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Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!


Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at lauragehl.com and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at joshuaheinsz.com and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

by Lisa Robinson & Eda Kaban

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN (Two Lions/Amazon), which hits the shelves in August 2019. We’d like to share a few stories about the book.

Pirate Emma is about to start kindergarten. But Emma’s not so sure she’s ready for a new captain and crew. Especially since her beloved Cap’n Chu is right down the hall. So Emma decides to sail back to preschool and stir up a mutiny against kindergarten. Is that what she really wants? Or does she just miss her beloved Cap’n Chu? Batten down the hatches, mateys, because the first day of school is going to be stormy!

Lisa, what was your inspiration for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN?

My daughters loved their preschool teachers and had a hard time saying goodbye to them. When I want to process something with my kids, I look for a book to use for discussion. Although there were many books about the first day of school, I couldn’t find any about preschool children who were sad to leave their preschool teachers behind. So I decided to write one.

What did you think when you saw how Eda Kaban brought your story to life? 

I was so impressed with her vision for the book. I love how she made Emma such an expressive, lively, assertive character. What also amazed me was how Eda handled the interplay of fantasy and reality. Every time Emma leaves her kindergarten classroom and runs back to the preschool classroom, Eda portrays Emma as swimming through the ocean. This creates a delightful visual refrain.

What was your journey to publication? 

It was a long haul. I was writing for almost ten years, which included getting an MFA, before Marilyn Brigham, my Two Lions editor, offered me a contract for PIPPA’S NIGHT PARADE (which comes out soon after PIRATES). I made contact with Marilyn through the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature Conference, which I highly recommend (so does Tara–she is the co-chair). Soon after that, I signed with my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin. I couldn’t have done it without the thoughtful feedback from my two critique groups, one online called Crumpled Paper, and my local SCBWI group.

Eda, what was your approach to the cover design?

I was picturing her doing a Tarzan swing while I was illustrating the interiors. She has such a big and strong character that I thought she should be doing something big and dynamic on the cover as well. I originally had her swinging on a rope in a pirate scene rather than kindergarten but our art director and editor had the input to have her in a classroom setting to tie up the concept more strongly. And with that feedback, the cover sketch came together.

What was your process for developing this distinctive and spunky pirate girl? 

I fell in love with Emma the moment I read the manuscript. I could visualize her spunky attitude and I started sketching her out right away. I could see myself as a kid in her so it was easy to get into character and animate her in different poses. I created a lot of rough sketches. I edited the ones that didn’t relate to her as closely and cleaned up and colored the rest. Luckily everyone loved the designs when I presented her.

Can you say a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator for children’s books?

I’m originally from Turkey and I moved to the U.S. around 13 years ago to study art and become an illustrator. I spent 4 hard working years at art school. It’s a challenging restless marathon of drawing and painting everyday to build up your skills. Next big challenge was breaking into the industry. There are so many ‘no’s before you get one ‘yes.’ It can be really tough. About a year after art school, I signed with my current agent and only a week after that, I was offered my first book deal. I’ve been illustrating children’s books professionally since then for over 5 years now.

Thank you, Lisa & Eda, for revealing your cover! And now let’s reveal that Lisa is giving away an F&G to one lucky commenter.

Leave a comment below for a chance to enter–one entry per person, please. A winner will be chosen soon!

Good luck!

 

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

When my high-school-aged son was a toddler, I recall a day when he was in a particularly silly mood, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked, in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?” I knew immediately this was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after.

Over the next couple of years, the manuscript went through many critiques and many revisions, but the core story about the universal childhood experience of, “I gotta go. Now!” told from the perspective of a pirate on a quest to find just the right spot to leave his…uh, treasure…remained consistent throughout.

In 2006/2007 I submitted the story for professional critiques and participated in opportunities to read the story aloud at various SCBWI events. The story was a crowd-pleaser, and several editors expressed interest and invited me to follow up with a submission. In 2007, one of those editors took the manuscript to her editorial meeting, and then to acquisitions. She was extremely enthusiastic about the story, and I felt confident a contract offer was on the horizon. But that was not to be.

coaster

I was thrown by the emotional roller coaster of being so close to making my first sale, then having it fall apart, but I refused to give up on the story. I continued submitting it and bringing it to conferences for awhile, but eventually my focus shifted to new stories and new submissions. After signing contracts for my STORY TIME WITH SIGNS AND RHYMES series, my attention shifted to editing and launching those books. Even so, every now and then, I’d re-read my Pirate Potty manuscript, and tinker around with it some. I never stopped loving it.

