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I’m thrilled to host the cover reveal for a story I have longed to see in print. The lovely Marcie Colleen is here to show it to you and tell the tale of her own literary love triangle…on Valentine’s Day no less!!!

by Marcie Colleen

When I first set out to write a picture book titled LOVE, TRIANGLE (see the origin of the idea for the book here) I just wanted to tell a punny story that hopefully someone would want to publish someday. But my meager expectations were highly exceeded. In fact, the entire journey of this book has been unlike anything I could have ever imagined and I have my very own “triangle of amazing-ness” to thank.

First, my agent, Susan Hawk, who first realized the potential in this story when it was simply a concept pitched to her during our courting phase. And although it took me almost two years after signing with her to write it, she remained a cheerleader the entire time, bubbling with excitement when she spoke of the work-in-progress to editors. Eventually, the manuscript was completed and we found ourselves in a five-house auction situation! Now for those of you who don’t know what that means, an auction is when more than one publishing house wants the story and are willing to try and bid for it. (Sorry to say, book auctions do not include paddles, large hats, or a gavel, in case you were wondering.)

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For about a week I met with the interested editors on the phone. We discussed what each house envisioned for the book and how they intended to market it. We discussed potential illustrators and possible design. They even asked for my ideas. It was so surreal.

Finally, the day of the auction came (again, no paddles or giant hats but I did have a mimosa-fueled auction party with some of my closest girlfriends).

After everything was said and done, I signed a two-book deal with Alessandra Balzer, Publisher at Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. I had always admired Alessandra’s work and had heard her speak once at a conference. As I told her during our pre-auction conversation, I was a “first time caller, longtime fan.” She was the perfect choice for the Apex of this literary love triangle.

But, our team did not become complete until Bob Shea signed on to illustrate.

Bob. Shea. (Now do you know why I call this a literary love triangle?! I mean, this team is the best of the best!)

Now, I love Bob’s work. Funny thing is, several years prior I had heard Bob speak on a panel at Books of Wonder in New York City. It was there that I first met him and he signed a book for me. I was only an aspiring writer at the time and Bob wrote “Good luck with the writing.” Thanks for the luck, Bob! I think it worked!

The story of book-smart Square and sporty Circle who are best friends until a dynamic Triangle shows up releases on October 3, 2017.

In the meantime, take a look at this freakin’ awesome cover!

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Hey, we even have the BACK cover…so we cover all the angles…

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Marcie is giving away a signed F&G (folded & gathered proof) of LOVE, TRIANGLE to one lucky commenter. Leave a comment below to enter. If you SHARE this cover reveal, you receive another entry. Just comment again telling us where you shared the LOVE.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

by Catherine Bailey & Meg Walters

Thank you, Tara, for allowing Meg and I to reveal the super duper, mega official, cover of our book, LUCY LOVES SHERMAN (Sky Pony Press, 2017)! It’s very kind of you to host us, (and we didn’t even have to hypnotize you!). We’d like to share a behind the scenes sneak-peak of how our cover came to life. Meg will kick it off with her amazing illustrator insights,

An Illustrator’s Eye…
In March of 2015 I was contacted by Julie Matysik, then a senior editor at Sky Pony Press (SSP), the children’s imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. Julie and SSP editor Nicole Frail, had acquired a wonderful picture book text written by Catherine Bailey, called LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. Julie had kept a promotional postcard of mine that she had picked up from a NJ-SCBWI Fall Workshop and thought, based on the postcard artwork, my illustrative style might be a good fit for this new project. Although I have been an illustrator and designer for a long time, and attended SCBWI events for years, this was the first picture book I have illustrated. I was beyond thrilled, and couldn’t wait to illustrate Catherine Bailey’s fun characters and bring her wacky story to life.

Julie sent me the LLS manuscript and I began creating sketches of Lucy and Sherman and thumbnails of the story. Lucy loves polka dots, and loves that Sherman also “wears” polka dots. So I wanted to incorporate dot graphics on the cover, as well as Lucy’s clothes. I also liked that the polka dots resembled water/bubbles. Blub, blub!

The final cover artwork was due to SPP January 2016.

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But—as so often happens in publishing—there was a change after the deadline.

In March of 2016 the SPP Marketing Department wanted to move the book release date to coincide with Valentine’s Day to play up the LOVE in LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. They asked me to recreate the cover with more red and add hearts. Marketing also asked that I move an illustration that was on the title page onto the cover. The illustration showed Lucy and Sherman hugging. Here is previous title page art:

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I created several new looks for the cover and after a few rounds of edits, here is new Valentines-ish cover March 2016.

