day to submit, and then decided to try something different.

Remember that Seinfeld episode where George does everything opposite?

Jerry tells him, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

I decided to test this theory. Going against all my instincts, I submitted what I thought was my weakest story (writing is subjective, after all). And wouldn’t you know, I got accepted!

Now I had been given the thrilling opportunity to travel to New Jersey. Where I knew no one. To attend a conference. Where I knew no one. And go over my work, face to face, with a real live editor (who, to recap, I did not know).

Kira was terrified.

But I wasn’t Kira. I was Opposite Kira!

For one whole weekend, I forced myself to go against every introvert instinct I had (a truly, truly difficult thing to do). Every time I felt like retreating into my bagel and cream cheese, I wondered, “What would Costanza do?”

That is how I found myself walking solo into a hotel bar to meet up with other attendees. That is how I found myself striking up a conversation with the conference co-chair (the charming Tara herself, who gave me a shout-out during her closing remarks). That is how I found myself showing my mentor one last manuscript—“It’s a lullaby for little spies, but it might not be anything yet”—which is how I found myself chatting up a different editor at lunch, who just happened to love spy stories.

And that, my friends, is how I found myself with a debut picture book.

SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY (a 007-twist on the classic Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) illustrated by the talented Celia Krampien, releases this May from Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. And all because I went against every instinct I had.

If you’re in a rut, why not try being your opposite self? Why not try doing everything “wrong?” It just might be the rightest thing you do.

Blog readers, Kira is giving away a PB critique!

Leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Kira Bigwood is an advertising copywriter and kidlit author who lives in Chicago with her husband and three “spirited” children. Her debut picture book, SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY, is now available for pre-order.. Say “Hi!” on Instagram @kirabigwood and Twitter @KBigwood.

by Charles Ghigna, aka Father Goose

We are excited to have Tara Lazar host our cover reveal today. Thank you!

A POEM IS A FIREFLY was truly a joy to create! I wanted to introduce the magic and wonder of poetry to young readers in a new and exciting way. My mission was to show children that poetry lives all around them, especially in nature. All they have to do is stop and look around. What better way to introduce children to the marvels of poetry than to have a friendly bunch of woodland animals gather in a forest clearing to answer the question, “What is a poem?” Of course, I wanted each character to show their answer in a metaphor, along with a catchy rhyme. What an exciting challenge that was! I only hope children and their parents have nearly as much fun reading A POEM IS A FIREFLY as I did in writing it.

It was also a pleasure for me to see our story and characters come to life in Michelle Hazelwood Hyde’s lovable illustrations. She captures such joy and whimsy in every scene, in the personality of each character. Children will have fun discovering their favorites, from the the cuddly bear on the cover to the big friendly moose who playfully wanders in and out of each scene from the early morning sunrise to the early evening when the firefly comes out to play.

And now, let’s hear from the talented illustrator, Michelle Hazelwood Hyde!

My absolute favorite moment of summer is when the fireflies begin to come out. I remember as a little girl catching them with my brother, sister, and cousins. It was so pure and magical. It still is to me. So when I was invited to illustrate the manuscript A POEM IS A FIREFLY, it was a dream come true. I am so grateful to get the opportunity to recreate those innocent moments of my childhood through the eyes of a series of playful animals. I hope the cover takes you to a peaceful summer evening, with all the wonderful shades of blues and greens, and that magic moment you spot your first firefly. At that moment if feels like anything is possible. It truly is.

Thank you for sharing your beautiful cover and story behind the story, Charles and Michelle!

A POEM IS A FIREFLY releases on May 28, 2021 from Schiffer Kids and is available for pre-order now.

As a thank you for visiting the cover reveal today, Charles is giving away a paperback copy of his book ILLUSIONS: Poetry and Art for the Young at Heart.

Leave one comment to enter.

A winner will be randomly selected soon.

Good luck!

If you’ve been paying attention to the picture book scene the last few years, you’re sure to recognize this fella…

No, not that fella! He’s new!

I mean this fella…

…drawn by this fella…

…Mike Boldt!

So you’ve no doubt heard of him…he’s got several hit books under his pencil and now I can introduce that OTHER fella, because he’s the star of Mike’s brand-new book!

Say hello to Fergus!

Mike, how did Fergus first find his way into your head?

My ideas come from all sorts of places. The idea of Find Fergus literally came out of a conversation that I was having with my friend, Dan Santat. In jest, I said I was going to do a knock off of Where’s Waldo?, but where Waldo was terrible at hiding. We laughed, and then Dan told me that was a really good idea, and I should make it. I thought about it, and decided he was right! So I did!