Fast forward to 2015. I was invited to write a story for Oregon Reads Aloud, a keepsake collection of read-aloud stories for children, published in celebration of SMART’s (Start Making a Reader Today) 25th anniversary (Graphic Arts Books, 2016). I was grateful for the opportunity. I gladly contributed a story for the project and actively participated in the promotional events for the book.

In October of 2016, I drove 3 ½ hours from Portland to Seattle to spend a couple of hours signing copies of Oregon Reads Aloud in the Graphic Arts Books booth during the Pacific NW Book Association conference. During my time in the booth, I got to know some of the folks at Graphic Arts and familiarized myself with their regionally-focused list. I remember thinking, “These are such nice people. I’d love to work with them on other books. I wish I had a manuscript with a regional theme that I could submit to them.”

Over the course of the next year, I continued wishing that I had a book that was a good fit for Graphic Arts. Not surprisingly, wishing did not make it so. One day, as I re-read and reflected on my beloved Pirate Potty story, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could westernize this story?” That moment was a turning point.

I got all of the “feels” that you get when you have a good idea, and I started making notes. I challenged myself to replace the pirate character with a different character, and the idea of a cowboy soon came to mind. I tried plugging “Cowboy” elements into the story in place of “Pirate” elements, but I was not keen on the changes that came out of that exercise. I think there were a few different reasons the cowboy changes weren’t working, but the biggest issue was that during this phase of re-vision, I was essentially trying to insert a cowboy into the pirate’s story. The roots of my story were based on that memorable moment when my son posed the silly question, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?,” and I “saw” a very specific Pirate character in my mind every time I sat with the story. I couldn’t simply replace that character with a cowboy.

At one point, I pulled out my old files from back when the Pirate Potty story “almost sold,” and I re-read what the editor wrote to me. She had said, “…Everyone in our group just loved it and thought it’d be a slam dunk, but Sales thought that a pirate potty book would only appeal to boys, thus cutting our readership in half. I totally disagree with them…but without their support, we just can’t move forward…”

I, too, disagreed with the assessment that only boys would be interested in a Pirate Potty book, but this time as I re-read those words, a new question emerged: What about a cowgirl? I found myself immediately transported to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the Pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell.

WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? spilled onto the page with urgency.

And all of a sudden (and about a dozen years later) I had two potty stories I loved, one with a decidedly western theme. I identified several publishers that might be a good fit for Cowgirl, and I developed a submission plan. Graphic Arts Books was at the top of the list.

I submitted WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? to Graphic Arts Books in 2017, and I’m happy to share that it’s scheduled to hit bookshelves in the fall of 2019…along with WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? Yarrr! They loved that story, too.

One key revision, and two new books. Yee-Ha!


Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019) and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She is the founder of SmallTalk Learning based in Portland, Oregon. Learn more at dawnprochovnic.com.

 

A few weeks ago, I teased the cover to my upcoming book YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL on Twitter. You may have seen some garbled gobbledygook like this:

You can see a little hint of what’s to come in the lower right corner…

Or you can see the entire thing by following the cover evolution below…

The illustrator is Melissa Crowton, winner of SCBWI’s 2017 Winter NYC Conference portfolio showcase. Yeah, I am one lucky ducky to be paired with Melissa’s whimsical art.

She’s the star of this cover reveal, so let’s ask her some questions.

Melissa, what was your approach to the cover design for YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL?

The cover for this book was such a delight to work on. Covers in general are always a challenge—a lot of questions go through my mind.

  • What type of mood do I want the cover to convey?
  • Should it tell a story? 
  • Should it be simple, or more complex?

Because this book features a circus school, I knew that I wanted the cover to reference vintage circus memorabilia in some way—a nod to the past, but with a modern update.

I love collecting images for any project, and luckily for this book there was a gold mine of photos and poster designs available in books and online. The first sketches I worked on for the book were more simple in nature—a cast of characters against a backdrop of the stripes of the tent.

There are so many fun children and adults who show up in the book, and the publisher and I thought it might be fun to have a group on the cover, almost like a school photo. But the more we worked on it, the more it didn’t quite fit. So I went back to the drawing table and I decided to take a more decorative approach.

