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by Kerri Kokias

I’ve been quietly participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) since 2009. You know the type, the writer who lurks on the sidelines, observing and taking notes, but not necessarily being vocal in the comments. Well, it’s time for me to speak up!

I owe Storystorm a big THANK YOU for helping me come up with the idea for my debut picture book, SNOW SISTERS!, which is illustrated by Teagan White and being published by Knopf in January.

Actually, many of my current manuscripts incorporate elements of ideas I came up with in Novembers and Januaries past, and Storystorm has also changed the way I recognize and record ideas throughout the year.

I always think it’s funny when Storystorm participants ask, “What counts as an idea?”

For me, it’s any thought that gives me a little tingle or flash of curiosity. I’ve never tried to come up with 30 developed book ideas. Instead I record little bits of inspiration. I may think of a potential character, a structure, a title, a nonfiction topic, a plot or concept idea, or even just a few words that I like the sound of together. I jot the idea down by category and when I’m ready to start a new story I pull out my list and combine ideas from here and there.

For SNOW SISTERS! I had the idea of writing a story in mirrored language in 2010. I took note of the idea but never tried to do anything with it.

In 2012, I made a note about writing a story about sisters who were opposites.

In 2013, I took note when an editor questioned on Twitter why there weren’t any books about characters who hated the snow.

I pulled out my idea list and brainstormed ways that the different past pieces of inspiration could work with that concept. Through the process of writing and revising, the story didn’t end up implementing the ideas in the way I first thought; the sisters aren’t exactly opposite, they just have their own distinct personalities, which gives them room to connect in unexpected ways. And neither hate the snow, they just interact with it differently. And that specific editor didn’t connect with the story…but someone else did!

And now, 8 years after its first piece of inspiration, it’s a book!

So, thank you to Tara, all of her guest bloggers, and all of the participants over the years for keeping Storystorm going strong! I very much look forward to being a participant and guest blogger this coming January.

Kerri’s writing features unique structures, playful language, humor, tension, tenderness, simple text, and complicated characters. She has a good vision for how text and art can work together to tell a complete story. Kerri credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two children, and three dogs.

You can learn more about Kerri at KerriKokias.com. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KerriKokias.

Penny Parker Klostermann has cooked up a new fractured fairy tale with Ben Mantle…but the book wouldn’t be a reality without her fairy tale agent, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Knowing many of you are hoping your fairy godmother will deliver a prince (or princess) of an agent, I asked Tricia how the two of them paired up to create kidlit magic.

       

Tricia, how did you and Penny connect? What made you fall in love with her work?

Penny was a referral from Erin. I was instantly interested because of her ability with rhyme. She’s got the elusive skill set and she still studies it all the time.

That’s like music to MY ears. I’m a Thomas Jefferson, INFJ, Hermione Granger personality type, so I love working with people who are always seeking to be better, and that, to a T, is Penny.

She is devoted to her writing. It’s her true love, but also a passion. That really does speak volumes to me. It reminds me of the book by Cal Newport called DEEP WORK, which inspires me constantly, about focused practice and preparation.

What about A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE do you adore?

Penny has an incredible sense of humor. THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT was full of it and A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE came right from that same vein of humor. You have this sense of “oh no!” as the familiar stories get cooked (oh no!), but there’s so much humor as it is happening. It is delightful.

How to you hope readers will react to it?

I hope readers (kids) get a kick out of it just like I did. Yes, I consider myself a reader (and a kid at heart).

Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s next in store for Penny?

Penny has always got something AMAZING cooking (ha, see what I did there) and right now is no different. But that’s all I can say!

You’ll have to ask me back to the blog another time to get the scoop.

Thanks, Tricia. You can count on it. 

Penny, this is your second fractured fairy tale. What do you enjoy about writing them?

I love taking something familiar and twisting it in a new way. And I believe that children connect quickly with the humor when they read something that has familiar parts but has been taken a different direction.

And what is uniquely challenging about writing them?

And the challenges (for me) mirror the reasons I love it.

It’s challenging to take something familiar and twist it in a new way. It’s tough to balance the familiar with the new and have a story arc that makes logical sense and flows smoothly.

Thanks, Penny. You know I love a good story, especially when it involves food.