Was Fergus always a bear? 

Yes! It was very quickly decided that Fergus was going to be a bear, since actually doing Waldo in my own story wasn’t really an option. I thought a large bear would be funny, and then I tried to give him a Waldo flair with the glasses to pay tribute to the “original”.

Let’s talk about the color scheme. Why bright yellow?

I found the bright yellow background for Fergus right away. Originally, when I was working on the pitch, I did up a couple samples of a finished cover and a finished spread, and I used yellow in the background as a placeholder. But I instantly liked it so much it just stuck. There was one option where we tried a different color background, but it definitely was not right for this book.

Why do you think Fergus likes to hide so much? What’s going on beneath that big ball of fur?

Well, I believe Fergus is a character who has a rather childlike care-free approach to things in life. So whether he knows how to hide or not, he’s a bear who is going to have fun doing it. I really wanted to not only make sure that the theme wasn’t “Practice makes perfect” but rather “Practice makes progress”. I think with that approach we can have a lot more fun, like Fergus, even if we aren’t very good at something and enjoy the process. Besides, who doesn’t love a good game of hide and seek?!

No one doesn’t love hide and seek! 

Mike, can you give us any hints about your upcoming projects?

Funny you should ask, Tara! I actually have two books coming out next year. A wonderful and silly book called GOOD NIGHT, ALLIGATOR by Rebecca Van Slyke, and another hilarious picture book called BLOOP (by YOU!) about a hilarious space invader. That’s about it for now.

Well, it’s a good thing we have a Mike Boldt book now to tide us over!

And blog readers, you can win a copy!

I’ll count while you go hide! 10, 9, 8…

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

Good luck!

And follow Fergus’ Indie bookstore tour:

by Amanda Davis

Hi Tara! Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’m super excited to be here and can’t wait to share my Storystorm Success Story with everyone.

In case you’re not familiar with me or my work, I’m an author, artist, and high school art educator who uses my art and writing to light up the world with kindness. After losing my father at the age of twelve, I turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became my voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell my story. Because of this, I was inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through my work, I hope to empower younger generations to tell their own stories and offer children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.

As you can see, art and writing have been a part of my life ever since I was little, but let’s fast forward to September 2011. The new school year was upon me, and I was searching for a lesson I could do with my high school art classes to teach them about the tenth remembrance of September 11, 2001. Each year, I touch upon 9/11 in my curriculum. We learn about the events and do an art project in remembrance. This year, while browsing through some magazines, I came across a little blurb about an American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. The flag became torn and tattered and was taken down and stored away. Seven years later, the flag emerged from storage and was brought down to a small town in Kansas, to be retired. But instead, the flag was patched back together and later traveled to all all fifty states to be fully restored; returning to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity.

“Wow! This was it!” I thought. I’d found my lesson. So, that year, students learned about the National 9/11 flag, and we created our own patchwork flag that was inspired by the story of the National 9/11/ Flag. It was a beautiful project and a beautiful story that stuck with me long after the lesson was complete.

Fast forward again to January 2018. It was a new year, and I was reflecting on my writing and illustrating goals. Was I doing enough? How can I improve? What new resources are out there? Etc., etc.,. This is when I came across Tara’s Storystorm challenge—30 ideas in 30 days. This was the perfect way to commit to my creativity at the start of the new year. I was in!

Each day I collected my ideas in my special A.A. Milner Winnie the Pooh journal. On Day 5, there was a post from Corey Rosen Schwartz titled Begs, Borrows, & Steals. The post was all about borrowing ideas from YOURSELF. She talked about re-examining past ideas, pondering over them, and picking them apart. She suggested going back into your files, notebooks, and sketchbooks to see what was lingering. AHA! How brilliant! This led me back to the flag.  The story always lingered in the back of my mind, but Corey’s suggestions brought it to the forefront again. I got to thinking, “Why not make this a kid’s book?” So, I noted this in my trusty journal, scribbled an idea for a pitch, and continued with my Storystorm journey.

Lo and behold, I ended up being a Storystorm Grand Prize Winner and now had the chance to pitch five of my Storystorm ideas to agent Jennifer March Soloway. I was blown away and super stoked! I polished up my pitches (the story of the flag being one of them… then called ONE STITCH AT A TIME) and sent them off to Jennifer. In her response, she encouraged me to focus on the flag story, calling it “a marvelous idea with great potential.” Hooray! With Jennifer’s insights in mind, I now had the confidence to forge ahead with my story idea, begin my research, and later query agents and editors with the story.