One thing I noticed in my research was a consistent use of graphic patterns and simple shapes. I had saved some images of old poster designs that used borders and shapes to highlight parts of the circus, so I thought that using a device like that show off the main characters, while also alluding to the busy school setting might be a good solution. I was also able to squeeze in a few animals friends on the cover as well which is always fun.

Once the publisher approved of my second attempt, everything was pretty easy at that point—I arranged the elements around the central focus, the blackboard, and passed my artwork off to the folks at Tundra after I was finished for them to add the title.

Although covers generally go through a lot of back and forth, I am so happy with where it ended up. I wanted the end result to hint at the exciting nature of the story inside, so hopefully it does just that!

How did you decide upon the color palette?

I looooove color, so choosing to make a book with a limited palette was a challenge, but also really fun! I didn’t realize how much I would love trying out different combinations.

I knew I wanted the interior to use a lot of black and white elements, so that was easy to nail down. As for the other colors, that was a bit more difficult, especially considering how many different animals and people were going to be in this book. I had originally chosen a yellow and blue color, but we decided to add pink into the mix to round it out—basically the primary colors but with a twist. I love that the colors play well off of each other but have their own personality, just like the characters in this book.

Did you go to the circus as a kid? What was your favorite part of the circus?

I went to the circus once as a kid with my mother and three sisters. I remember being really excited to see the performances, but my favorite part was actually the costumes. I loved that everyone looked different, but at the same time they were all part of a big family. There were a lot of patterns and colors in interesting combinations which is always something I have tried to incorporate into my own illustration work. I still love looking at old images of the circus for inspiration, there is a lot of great design that was used to promote the circus during those early years.

Melissa, you did a stupendous job on the cover! Thanks for showing us your process to get there!

YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL will be released by Tundra Books on June 4, 2019.

You can pre-order now…online or via your local indie…and if you do, leave a comment telling me so.

Everyone who pre-orders will be entered to win a PRIZE PACK of circus school goodies, including a signed F&G, poster, SKYPE call/visit, and whatever other good stuff I can stuff in the package.

Thank you, Melissa and Tundra Books!


Melissa Crowton is an illustrator and designer who has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as the Portfolio Showcase winner at their Winter 2017 Conference. She earned her BFA in Illustration at BYU in 2012 and an MFA in the Illustration Practice Program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in 2016. Melissa originally hails from Utah, but she now lives in the East Bay of Northern California. Visit her at melissacrowton.com and follow her on Instagram @mcrowton.

 

SUN! ONE IN A BILLION released last week. I meant to have Stacy on the blog then to talk about her newest book. But the website went down, I had conferences and school visits, and my plans were sunburned to a crisp.

But the SUN rises again another day!

Stacy, I did not realize you had an “Our Universe” series, but it makes total sense since your book EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS was such a hit.

Did you pitch EARTH as a series, or is it something the publisher requested?

EARTH was not pitched as a series. She’s a pretty independent planet and went on submission solo. When we sold the book to Henry Holt, it was a two-book deal but the only requirement for book 2 was that it needed to be funny nonfiction. Once EARTH was a finished book, we knew we had something special, and the publisher wanted to do more. And I wanted to do more! Currently, “Our Universe” consists of EARTH, SUN, MOON (2019), and OCEAN (2020).

That’s out of this world! But no Pluto?

What’s your take on Pluto, by the way? Planet or not?

I just wish scientists would make up their collective mind! I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson speak last year, and he convinced me that Pluto is absolutely not a planet. But I recently read about a new study that wants to change the planet definition again (currently, the IAU—International Astronomical Union—sets the rules) and that would allow Pluto back into the group. For now, I will say Pluto is a dwarf planet and a loyal dog to Mickey.

You know this blog often focuses on how children’s book creators get ideas for stories.

So, what’s the genesis of EARTH? 

And why is SUN the next in the series?

EARTH emerged from the wreckage of a failed project. I’d written a story about a pet rock, who lived with kids from cave times up to modern day. My critique group hated it. But I realized I wasn’t trying to tell a story about a rock. I was trying to tell a story about time and how humans are here for just a blink (in geological terms). So I refocused on telling Earth’s story because she’s been around for a bit.

When I talked to my publisher about doing more books, I pitched Sun, Moon, and Mars—all are extremely interesting. They selected Sun. (I’m glad they picked. I would have had a hard time making that choice.)