A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE gives a new twist to the fish-out-of-water story (maybe it should be called a fish-out-of-soup story). William just wants to be a renowned chef, but the problem is that he lives in a fairy tale land where he cooks up a lot of trouble, especially when he bakes the Gingerbread Man.

But when William realizes fairy tales have their own special ingredients—like apples and pumpkins—he learns how to cook up ha-pea-ly ever-after endings.

This book is a delicious treat for all who love mash-ups (and mashed potatoes).

Penny is giving away a copy of A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE to a US resident. Enter by leaving one comment below.

A winner will be selected by release day, September 5th.

Good luck!

 

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 Sue Fliess

One of the most popular questions I get from people is, “What inspired you to write this book?” I always hesitate a little because I wish I could say that everything I’ve produced has been a product of sublime inspiration. The truth is, many times, the end product has strayed quite a bit from the original inspired idea. That’s not a bad thing. It’s called editing. And often those edits lead you down unexplored, unexpected, paths to the story that will actually appeal to readers. What I’m saying is, it’s all good. It’s just not always what your original intention was.

Tara has invited me to elaborate here on one such project, RACE!, which COMES OUT TODAY! and of which I’m very excited—and also very proud. Thanks, Tara! As short as this story is, it has a looong history.

Back in 2007 or 2008, I wrote a character-based story about cars, in which a boy was obsessed with toy cars. I had it critiqued by Elizabeth Law, and while she liked it, she had very good pointers on making it stronger. But she called out one scene in particular, where the boy was crashing his cars. She said, “You should think about also writing a story about crashing cars. But you’ll need to find just the right house.”

So, in 2009, I started a new project called CRASH!, which was exactly that: a smashing, crashing, shaking, braking story, set at a demolition derby. My agent, Jennifer Unter, started submitting it (in 2010) and we got a lot of interest! But it was getting rejected because there was ‘too much crashing’ or it was ‘a little too violent’. Well, yes, I wanted to say, have you ever been to a demolition derby? Alas, one editor asked for a revision to inject a main character car. And ‘small car’ was born. He won the whole derby, against all the odds. It was perfect! It was just what she wanted! And then they turned it down.

Jennifer and I agreed to put it aside for a while, which was fine with me.

Fast forward to 2015. As is my style, I pull this manuscript out again and try to rethink it. Maybe I just needed to take out some of the ‘more violent’ crashing language? I softened it up a little, (still called CRASH!) but I stayed true to the story arc of a small car ending victorious, just fewer bumps and bruises along the way. Jennifer started submitting it again and one editor (Sonali Fry at little bee THANK YOU SONALI) asked if I wouldn’t mind changing the theme from a demolition derby to something else.

As I always say, I’ll try! We talked about it, and both agreed that making it about a race instead, had great appeal. It didn’t change the story theme, just the setting, and I was able to keep so much of the text as-is because there’s still a lot of squealing and screeching, vrooming and swerving, and even conking and bonking that goes on in a race. And during this revision, I added a layer. In the end, (spoiler alert!) it’s revealed that a young boy is actually playing with his toy cars in his homemade backyard racecourse. So RACE! is now a real book—woot! My critique group still refers to this story as CRASH!, as do I sometimes, but RACE! is proof that in publishing, you can’t always rush to the finish line.

Maybe the sequel should be Slow and Steady?

Wow, what a long and winding road for RACE! Thanks for sharing the story behind the story, Sue. Also thanks for providing a copy for a giveaway!

To enter the giveaway, please leave one comment below. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks!

Good luck, RACING FANS!

And Happy 4th of July!

Hey, Tara! Thanks for letting me share about my Stinky Stench!

(Umm, P.U., but OK…?)

Over the last year and a half—ever since first book LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST was released—a small handful of bookstores around the country reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in visiting to do readings and signings.

For those in and around New England (my home), I tried to make it happen. But occasionally, a store far out of driving distance asked. And while I was honored, I didn’t have any imminent plans to travel to New Orleans or St. Louis or Los Angeles*.

Well, word got back to my amazing publicity and marketing team at Sterling Publishing. In preparation for the release of the sequel, they offered to send me on a short tour to celebrate THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH and they even worked it out that I could visit a bunch of those stores that had contacted me!

