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by Marsha Diane Arnold

Recently, I was sharing with students how writers rewrite and rewrite more, trying to get our books perfect for our readers. A first grader raised her hand and sweetly commented, “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.”  What wisdom from one so young. This is exactly what Badger learned in Badger’s Perfect Garden.

As readers will discover, Badger’s garden might not have turned out as perfectly as his original vision, but it is spectacularly beautiful, thanks to serendipity, Mother Nature, and Badger’s initial work.

Badger is a perfectionist. He had planned long and worked hard for his perfect garden. He had a plan—a garden plan. But sometimes when we hold too tightly to an outcome, things take a course of their own, or in this case Mother Nature takes a course of her own.

Of course, Badger is devastated when his vision is destroyed. He does what many of us do or would like to do. He stays inside, “busying himself with this and that,” so he doesn’t have to think about his perfect garden ever again!

When Badger’s friends show him a garden surprise, Badger realizes the truth that “letting go” can be a celebration, full of jubilation. Once he lets go of the outcome of a perfect garden, he is also free to let go of worry and to enjoy “a hodgepodge of garden games, jumbly-tumbly dancing, and muffins and mulberry juice.”

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustration of Badger as he embraces his mixed-up garden shows him caught in a swirl of flowers and vegetables. His expression is one of serene happiness. Indeed, Ramona’s art beautifully captures Badger’s feelings from beginning to end—from hopeful, studious, and excited, to dejected, to that tranquil contentment.

Writers must also learn to “let go” when a publisher purchases their story. They must surrender their story to an editor, an art director, and an artist who bring their vision to the story as well.

I sometimes use art notes in my manuscripts, but Sleeping Bear Press removes all art notes before giving a manuscript to an artist. This is part of the “letting go” and the trusting that authors need to accept. Ramona Kaulitzki understood so much of what I wanted to show. For example, I had written, “Red Squirrel helped Dormouse gather string,” with this art note: Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangle the string. With the art note gone, I prayed Ramona had a similar sense of humor to mine. She did. When the sketches arrived, I saw Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangled in string on the page and the following spread.

There are also times when the artist’s vision is slightly different from the author’s. I had written, “Weasel found twigs to make holes for the seeds,” as my original vision was for a couple of the animals to make holes. But the art only showed Weasel making holes and previously walking just one twig. When I received the art, I simply asked my editor to change the wording from “twigs” to “twig.”  Ramona’s art was perfect and it was a simple thing to let go of my illustration vision and an “s.”

I did a lot of research on seeds for this book; I wasn’t sure how much information I’d use. In case the editor wanted to name specific plants, I kept a list of possible plants for Badger’s garden and images of seeds. In all my research I learned a lot, like the names of five edible burrs. We didn’t use this research in Badger’s Perfect Garden, but who knows in what future manuscript my gathered “seeds” will ‘rearrange themselves,’ just as Badger’s did.

“They just rearranged themselves,” said Red Squirrel.

“If you hadn’t planted them over there, they wouldn’t be here.”

Thank you, Tara Lazar, for inviting me to visit your wonderful website and blog. May all your plantings produce beautiful gardens!

Thank you, Marsha, for blogging today and also giving away a copy of your new book BADGER’S PERFECT GARDEN!

To enter, please leave one comment below. A random winner will be chosen in “April showers bring May flowers.”

Good luck!


Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical” and “uplifting.” Described as a “born storyteller” by the media, her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and state Children’s Choice awards. Recent books include Galápagos Girl, a bilingual book about a young girl growing up on the Galápagos Islands and Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild book illustrated by Caldecott winner Matthew Cordell.

Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. You can often find her standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies or purple martins swooping for insects. She can also be found at marshadianearnold.com.

by Lori Mortensen

I love picture book biographies. They’re right up there with chewy, chunky chocolate chip cookies.  With those first delicious lines, I’m drawn into someone else’s world that reveals what shaped them and why their story is important. Unlike biographies for adults that pack in everything but the kitchen sink, I love picture book biographies because there’s only room for the good stuff.  The best stuff.  Stuff that allows readers to sidle up to remarkable people, past and present, and wonder what they might do with their own lives. Short as picture book biographies are, writing them can be challenging. Here are my tips for writing picture book biographies:

Who

Deciding who to write about is BIG. If they’re well-known like Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln, there’s a million books about them already.  If you’re determined to write about them, you need to find an intriguing episode of their life that hasn’t been told before.  The other option is to write about someone who isn’t well-known, but still has a great story to tell. Whatever it is, it needs to connect with young readers.

How Much

Although you may be tempted to tell someone’s story from the moment they’re born to their last breath—reconsider. Most trade picture book biographies either highlight the time of the accomplishment, or the formative years which led to their accomplishment. Not always. But mostly. The point is, there are options. One great example of highlighting the important moment in someone’s life is Ruth Law Thrills a Nation by Don Brown, one of my favorite picture book biographers. He opened Ruth’s story with these lines:

On November 19, 1916, Ruth Law tried to fly
from Chicago to New York City in one day.
It had never been done before.

There’s no growing up. No wanting to fly. No wondering whether to do it or not. Ruth Law was ready. Making the flight was the story. Page by page, Brown lets us see what happened the day she flew to New York City and the challenges she faced.

A great example of the second approach is also written by Don Brown in his book, Odd Boy Out, Young Albert Einstein. He opened the story with these lines:

On a sunny, cold Friday in the old city of Ulm, Germany,
a baby named Albert Einstein is born.
It is March 14, 1879.

Why the difference? By starting from childhood, Brown showed readers how Einstein’s brilliant mind worked even at a young age, and how it led to his Theory of Relativity. 

Beyond the Facts

Lastly, when you start writing picture book biographies, it’s tempting to stick close to the facts as if you’re on the ledge of a tall building.  Stray too far and you won’t be safe. Stray too far, and you can’t cling to the pillar of facts. However, the only way to succeed is to step off into the literary void and find your voice. How do you want to tell the story? Let yourself go and find out. It’s okay. That’s what editors and readers want.

This idea was a turning point when I sold my latest release, Away with Words, The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, about the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society.  My first versions were lyrical, but very conservative and I revised the manuscript so many times for my agent, I lost count. Each version was lovely and dramatic, but something was missing. More revisions and rejections followed. In time, I parted ways with my agent and put the manuscript away.

Then, a few months later, I got it out again. I loved Isabella’s story too much to give up on it completely. At that moment, without an editor or an agent waiting for results, I felt a certain freedom to change things up. How did I want to tell her story? When I looked at it again, a metaphor sprang to mind that became the opening heart of the story.

Isabella was like a wild vine
stuck in a too small pot.
She needed more room.
She had to get out.
She had to explore.

You won’t find these words in the research. That’s me, letting go, telling Isabella’s story my way. It made all the difference.

So, the next time you’re writing a picture book biography, remember the good stuff. The best stuff.  And treat yourself to a chewy, chunky chocolate chip cookie.

We are giving away a copy of Lori’s new book AWAY WITH WORDS: THE DARING STORY OF ISABELLA BIRD!

Leave one comment to enter.

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

Good luck!


Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 100 books and over 500 stories and articles. Recent releases include her picture book biography, Away with Words, the Daring Story of Isabella Bird (Peachtree), about the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society, If Wendell Had a Walrus (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life.

For more information about her books, events, critique service, and upcoming releases, visit her website at lorimortensen.com.

 

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.

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


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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