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Then the publication date was switched to March of 2017. Since the focus was no longer a Valentine’s day release, we were able to go back to the original blue/turquoise background. SPP only asked that I still keep the characters hugging on the cover. And so, here she is – the final, final cover:

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Sky Pony Press’s Nicole Frail and Julie Matysik, and Catherine, have been fantastic to work with throughout this whole process. I am thrilled for the March 2017 launch of LUCY LOVES SHERMAN!

The Author’s Note…
I am so glad to talk about the cover design of this book, largely because people always ask me if I draw my own pictures. After a resounding “Nope,” I get the follow-up question about how much input that I—as the author—have in the book’s artwork. That answer is usually “Not a whole heck of a lot.” And that’s fine with me! I love that talented artists like Meg add new layers and depth my stories.

However, the wonderful Sky Pony folks invited my feedback on early drafts of LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. I was super flattered and excited. I poured over the images for days. Seriously. At one point my husband threatened to lock my laptop in the trunk of his car. But I couldn’t help myself. Meg did such a great job!

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Then, as Meg mentioned, there was a big shift towards a more “Valentine’s” feel during the cover design process. My editor, Nicole, emailed me the revamped design. It was very red, very adorable, and very perfect for the holiday. But. (Oh yes, there’s a but!) I worried that Sherman’s red shell would get lost against the scarlet background. So I very carefully and very politely voiced my concerns. Nicole really took them to heart, but her hands were tied. The red had to stay but there was talk about adjusting the shade, which I thought was a great compromise. And then—lo and behold—the publication date was pushed back and the problem solved itself. The cover went back to primarily turquoise.

So there you have it. A blow-by-blow of our mini-rollercoaster ride towards the final cover for LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, which splashes out from Sky Pony Press this March. I think Meg and Nicole and Julie totally nailed it. And I hope you to do too!

Pssst! It wouldn’t be a cover reveal without a free giveaway (Free! Everybody loves free!).

Just leave one message in the comments below and you will be entered to win a 20-minute Skype visit with author Catherine Bailey. The visit can be used either by a teacher/media specialist as a school visit, or by aspiring authors who’d like to chat about writing and publishing.

 

Excuse me while I go all fangirl for a moment…

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I’ve admired Elisa Kleven’s work for years, beginning when I discovered the gorgeous delight THE PAPER PRINCESS…and then the sweet APPLE DOLL. My daughters and I had both books on our regular #bedtimereads rotation. In fact, for months the books never made it back to the bookshelf. They took up permanent nightstand residence.

So when Elisa contacted me about hosting her for THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY: A San Francisco Story, I babbled high-pitched incoherent excitement like a Minion. Let me see if I can pull my overalls together to conduct an enlightening interview…

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Elisa, in your new book’s backmatter, you mention that THE GINGERBREAD MAN was one of your favorite tales as a child. What made you want to rewrite it with your city AND a different ending?

When I was a kid, it seemed to me that almost everything had a life of its own. As in a fairy tale world, or in the eyes of Native American peoples, everything from stones to trees… to paper dolls, piñatas and gingerbread people seemed to have feelings and a spirit. And while I wasn’t too sensitive to eat my share of gingerbread people, I always had some qualms when it came to nibbling their smiling heads (I’d start with the feet, which seemed less “alive” and work upwards.)

I remember being simultaneously fascinated and upset by the original tale of THE GINGERBREAD MAN. Of course it was exciting to see the cookie-boy come to life and race out into the world with pluck and glee, daring everyone to catch him. But when he finally did get caught, in the jaws of the fox who had promised to take him across the river to safety, I felt his tragic sense of betrayal.

In my version of the story, THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY, the cookie is just as energetic and confident as his forbear, but even more defiant: determined not to get eaten, but also to eat—everything in sight! He starts out with petty thefts: his makers’ school lunch (of which he was meant to be part), fruit and candy, noodles and milkshakes. But as he gets bigger, his fantasies grow more grandiose, and he threatens to chomp on the Golden Gate Bridge, gulp down San Francisco Bay, and even “swallow the sun, like a butterscotch drop.”

When the hungry gingerbread boy finally realizes that his creator, a little girl, would rather play with him than eat him, his anger disappears and he becomes both loved and lovable.