So for the first two weeks of May I traveled from Boston to Allentown, PA to Asheville, NC to New Orleans to Kalamazoo, MI taking a detoured route through Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis, then finishing up in Baltimore.

I had seven bookstore events: The Novel Neighbor, Octavia Books, Spellbound Children’s Bookshop, Bookbug, The Ivy Bookshop, and two Barnes & Nobles (Allentown, PA and Portage, MI).

At Bookbug they made these cupcakes:

And I got to hang out with a bunch of nErDcampMI friends.

At the Novel Neighbor, they ordered special Flapjacks Lip Gloss:

At The Ivy Bookshop, it was standing room only!

But the best part was that I got to visit 19 schools in those ten school days.

Some days I visited three different schools. Other days I’d stay at a single school all day and do multiple presentations.

Sometimes I’d be reading to a single class or grade at a time. Other times I presented to entire elementary schools—from 600 students in the gym to 200 students in the auditorium to 150 students in the library to 20 preschoolers in the art room—I tried it all.

One school got creative with life-size minecraft and Pirasaurs!

Sometimes I had slides and a microphone.

Other times I had neither. Luckily I’m not a diva …yet (traveling with a personal masseuse is totally acceptable, right?).

One school that I had Skyped with previously got me to read my poem about my cat that poops all over the house.

So I’d like to thank Sterling for everything! From the tour all the way back to taking a risk on the slush pile submission in 2013 that was Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (yes, it was a slush pile submission – Sterling accepts unsolicited submissions via snail mail – see guidelines here).

*Don’t worry, Los Angeles. I promise I’ll get out to you eventually!

Josh is giving away YOUR CHOICE:

  • EITHER a personalized signed copy of THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH
  • OR a written critique of your picture book manuscript (Josh values this at an estimated $1 billion)

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

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk (9.19.17), Albie Newton (Spring 2018), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (2018), and more coming soon!

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. He’s written a free 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books available on his website here.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more about Josh at his website joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Narwhals are fascinatingly cool, and lucky us, there’s a whole buncha new books that feature these unicorns of the sea. One such hilarious take is Ben Clanton’s new _____ book series NARWHAL AND JELLY. I asked Ben to share the backstory of his most awesome underwater adventure…

Ahoy Tara,

I’m thrilled you like NARWHAL AND JELLY! Thank you!

NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA! started out as a PB, or actually a series of picture books. There have been a number of iterations, but ever since NARWHAL first swam into my brain I knew one book wouldn’t be enough for me.

I first got it into my head that I wanted to make a book featuring a narwhal after seeing the book POLAR OBSESSION by Paul Nicklen several years ago. The book has some absolutely stunning photographs of narwhals in it and my mind was o-fish-ally blown. I must confess before seeing Nicklen’s book I didn’t really know about narwhals. That such a creature which seems so fantastic actually exists caught my imagination. I started doodling little narwhals even more than monsters, dragons, robots, or my other usual favorite subjects.

However, my first attempts at writing a story about one of these little narwhals didn’t turn out so great. Most of my initial ideas centered around a narwhal getting lost at sea and separated from its pod. I finally realized I was trying to force too serious of a story on this narwhal when standing in line for ice cream (Molly Moon’s in Seattle). Something about the smell of newly made waffle cones in the air and thinking about how they look like horns (or perhaps a narwhal tooth?) flipped a switch in my head and it suddenly clicked for me that Narwhal is the sort of character that is as sweet and awesome as waffles and ice cream AND that Narwhal’s story should be too.

Jelly, who is a bit of a worrier and skeptic, wasn’t so sure about this new approach for a narwhal story, but that night I came up with three stories (“Narwhal,” “Narwhal’s BEST WEEKEND EVER,” and “Narwhal’s Pod of Awesomeness”) and made quick storyboards and even a mock-up. By the next day I had several more book ideas featuring Narwhal and Jelly. And then a flood of new story ideas by the day after that.