Now, ten years since I first conducted my high school art lesson on the National 9/11 Flag, two years after Storystorm’s inspiration, and many, many, many drafts later, 30,000 STITCHES is the story that landed me my first agent and is set to be published with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group on May 4, 2021.

It will enter the world twenty years after the tragic events of 9/11. The beautiful spread that is pictured here, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, shows the flag coming to its last stop in Joplin, Missouri before returning to New York. The image showcases the people and places the flag touched throughout its 120,000 mile journey across the United States—criss-crossing borders and cross stitching lives. With today being Election Day, I think this image perfectly captures the power of the people when we come out and come together.  At the core of this story, are seeds of hope, seeds of unity, and seeds of strength. It’s about the power of working together to overcome hard things. It’s about kindness, compassion, and service to others. I hope that anyone who reads 30,000 STITCHES will be reminded that we are connected through our shared stories. Our stories are stitched together. Our stories are the fabric of America.

Thanks so much to Storystorm and to you, Tara, for giving writer’s opportunities to get inspired and share their work. Storystorm comes around again in January 2021!

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of ten signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES! Sign up here!

Oh yes, one more thing, GO VOTE!

You can check out some of the 9/11 remembrance projects I’ve done with students here: 9/11 Remembrance Projects and stay tuned on my website for classroom activity guides for 30,000 STITCHES.


Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. Visit her online at amandadavisart.com, on Twitter @amandadavisart, Instagram @amandadavis_art and Facebook.

Not every damsel needs saving! Introducing…LILLYBELLE!

This new picture book by Joana Pastro turns the troubled damsel theme on its head. It’s exactly what editors want, to take a common subject and twist it around so it becomes fresh and new. I invited Joana on the blog today to ask her about her debut book and how she got the idea for it…

Thanks for having me, Tara! I got the idea from a call for submissions from Cricket Magazine. The prompt was “Knights and Castles.” So, I began researching and expanding on that prompt, until I came upon the phrase “damsel in distress,” I immediately added the word “not” and BOOM! I had my idea and a title! Once I had that, the story of a girl who saves herself poured out of me pretty easily.

Beyond being a great message for young girls, what else do you hope kids will take away from the story?

I hope it’ll reinforce in boys that girls are equals. That stories with girl main characters can be just as interesting, compelling and important as the ones with boy characters.That girls’ stories matter too! I hope children learn to stand up for themselves, and see that problems can be solved by using their smarts and by being friendly. That life is much easier without crying, yelling and violence. And last, but not least, that they learn to accept and celebrate the differences between people, and that these differences make life more colorful and interesting.

LILLYYBELLE is your debut picture book–congratulations! What have you learned about the process that you want to pass along to other aspiring authors?

Thank you, Tara! First of all, be patient. There’s a lot of waiting in publishing! If you’re serious about being an author, invest your time in learning the craft and reading as many books as possible in the genre you want to write. Also, join SCBWI—it’s chockfull of resources—and a critique group. Listen to feedback, be humble and keep writing. It’ll be worth it!

What’s the most surprising thing that happened to this book along the way to publication?

Since I’m a debut author, everything along the way to publication was a bit of a surprise. The biggest surprise happened when I saw Jhon’s character studies and LillyBelle looked just like my daughter, with dark, curly hair and expressive eyes. I was thrilled! That was a happy surprise.

A not-so-happy surprise was learning about the book’s publication being changed less than a month before the original date, due to Covid-19 printing delays. It was a big bummer, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I was able to focus on my kids’s back to school experience and it also gave me a chance to recharge—I had been working non-stop—and really enjoy my book’s release.

Thanks for stopping by, Joana, and congrats again!

Blog readers, LILLYBELLE is out now!

And you could also win a copy here.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck!


Much like LillyBelle, Joana loves a good tea party…or any party, really! When not writing, you can find Joana baking (and eating) delicious desserts, singing as loud as she can, or twirling around the house. Also, like LillyBelle, Joana thinks good manners are of the utmost importance – just ask her kids! LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS is her first book. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL comes out in Fall/2021. Born and raised in Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three kids and one rambunctious Morkie. Visit her at joanapastro.com, on Twitter @jopastro and on Instagram @joanapastro.