If you could be any planet, star or other object in the universe, who would YOU be?

I’d say Mars. I don’t want to be the center of attention—like Sun. Moon is a bit too familiar. Mars is the right balance of mysterious and recognizable. Plus, I think it’ll be the first planet Earthlings visit.

Well, thank you for visiting this blog, Stacy. 

Henry Holt is giving away copy of SUN to a random commenter.

Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected soon.

GOOD LUCK!

Happy Birthday, SUN!

Is it your 4,603,000,004th birthday? Or the 4,603,000,005th? Well, it’s OK, enjoy, who’s counting anyway?

STACY MCANULTY! She’s counting, that’s who! And she was counting on me to host her on the blog today.

But, you may have noticed, the blog has been DOWN for DAYS…while I co-chaired the RUCCL One-on-One conference this past Saturday and could do nothing about it. So, frantically on Sunday, I renewed the domain (after having mucho problems logging in), but it remained unprocessed. Then I woke up from a nightmare. Yes, this morning, I woke up from an actual nightmare, checked the URL and BAM! It’s back!

But I am also backlogged because I did not work with Stacy to create this wonderful blog about her second book in the Universe series, SUN, releasing TODAY!

So, consider this post a placeholder until I am able to get something worthy of Stacy, Stevie Lewis, and YOU, my dear blog readers, up and running today.

My apologies to SUN!!! Our favorite celestial body deserves better.

by Kelly DiPucchio

For many years I did a school visit presentation on voice.  I’d begin by reading a line or two from popular books that I felt had distinct voices and then I’d ask the students to guess the titles. They always got them right!

So how do you create an unforgettable voice for your manuscript? I suppose the process is a little different for every writer but here are a few things I’ve discovered over the years.

1. Let the voice come to you.

I usually let my ideas percolate for several weeks before writing down a single word. During this waiting period the story is being worked out in my head and in the process, it’s forming its own personality. This personality continues to grow until one day it becomes too large to contain and the story (and its unique voice!) is literally told to me, not by me.

2. Never try to copy someone else’s writing voice.

It just doesn’t work and it’s not very honorable. However, you can (and must!) study other voices. Doing this might cause you to feel annoying pangs of envy. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I swoon and sigh and lament that a particularly charming voice in a book is not my own. The envy eventually turns into admiration and I’m inspired to work even harder at improving my craft.

3. Don’t try too hard.

If you try to force an overly clever voice it’s going to come across sounding disingenuous or convoluted and there’s a good chance you’ll end up ruining your story.

4. Less can definitely be more.

Sometimes writing short, punchy lines without a lot of frills can create the loudest, most memorable voices. A minimalist approach gives the illustrations more room to shine and tell the story.

5. Be flexible.

Personally, I don’t have much luck changing the voice in a story after it initially comes to me. I kind of feel like the story is telling me who it is and who am I to disagree? However, if for whatever reason, the manuscript is missing a spark, you may need to consider a new approach. Many stories that initially came to me in rhyme were eventually rewritten in prose. I almost always despise the non-rhyming version at first, but if I push through and give myself some time to adjust, I usually end up liking it better than the original.

I didn’t set out to write a story about telepathy and the value of listening in my new picture book, POE WON’T GO. I thought I was writing a story about a stubborn elephant. But more often than not, I’m just a passenger when it comes to writing the first draft of any new story. I’m not entirely sure where the omniscient voice in my head is going to take me and I learned a long time ago it’s better to just relax and go along for the ride.

I thought it would be fun to ask Zachariah OHora, the illustrator of POE WON’T GO, for his thoughts behind the creation of the art of our new picture book and this is what he had to say:

First off, I’ve been a huge fan of your work, so I was pinching myself that we actually were doing a book together! After the happy delirium wore off a bit and I had time to think about the story. I started thinking about elephants and pink elephants like those from Dumbo. Delirium Tremens. A symbol of hallucination. And it made me think about how some of our problems can be a collective hallucination and that if we talked it out we could solve it.

At the same time I was sketching it out, the White House was trying to ban people coming in from a seemingly random list of countries. All Muslim countries though, and they were obviously stirring up some racial and ethnic hatred. Which gave me the idea that the main character Marigold would wear a hijab and she would hold the solution for solving the town’s collective hallucination/problem.

And the solution is listening, right? 