At the time, I just assumed that these stories would/should be picture books. That was the format I was most familiar and comfortable with, but after submitting to several publishers the feedback I received from pretty much everyone was more or less the same . . . the characters are great but the stories seem slight. It was Tara Walker (Tundra Books) that mentioned the stories when viewed together seemed to add up to more than the individual parts. She encouraged me to consider exploring the format and page count. I resisted this idea at first. I didn’t mind the books being light on plot. Actually, that was a part of the appeal to me and one of the reasons I felt they worked well. But as is usual for me with any suggestion Tara gives me that I don’t agree with (which is rare) . . . I eventually came to see she was right. So I tried combining a couple of the stories into a long picture book. It felt forced. It wasn’t until I started to add panels and bonus materials that i found a way to make three 32 page “picture books” into a 64 page ______ book.

This process took years in which I kept revisiting the format and what I ended up with . . . it doesn’t exactly neatly fit into the typical designations of “picture book” or “chapter book” or “early reader” or even “graphic novel.” I suppose “graphic novel for early readers” is the closest. Yet it is really a bit of a hybrid.

Somewhat ironically, even though Tara and Tundra Books had encouraged me to explore the format they weren’t entirely sure about the unusual one I had come up with, but I had been fully converted. I was sure this was the way to go. It took awhile but Tara and Tundra finally decided to take a chance on it.

And aren’t we lucky that they did!

Thanks, Ben and Tundra!

Tundra is giving away a copy of the first NARWHAL AND JELLY book, so leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected soon!

Five years ago I was reading Joanne Levy’s SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE—such a clever title and a fun read. I thought to myself…what elementary school joke’s punchline could I turn into a picture book title?

And then…

BAM!

I got whacked upside the head…

Why is 6 afraid of 7?

Because…7 ATE 9!

I felt a powerful surge of muse awaken all my senses, sorta like this…

When I get smacked so soundly, I immediate go research my idea. Surely someone already had to have published a 7 ATE 9 book, right?

Well, I should have searched on worldcat.org, but instead I went somewhere else. You can probably guess where.

And somehow I did not find a picture book with that name. I found other items, like a card game, but no picture book. But it turns out, there were picture books with that title—I was just so frantic with inspiration that I missed them. I could have been searching on a typewriter for all the attention I paid the results.

But guess what? That was a good thing. Because if I had found other 7 ATE 9 picture books, I would have immediately deflated…

And sometimes, you just have to go with your gut.

The first thing I imagined was an intrepid Private “I” being hired by a nervous and trembling number 6. The puns just started flying out, I couldn’t even stop them if I tried. I tested them on my kids. After a while, they got sick of me.

And that’s pretty much how I knew I had a good idea. Thanks, girls!

Then, shortly after Disney-Hyperion bought the manuscript, my acquiring editor extraordinaire Kevin Lewis left to pursue writing full-time.

Kevin had known exactly who should illustrate, and the two of us had already had brainstorming sessions to determine the look and feel of the book.

Thankfully, when editor extraordinaire TWO took over, Tracey Keevan hired Ross MacDonald like Kevin and I had envisioned.

I am so thankful to everyone who helped get this book into the world—my family, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Maria Elias, Kevin, Tracey, Ross, and the entire team at Disney-Hyperion. Today 7 ATE 9 debuts and I hope you will check it out.

Here’s the trailer…

It took four years to go from manuscript to book, and it was one heckuva good ride!

 

 

 

 

 

2016 RUCCL Mentors

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If you’re submitting to RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please know…

The manuscript’s the thing.

If you send your submission to the wrong address, don’t worry, we’ll get it to the right place.

If you forget to send a check, don’t worry, we’ll get in touch.

If you somehow mess up the instructions, don’t worry. It’s OK. We are not here to impose penalties on you. We want you to get in, we really do! We read each manuscript thoroughly and determine its merits. There are no red marks on your paper or strikes against you. We strive to look for the positive in every submission we receive.

If you get in, rejoice! It means the reading team liked your submission AND we had a mentor to pair you with. Sometimes we have more mentors for YA than picture books, or more for MG than non-fiction, although we try to keep all genres balanced and fairly represented. So if you don’t get in, do not despair. It does not mean anything bad about your work. It might mean we just do not have enough room for you this year and we hope you will try again. Our conference grows each year. Last year was our biggest RUCCL One-on-One Plus ever, and this year will break the record books once again.