The littlest readers will fall for THE LITTLE KITTEN this Halloween.

Don’t you just want to forget about Trick-or-Treating and cuddle up with this book instead? Nicola’s artwork has a gentle feel, just like leaves slowly drifting down in autumn.

Nicola, we talk a lot of story ideas on this blog—so how did you get the idea for THE LITTLE KITTEN?

THE LITTLE KITTEN is the third book about an imaginative little girl called Ollie, following on from THE LITTLE REINDEER and THE LITTEL RABBIT. When I was asked to to do an autumnal book for the series, I was very excited as I’d already painted Ollie in a cat costume and carrying a pumpkin for Halloween the year before and I knew the direction I wanted it to go in!

Ollie has a pet cat in the other books, and having been out drawing at the start of autumn, my sketchbook was full of falling leaves so they had to be included in the story too. The idea seemed to develop naturally from these starting points!

I very much wanted Ollie and her pet cat Pumpkin to keep the kitten because the three friends seemed like they belonged together. But Ollie knows she has to do the right thing. It’s an important message for young readers, yet it’s so subtle and delightfully told.

How did you decide on the color scheme? It’s not just orange and black—it’s gray and red and rust. There’s a lot of dimension to it.

The character of Ollie first came about when I was experimenting with painting solely in black ink. I then added small touches of color to the artwork. Using orange as the additional color for this autumn story felt like the obvious choice. I tried using just one shade, but felt that the two combined worked better and added more depth to all the leaves! The designers and production team at Simon & Schuster picked just the right shade of copper foil to add the finishing touch!

The foil really makes the whole book pop! 

What is your favorite part about Halloween?

My favorite part of Halloween is definitely the costumes. Deciding what costume to wear and then making it can be so much fun, but I also love seeing what everyone else has dressed up as!

It’s really the perfect holiday for Ollie who loves dressing up any time of year!

Blog readers, Simon & Schuster is giving away a copy of THE LITTLE KITTEN!

Leave a blog comment below. What’s your favorite part of Halloween?

A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Nicola Killen is a children’s book author and illustrator based in Cambridge, UK.  I graduated from the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art in 2009, and since then I have been working on picture books, board books and a couple of pop-up books too! Visit her at nicolakillen.com and follow her on Instagram @nicolakillendraws.

In all the blog posts I’ve published in the last 13 years, I’ve never delved into one subject because I thought it was near impossible to successfully broach it in a picture book. But author Jackie Azùa Kramer has, and the result is miraculous.

The subtle coloring on the cover by illustrator Cindy Derby should give you a clue as to what awaits inside.

Jackie, death is the toughest subject to discuss with children. Why did you want to venture into that territory?

Sadly, the story was inspired by true events as a result of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which left two little sisters fatherless. But if it’s all the same with you, Tara, I’d like to reframe your question.

Why not write stories that reflect a diversity of experiences that children are facing today? We are living through challenging and difficult times on so many levels. I have the utmost respect for young readers, and I strive not to talk down to them. I feel we need to meet children where they are with hope and love.

As a creator, I’m inspired and emotionally moved by what’s happening in the world today. Children around the world are living unique and diverse experiences. I’m encouraged to see more of these books published recently. Books which allow children to see themselves…their lives reflected in books. We all have a need to be understood, accepted and loved.

In the story, the gorilla represents the boy’s deep grief and sadness at the passing of his mother. Why a gorilla? Was this your first choice for the metaphor?

Yes. The Gorilla character came to mind as a I learned about how some children are affected by loss. In the story the loss of the boy’s mother left him confused about the complex feelings he was experiencing along with the questions he had about death and dying. However, his unspoken feelings become the metaphorical idiom of the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room. It was a fascinating visual to imagine this huge and imposing gorilla who’s also kind, honest and supportive.

What does it mean to you to have three starred reviews (so far)?

Tara, I’d be a pompous ass if I didn’t admit that it feels good. And you know, as much as me, if not more, about receiving great reviews! However, the reasons it feels good to me goes beyond the good reviews and stars.

It’s also about all one’s hard work being acknowledged, as well as, the village that made the book possible. Agent, illustrator, editor, art director, sales and marketing…each played an important role.

And in the end, all that matters is that books gets into the hands of readers. That books are read over and over, pages get worn and dog-eared and tucked under pillows. That books make readers feel something. Feelings of joy or sadness, happy, silly or even mad. Perhaps thoughtful or dreamy and wondrous. That each page turn is like a theatrical experience. That stories welcome readers and say, “Come on in, all are welcome, understood and accepted.”