Speaking someone else’s language, or stepping into their shoes.

Try to understand what they are struggling with or worried about.

The small town of Prickly Valley then became a stand in for the whole world, which is why they are illustrated as impossibly diverse for a town that has only one light and intersection.

Each group of people tried and failed to solve the problem in how they were trained, usually by some form of force.

I had a lot of fun illustrating these constructions, some of which were in the text but there were plenty of others that were left wide open for anything I could think of. I got to illustrate four pages of text that were just:

“Remarkably, that plan failed as well. 

As did this one. 

And that one. 

Nope. Nothing doing.  

Seriously?”

What a gift for the illustrator! To have the openness to be surprised by the outcome.

That kind of generosity of spirit and trust which leaves room for real collaboration is the solution!

Marigold would approve!

Thank you, Zach! It’s been a true honor for me to work with you on POE WON’T GO. I couldn’t love it more. And thank you, Tara, for generously giving us both a voice here on your blog!

Thanks, Kelly, for teaching us how to speak elephant. And now, the elephant will sound the trumpet because we are giving away a copy of POE WON’T GO to a lucky blog reader who comments below.

One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


Kelly DiPucchio is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight picture books for kids including Grace For President, Zombie In Love and Gaston. Visit Kelly at kellydipucchio.com or connect with her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

Zachariah OHora is an award-winning illustrator and author. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Business Week, and on posters and record covers. He lives and works in Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his wife and sons. Visit him at zohora.com or connect with him on Twitter @ZachariahOHora.

 

by Lori Alexander

Last October, I headed into our pediatrician’s office with my 12-year-old who could not shake a deep, rattling cough. While we waited in a small, astronaut-themed room I wondered if my son might have pneumonia. While we waited some more, I wondered about this picture hanging on the wall.

As a seasoned Storystormer, I knew inspiration could strike just about anywhere. The image of the baby got me thinking about board books. I knew science-themed board books were selling well. But I didn’t have much interest in writing a book of facts for toddlers. What about a book that showed a baby’s current skills and how they might tie-in with a future career? I made a few notes in my phone, snapped the picture, and got back to checking my son’s temperature with the back of my hand.

One year later, I’m excited to share FUTURE ASTRONAUT (Cartwheel/Scholastic), illustrated by the amazing Allison Black. Part of the “Future Babies” board book series, upcoming titles include FUTURE ENGINEER, FUTURE CEO, and FUTURE PRESIDENT. And because I’m such a fan of Allison’s, here’s a peek inside Book #1 and a few words from the illustrator herself:

Allison, your style is so perfect for the youngest “readers.” Is this your first time illustrating board books?

Thank you! This is not my first time working on board books.  I currently have three published, but I think this series is really special and I can’t wait for them to be released! I love making board books because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son and it’s nice to be able to read to him without worrying that he’s going to rip, eat or destroy them!

How did you get your start in children’s publishing?

I’ve always been interested in children’s publishing, but I didn’t get really involved in it until 2016. That year I was approached by a couple of publishers who had discovered my art through my stationery line and my work with Target. I enjoyed making those books so much that I decided to get an agent and leave my job to be able to focus on this type of work – and I’m so happy I did!

What else are you working on, if you’re able to share?

Right now I’m working on a few books (which is all I can say about those), as well as developing some new items for my shop. I just released my Fall line a couple weeks ago so now I’m focusing on holiday products. I’ve also started to write some children’s book manuscripts. There’s a lot more work to be done on those (authors really are amazing!), but it’s exciting to try something new!

Plan for the future and pre-order a copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT today.

Lori will give away one copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT to a lucky commenter (in the future, release date is June 2019)!

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck.


Lori Alexander is the author of picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction for older readers. ALL IN A DROP, a chapter book biography of scientist Antony van Leuwenhoek releases in fall 2019 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, followed by A SPORTING CHANCE, a biography of Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, in 2020, also from HMH. Visit her at lorialexanderbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @LoriJAlexander.

Allison Black is an illustrator and designer specializing in cute and colorful creations. Originally from Upstate New York, Allison now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, son and four pets. Allison’s career started as a designer for Target where she developed items ranging from Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets to party décor and apparel. In 2017 Allison left Target to focus on children’s book illustration and to work on her own line of products. She now has six published books and has another ten in progress! You can find Allison’s books, stationery and more in her online shop, Hip-Hip. In addition to making art around the clock, Allison has a particular love for goats, guinea pigs and gummy bears. Visit her at allisonblackillustration.com, shop for art at hip-hip.com and follow her on Instagram @allisonblackillustration and @hello.hip.hip.