This being said, let’s review some of the issues found in last year’s crop of fiction picture book submissions. Pay attention to these things and polish your manuscript to a high sheen!

  • Not picture book language

Some manuscripts were lengthy and overly descriptive. The writer did not exhibit an understanding of the play between words and images that is essential to the picture book format. Sentences described what could have been shown instead. Shorter, snappier language where every word is carefully chosen is preferred. Some writers paginated their submission, with large paragraphs on every page—not the norm for a modern picture book. Overall, there was too much unnecessary text—text that did not move the story forward.

  • Story arc needed development

Some submissions did not contain a clear beginning, middle and end. The story had a muddled arc or a “one and done” plot—the character tried once and succeeded, which creates an unsatisfying ending because there isn’t sufficient tension. The reader has not had time to build empathy for the character’s struggle.

  • Concept needed development

Many submissions last year focused on the main character or the character’s friend moving. This concept is common and needs a fresh twist. The pretty, fancy princess theme also turned up a lot. The market is saturated with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious-like books, so again, a fresh twist is needed to make these concepts stand out. What about your character makes her different than what is already on the market?

  • Common concepts need a fresh take

If you are writing about a common concept, it needs a fresh twist to make it different and new. Try changing the character (from a child to a robot) or the setting (from modern times to prehistoric, from land to the sea) to create a new perspective.

For more on the RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference, please visit ruccl.org.

 

This year’s guest speakers were recently announced—Pat Cummings as the Keynote and Kate Dopirak as the Success Story.

Submissions are being accepted NOW, postmarked  through June 27, 2017.

Good luck and I hope to see you there!

Today I invited author Laurie Wallmark to pontificate on a female computer science pioneer…and to introduce her new picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, illustrated by Katy Wu.

Laurie and I first met ten years ago (!!!) when I joined her critique group. Who could imagine that a decade later, we would be celebrating each other’s books?

Laurie, this is your second PB biography about an important female computer scientist (the first being award-winning ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE). What drew you to your subjects?

People say, “write what you know,” but I disagree. If you’re not familiar with a topic or an idea, you can always research it. I’d rather say, “write what you’re passionate about.” After all, you and your story will be together for a very long time. From your initial idea to that first draft, from innumerable revisions to a published book, you will read your story over and over and over again. If you’re not passionate about the topic, this will turn from a joy to an agony.

I’m passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Two of my four (so far!) careers have been in computer science, one as a programmer and the other as a professor. Therefore, it seemed logical that I write my first two picture book biographies about people who contributed so much to the field.

My other passion is wanting to make sure that all children—regardless of sex, race, religion, physical or mental challenges, etc.—realize that it’s possible for anyone to have a love for, and possibly a career in, STEM. Picture book biographies of strong women STEM show girls that they too can succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field.

What about Grace Hopper’s story inspired you to write it?

It bothered me that someone who was so instrumental in shaping today’s world of computers had been entirely overlooked in the children’s trade-book market. Grace is the person who made it possible for anyone (including kids) to be able to program a computer, not just engineers and mathematicians. By sharing her love and knowledge of computers and programming, she encouraged others to consider a career in software engineering.

Shouldn’t our children know about the accomplishments of someone who was so important to the birth of our modern technological society? Yes, there are a few school/library titles about her, but these are not books a child would pick up and read. They’re dry recitations of the events of Grace’s life. In addition, they contain factual inaccuracies.

Without Grace’s idea to use English words to program computers, probably fewer people would have chosen programming as a career. Without enough programmers, there would be fewer programs and apps written. Without programs and apps, our computers and phones would not be much less powerful.

So that’s why I wrote this book—to introduce children to one of the most important computer scientists who ever lived.

You write both fiction and biographies. Which do you prefer? (Am I pulling a Sophie’s Choice on you?)

I can’t believe you’re asking me to choose between my beloved children. And what about my third child, poetry? Luckily, as a writer, I don’t have to choose. In fact, my master’s thesis combined all three—fiction, biography, and verse. I wrote a novel in verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace.

If I did have to choose, the answer would have to depend on my current project. I’m working on a biography of a woman mathematician right now, so biography is the favored child. Not to worry, fiction and poetry, you’ll soon have the chance to be number one in my heart.