Then we as creators have done our jobs well.

What I’ve learned from reading THE BOY AND THE GORILLA is that we writers shouldn’t shy away from subjects just because they are difficult. Children experience the width and breadth of the world, just like we do, and they deserve answers. They need to be heard and understood. This book fills a void by bringing comfort to children who are struggling to cope with loss. 

Blog readers, you can win a copy of THE BOY AND THE GORILLA by Jackie Azùa Kramer and Cindy Derby.

Leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

 


Jackie is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s author. She earned her MA in Counseling in Education, Queens College. She has worked as an actor, singer, and school counselor. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab. Her picture books include, The Green Umbrella, “2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year”. If You Want to Fall Asleep and That’s for Babies. Jackie’s upcoming books- I Wish You Knew (Roaring Brook, 2021); Dorothy and Herbert- The Story of the Postal Clerk and the Librarian and their Extraordinary Collection of Art (Cameron Kids, 2021); We Are One (Two Lions/Amazon,TBD); Manolo and the Unicorn (Cameron Kids, TBD) and Miles Won’t Smile (Clavis, TBD). She lives with her family in Long Island, NY. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching old movies and traveling to her family’s roots in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Spain. Visit her at jackieazuakramer.com.

It’s almost time to dress in costume and eat tons of candy! (No, not Tuesday!)

Halloween!

There are spooky stories about monsters, ghosts and goblins, even pale green pants with nobody inside them…but when have you ever seen a haunted Halloween tale about a HOUSE?

Sure, there’s plenty of movies and books that make you scream DON’T GO IN THERE! But there’s never been one where the house itself was the main character. This story by Marcus Ewert puts a unique twist on the haunting trope.

And the vibrant illustrations by Susie Ghahremani are like nothing you’ve ever seen. How did she make a mix of sweet and spooky work together? I asked her!

The main character Clarissa is an (unfortunately) cheerful pink house—and I wanted to be sure that her “world” felt colorful and friendly to contrast the muted, darker worlds of her scary parents, so there is some exaggerated color.

The color really pops! What’s your secret?

I painted the book on black boards so a little bit of black pokes through the paint, to hint at how inside she’s a little sinister—but it also allows the colors to really come forward and create contrast.

This book is *funny*, not scary, so I definitely wanted readers to be able to feel that from the moment they look at the images rather than to play up traditional Halloween motifs!

What other considerations did you have, besides color, in order to bring Clarissa to life?

Marcus (the author) gave me so many wonderful verbal details to work with, like her windows that “seemed to wink.”

I used to live in a pink house in New England that looked a lot like Clarissa, so I was able to draw from those memories— particularly the decorative trim and shingles!

I also use the tree on Clarissa’s side as an extension of her to assist her expressiveness.

I love that about the tree–it’s droopy and sad on one spread, all abloom on another.

Clarissa’s parents are a vampire’s castle and a witch’s hut–which is hilarious. Both are inherently creepy, but other creatures in the story, besides Clarissa, are adorable. How did you create such diverse characters but still keep the overall style of the book uniform?

There’s also a character that transitions for cute to truly monstrous!  I tried to create characters that can express emotional range in general—animals that frolic sweetly but then become worried or monstrous; a mother who is tough and fearsome but also can be tender. Using the same materials and process visually unified them, but so does giving them a little emotional range, too. No character in the book stays one fixed way throughout! Even the vampire has a campy moment in a family photo!

This story’s charm comes not only from the illustrations, but the playful rhyme and a surprise character at the end. 

When editors and agents say they want a story to truly stand out, SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED is what they mean.

Thanks, Susie, for introducing us to your new book.

Blog readers, we’re giving away a copy!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected on Halloween.

Good luck!


Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, an internationally exhibiting artist, a designer, and an educator. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design where she has also taught. She is the recipient of awards and honors from the SCBWI, American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators New York, and the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, and has been profiled in several publications, including The New York Times. She served on the board of ICON the Illustration Conference. Ghahremani lives and creates art in San Diego, CA. Follow her on Instagram @boygirlparty.

 

by Rajani LaRocca

Tara, thanks so much for having me on your blog. Today is exactly two weeks before my debut picture book, SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS, releases!