As for the story’s setting, San Francisco is such a beautiful city that on certain days and in certain lights it looks delicious. Of course there are many un-pretty aspects to it: homelessness and poverty, but there is also a wealth of exquisite details, including its famous “Gingerbread” architecture, the whimsically colored and decorated Victorian houses and buildings. And the city is also home to lots of amazing and diverse cuisine, So it was fun to let an imaginary cookie-child loose in the city and watch him eat his fill!

sanfranhousesSpeaking of the San Francisco architecture, when I was visiting the city years ago, I was fascinated to learn that there are “color consultants” who help people choose the hues for their Victorian houses—the shingles, the shutters, the trim—every little swirling detail. Likewise, your new book is a feast for the eyes—so colorful and detailed. How would you describe your unique style—and how did it evolve?

Wow, Tara, I didn’t know that there are color consultants for the Victorian houses! And yes, they are amazing in every confection-like detail.

As for my art style, it grows right out of my childhood—or, more accurately—I never outgrew my childlike love for bright colors, tiny details, and enchantment. I used to spend hours making miniature dollhouse worlds, gingerbread houses and people, toy merry-go-rounds, and detailed paper characters and settings. When I grew up, this urge did not go away, but evolved into a passion for the magical worlds inside of picture books.

Well, I’m staring at your illustrations in wonder because there are so many teeny-tiny details. How do you plan your illustrations out? What is your medium and method? How long does it take to complete an illustration?

I make a book dummy, with pencil sketches of the illustrations and type pasted in. I often use photo references at this stage, especially if I’m depicting real locations (as opposed to fantasy or dream landscapes, which I pull out of my imagination). Once the publisher approves the sketches, I go on to the finished art. I combine watercolor, ink, collage, pastels and whatever else works to create the finished picture. I create everything in my pictures by hand, gluing, snipping, painting. And while I admire a lot of digital illustration and the technical wonders it can accomplish, I’m pretty tech-averse when it comes to creating my own images. I love the feel and textures of materials in my hands.

It takes me an average of two or three weeks to complete an illustration. Creating the rough sketch is actually the most difficult part, because I’m using a pencil and blank piece of paper to create a new little scene. Once the sketch is finished, it takes a week or two to create the finish.

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The Gingerbread Boy in progress:

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Thinking about your other books, I think I see a theme in your work. In THE PAPER PRINCESS, a handmade gift blows away but returns to the person it was intended for. In THE APPLE DOLL, a girl makes a friend she cherishes. In SUN BREAD, a warm sun is baked on a cold winter’s day. The Gingerbread Boy comes home to the girl who created him. You write about creative pursuits mixed with thoughts of love at home—and speaking of home, this book is not your only one that features San Francisco. Do you think there is a common thread woven through your books?

thepaperprincess theappledoll sunbread

What a thoughtful and interesting question, Tara. The theme of creativity is definitely woven through all of my stories (as is the theme of flying). As a child I spent many happy hours creating all sorts of things, from paper dolls to decorative breads and bread sculptures, to apple dolls, and yes, gingerbread people and houses. (My mother and grandmother were both accomplished artists, but neither of them made particularly cheerful or colorful art). I suppose I created the art I wanted to see as a child, and the worlds that I wanted to live [and fly around!] in.

As for the theme of homecoming, who doesn’t want to return to a home, experienced or imagined, full of love, warmth and reassurance? Through my characters and stories I’m able to go to places I long for, and that I think many children long for, too. My favorite childhood memories are of playing in a dollhouse I made myself, while my mother worked on her own art in her studio in our backyard. I’m able to access that feeling of creativity and security when I write my stories and create my illustrations.

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been my home since I started college at U.C. Berkeley (with the exception of a year spent in Boston). I never stop being moved by its beauty, both geographical and architectural. Its hills and waters, bridges and buildings, cultural diversity and creative food culture inspire me, and I enjoy sharing that inspiration with others, especially children, through my books.

Thank you, Elisa, for your gorgeous books and for stopping by on THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY blog tour.

horriblyhungrygingerbreadboyElisa’s publisher is giving away a copy of the book—just leave a comment to enter. One comment per person, US addresses only please. You have until December 13 to enter so the winner can get their book in time for the holidays. GOOD LUCK!

 

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. He’s a second-generation literary agent whose family business inspired a love of literature and cultivated a talent for spotting great stories.

Mark, how did you get into agenting and why children’s literature?

markgottliebUnlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing.

tridentmediagroupMy company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:

Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.

And to answer your question about why children’s literature in particular? I am still relatively young and therefore feel more so in touch with my younger self that someone that might be a lot older and therefore have difficulty reaching their inner-child. I really subscribe to that belief of “Live Free and Die Young” as I want to live a full life and remain young at heart up until my dying day. Also, YA is particularly a good area of interest in book publishing as it is the fastest growing area in publishing.