What interesting facts about Grace Hopper did not make it into the book?

Because of the limited word count, one of the many challenges in writing a picture book biography is deciding what to include and what to leave out. For example, my book has a scene of Grace constructing a doll house. What’s not included in the book is she decorated that dollhouse by making her own tiny furniture, curtains, and rugs. She also sewed clothes for her dolls taking up residence.

Another incident, also from childhood, is when Grace’s canoe capsized. After her mother shouted for her to remember her great-grandfather, the admiral, Grace didn’t abandon ship. Instead she kicked her way back to the shore, dragging the canoe behind her.

These stories emphasize Grace’s self reliance and can-do attitude. But so do some of the stories that did make it into the book, so these two weren’t needed. Stories like how Grace convinced the Navy to let her enlist even though she was too old and too skinny. Or how she convinced her colleagues and the world how important it was for computer languages to use words instead of only numbers.

Laurie, thank you for decoding Grace Hopper’s life and presenting the world with another picture book biography about an important female computer scientist. Congratulations on all your work and success!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography about Grace Hopper.

Sterling Children’s Books is giving away a copy of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE. Please leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Today is the day that my second written and illustrated picture book DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! will be released into the world!

It’s the story of a dragon whose land had been invaded by two adorably horrible princesses who change everything. As you have read on other posts on Tara’s awesome blog and during Storystorm, you know that characters are very important in picture books. A strong character can inspire strong emotions and getting his/her/their look is extremely important to the book.

DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL is comprised of three main characters; a grumpy dragon and the two princesses who have invaded his land.

Below, I’m going to share a quick, edited run through the many, many, many different versions of the Dragon and the Princesses. Just like revisions in the text, there are revisions in the art.

The story originally started out with the dragons invading the princess’ land, but in a Eureka moment (brought on by delirium from the stomach flu) I flipped it.

After I settled on this new plot, I wanted to create the cutest dragon I could. These were my first attempts; I was going for a combination of a dinosaur and a chicken.

Here it is with various emotions.

Reasonably happy with this version, I did a few color character studies to try and learn exactly who the dragon was. (You’ll see that I call him Fred.)

I wasn’t totally happy with this version, so after several sketches, I decided to try to combine two of the coolest things ever—Elvis and an alligator.

I had it! The perfect image of a snotty little dragon. Here he is on a sketch of the first page of the book. I loved him.

A color sketch:

I completed the first draft of the dummy, sent it to my art director and waited. A few weeks later, I got an email from her. It was wise. It was great advice. It was tragic. (Not really, but it might have felt so at the time)

She noted (with great wisdom) that the dragon looked a bit too snotty. Perhaps we needed to make him cuter.

So, I created 4 new sketches, cleaned them up and sent them to her.

As you can see, I really wanted to keep the Elvis hair.

Can you guess which one she picked? Yup. The only one without the pompadour. (cue tiny violin music).

I did a version in full color. And once again, I was in love.

After a few more tweaks, he started to look like this.

And then, at the very last stage of illustrating the book, he got a snout job.

The princesses did not take quite as many attempts. This is how they looked in one of the first color pieces I created for the first dummy.

They were not quite right, so I did a few more sketches.

and a few more…

and this tiny one.

She was a winner! But none of the other princesses seemed right, so back to the drawing table I went.

I knew how I wanted her face to look. We (me and the wise AD) just weren’t sold on her hair.

And then I sent this.

Finally, we had our main characters. While all of this was happening there were also settings, other dragons, creatures and princesses ball gowns considerations as well as a general color pallet.

But that is for another post.

For some more dragon-y fun, you can take a personality quiz based on DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL! Are you a dragon, a princess, both or something else entirely?

www.pippinmathur.com/quiz

You can also follow me on Twitter at @pippinmathur.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur moved from Texas to a suburb outside of Washington, DC. She shares her home with a knight, a princess, and two unruly dragons, which leads to many exciting and loud adventures.

Thanks, Courtney, for showing us how art edits evolve. (And as an author-only,  I will never complain about edits again! Well…we’ll see…)

Courtney is giving away a copy of DRAGONS RULE, PRINCESSES DROOL!, which releases today! Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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