Set in ancient India, SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS is about a poor boy named Bhagat who wants to improve his family’s life by earning a place in the rajah’s musical troupe. Bhagat travels to the rajah’s city carrying his family’s entire fortune: a single coin and a chain of seven tiny golden rings. To stay at an inn, he needs to pay one ring per night in advance, but he doesn’t how long he will need to stay and doesn’t want to overpay. With his single coin, he can get one link broken. How can he separate the rings, pay one per night, and not waste any of them? Bhagat solves this conundrum and succeeds in an unexpected way. An author’s note explains the basics of binary numbers, how they’re related to Bhagat’s solution, and how they’re also related to modern-day computers.

Today, I’m going to talk about:

  1. Persistence
  2. Time
  3. The heart of your story
  4. Magic

1. I wrote the first draft of SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS back in October 2013. At the time, I had an idea for a novel (which would later become my MG debut, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM) and I’d written a couple of picture book texts. SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS was born from my memory of a logic puzzle I’d heard when I was a kid visiting my family in India. I took that puzzle, made it more complicated, and created a character who loved music and math (like my son) and who needed to solve this puzzle in order to save his family.

I then proceeded to revise this story almost 70 times before it sold. Let me emphasize that: SEVENTY. I revised it over four years, sometimes taking as much as six months between drafts because I was working on other projects (or perhaps doing other things, like my day job and raising my kids). The right ending for this story kept eluding me. I kept working on it, learned as much as I could about writing, and showed it to my critique partners over and over.

I started querying this book. And I got rejected. A lot! By agents who loved the folktale-like quality of the story but didn’t like the math. By those who loved the math but didn’t think they could sell something that felt like a folktale. By one who thought it was “too depressing” (which it is not) and others who never replied. Several agents did like it but didn’t like my other work enough to offer representation.

As many people will tell you, the path to publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, and the difference between those who get published and those who do not is all about persistence. So I kept going. I kept writing and writing, and over time I accumulated five picture book manuscripts that I thought were ready for agents’ eyes. And I finished revising my middle grade novel.

And then, in November 2017 I received multiple offers of representation for that middle grade novel. I shared my picture book manuscripts with the offering agents and got their take on them. And I made my choice: my fantastic agent, Brent Taylor of TriadaUS. Brent loved my novel and my picture books. My persistence had paid off.

In 2018, we submitted my novel and some picture books to publishers. And my books were rejected. A lot! (Do you see a theme here?). But we kept going, and I did revise and resubmits (R & R’s) when requested. We kept submitting. And what happened? SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS found the perfect editor and publisher: Cheryl Klein at Lee & Low books, who appreciated both the folktale-like quality and the math in the story, and who loved it enough to work on it with me to make it the best it could be. And friends, we sold FIVE books that year—my debut novel and four picture books!

2. You know how I wrote almost seventy drafts over four years, sometimes taking up to six months between drafts? When you step away from a story for long enough, it feels new when you read it again, and you can more easily see its flaws and find your way through what’s been confounding you.

It wasn’t until three years after I first drafted this story that I recognized the connection between the solution to Bhagat’s puzzle and binary numbers. So I wrote an author’s note that explained this connection, and why we care about binary numbers at all.

And the “right” ending to this story finally came to me almost four years after I first drafted it.

Sometimes time is exactly what we need to make a story right.

3. Through my revisions, some plot points changed. Words changed. But the heart of the story remained the same: a boy who loves music who sets out to save his family and must solve a math puzzle in order to do so.

When you are a writer, you’re going to get a lot of opinions on your work. Some will be helpful, and some not. But remember: YOU are the creator, and you decide what to keep and what to change. Develop your ability to recognize the heart of your story, what you really want to tell the world, and hold on to it, because that is what makes your story uniquely yours.

4. And after you’ve persisted and spent time working hard? When you find the right agent, editor, and publisher who also love the heart of your story? Friends, then it just feels like magic.

Thank you, Rajani, and best wishes with SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS!

Blog readers, you can win a signed copy of the book, just leave a comment below.

A random winner will be selected in a few weeks.

Good luck!


Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area with her wonderful family and impossibly cute dog. She is a writer of stories for children, doctor of adults, and baker of too many sweet treats. Her debut middle grade novel, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, was an Indies Introduce selection, an Indie next pick, a Kirkus Best Book of 2019, and a Massachusetts Book Award Honor title. Her debut picture book, SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS: A TALE OF MUSIC AND MATH, is set in ancient India and provides an introduction to binary numbers. Her virtual book launch will take place on October 27 at 7 PM EST with Silver Unicorn Books. You can register by clicking here.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

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

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