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

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

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

      

Anne Marie, congratulations on your newest VAMPIRINA book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four years! Sounds like the picture book process.

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

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

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

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

Has the TV show increased your VAMPIRINA book sales?

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

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

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

Wow, Season 3 already!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW release day!

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

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

A winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

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

 

Disclaimer: These are not Tammi’s abs.

by Tammi Sauer

People go to the gym for various reasons. Some want to stay fit. Some want to lose weight. Some want to fulfill the dream of getting a six-pack.

But that six-pack doesn’t just happen. It requires a lot. I can think of at least six things that need to go into the mix:

  1. fuel,
  2. a personal trainer,
  3. consistency,
  4. stretching,
  5. a workout buddy, and
  6. some rest and recovery.

This is my 2018 six-pack:

    

    

Wordy Birdy  (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)

“Sauer’s fun-to-read text and Mottram’s detailed and hilarious illustrations seamlessly meld into a cohesive whole.”—School Library Journal

But the Bear Came Back (Sterling)

“There is plenty of humor in the details of the colorful, fine-lined art, but this is largely a poignant story, one that could add a nice variety of flavor to storytime.”—Booklist

Go Fish!  (HarperCollins)

“A fun summertime romp—hook, line, and sinker.”—Kirkus

Knock Knock  (Scholastic Press)

”Saturated colors, animated characters, and silly jokes will ensure repeated readers. An appealing read aloud choice on hibernation and friendship.”—School Library Journal

Quiet Wyatt (Clarion)

“A humorous friendship story with a little bit of an ironic twist.” —Kirkus

Making a Friend (HarperCollins)

“A sure recipe for making a friend…real or snow.” —Kirkus

While I didn’t set out to have six books published in one year (that would be bananas), those same six things—fuel, a personal trainer, consistency, stretching, a workout buddy, and some rest and recovery—played a big role in making this six-pack happen.

Fuel:

Your body needs water and the proper foods to reach its potential. To write a picture book, you must have fuel, too. You need to feed your muse and writing ability. But how? Read and analyze(!!!) other picture books! Go to the bookstore or the library, grab a pile of books (mostly ones published in recent years), and STUDY them. Break them apart and figure out what makes them work. And once you finish that? Well, grab another pile.

Personal Trainer:

Getting guidance from an expert in the field can prove beneficial in achieving this fitness goal. As a writer, you can gain valuable insight from others as well. Attend conferences. Take a class. Watch a webinar. Find a mentor. Study resources on how to write picture books—my personal favorite is Linda Ashman’s The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books.

Consistency:

Acquiring that toned set of muscles requires regular effort. When I first decided to try writing picture books, I’d write for a couple of month, take a break for a few weeks, write for a few days, take a break for half a year…. This didn’t help me to improve as a writer. It was only when I made writing a priority that I acquired noticeable gains. You need to show up to the page (even when you don’t feel like it—maybe especially when you don’t feel like it) and be willing to put in the work.

Stretch:

Some pre-workout stretching can help you to avoid muscle strains and cramping. Stretch as a writer, too. Instead of writing the same sort of story over and over again, attempt new approaches. Try different points of view. Try different structures. Try to tell a story entirely in dialogue or a story that’s told almost completely through the art or one that is (gasp!) a rhymer.

Workout Buddy:

A workout buddy joins you at the gym and knows firsthand what you’re going through because he or she is going through it, too. This person can motivate you to keep at it and get better. As a writer, critique partners and critique groups not only cheer you on as you do the work, but, even more importantly, they push you to improve your craft.

Rest and Recovery:

You can’t go to the gym every minute—your body needs time for rest and recovery. Writers need these times, too. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for lunch. Visit the beach or a museum or your great aunt Mildred. Take time to experience life and refill the well.

This six-pack of writing tips has served me well over the years. In the words of Hans and Franz, I hope they PUMP YOU UP.

Tammi wants to share her six-pack with you.

For a chance to win one of these books, leave a comment on this post. (One comment per person, please.)

SIX WINNERS will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 25 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy. Visit her at tammisauer.com.

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Spring 2020

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