So one could say you were born to be a children’s literature agent!

You must have been surrounded by books from an early age. What are some of your childhood favorites?

I certainly grew up surrounded by books and authors all my life.

Growing up, my favorite children’s book was THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY by Diana Engel. The book has gone out of print but it can viewed via a video reading at this YouTube link:

clayTHE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY taught me the importance of hope, a sense of belonging and what it means to be loved.

I also remember reading HOLES by Louis Sachar all in one evening, late at night. It was the first such book I had ever read in one sitting. It’s fun to remind myself that I now work at the literary agency that represents Louis Sachar! I smile when around our office I see the Disney movie poster for HOLES, starring Shia LeBoeuf and Sigourney Weaver.

So what do you typically look for in a picture book manuscript you want to represent? Do they share any similarities with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY?

Many of the works I seek out nowadays share some kinship with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY in that I enjoy reading manuscript with important social messages.

Those are some of the most difficult picture books to write. How does a writer successfully deliver an important message without being too didactic?

aballfordaisyI agree that it is difficult to convey a moral or lesson within a 32-page children’s book. Especially with very sparse text, without sounding to “preachy” or “teachy,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For instance A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka was a recent winner of the Caldecott Medal and it is a wordless children’s picture book that I feel accomplished that conveyance of message, an impressive feat without the use of text. A big part of it is giving kids a lot more credit than we do in understanding a picture book, especially since they will often have a parent or teacher reading with them.

What else makes a PB manuscript something you want to represent?

I really prefer to lean on Maurice Sendak’s perspective of children and writing for them; children are brave, and things go wrong, and as adults, we can no longer understand the complex nature of what they are going through. So instead of reading a manuscript that attempts to speak to a child, and to relate to them, I prefer to see narratives that are written for a human being—a real person, with real fear, curiosity, and courage—that might possibly interest a child’s mind. This, in my opinion, is what makes for wonderful picture book stories.

Are there any recent titles you wished you could have represented?

Jory John’s PENGUIN PROBLEMS, any and all of Emily Winfield Martin’s books (THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU WILL BE being her most recent) and FASCINATING: THE LIFE OF LEONARD NIMOY by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Edel Rodriguez because he was such a wonderful man and that book really did his life’s work justice in a delicate and beautiful way.

penguinproblems thewonderfulthings fascinatingnimoy

What is the best piece of advice you can give a picture book writer who is seeking representation?

Never underestimate the mind of a child and the meaning they are capable of gathering from a story. Children often see beyond words and pictures on paper, and give deep thought to nuances in a story that otherwise might be overlooked by an adult. So don’t be afraid to write a challenging story for a child; just make sure that you’re dedicating every word and image to their imagination, not just your own.

Thanks for speaking with me and sharing your love of children’s literature, Mark. 

Mark Gottlieb is currently open to new clients.

You can review his profile and newest client releases at:  http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/agents/mark-gottlieb.

sharonchriscoeby Sharon Chriscoe

Ready, Set, Events!

Hooray! Your book is about to release! You’re geared up and ready for some super fun book events. But what happens when you live in an area that has very few bookstores?

Answer: You think outside the bookstore!

The first thing any author thinks of when planning their book launch is bookstore . . . bookstore . . . bookstore. After all, you have a BOOK! Books belong in bookstores. Your book events need to take place in a bookstore. However, as I soon discovered while planning RACE CAR DREAMS’ book launch, not all events have to be inside a brick and mortar bookstore. In fact, they don’t have to take place inside a store at all.

signWhat? Yes, that’s right. My second book event took place at our local Chick-Fil-A! And we had a vrooming good time! Check out the sign they even displayed weeks in advance!

Why Chick-Fil-A?

One of the things that drew me to my local Chick-Fil-A was that they are always hosting events for kid related themes. They host a Kids Club, School Spirit contests, and many other fun-filled events that support the community and provide a wonderful experience for kids. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I already knew the owner (my husband and I deliver their buns on our bread route! Connections are good, right?).

Start your engines!

Once, I secured the only two bookstores in our community for events, I called up the owner of Chick-Fil-A to see if they would be interested in hosting an event. And he was! He connected me with the Marketing Director who not only was fantastic to work with but was phenomenal in creating an action-packed afternoon! She even secured TWO real live race cars to coincide with the race car theme of my book!

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Doesn’t RACE CAR DREAMS look happy to be featured alongside real live race cars?

Plan, plan, plan! And let the good times roll!

Incorporating as many kid activities as possible (but stick to a budget!) will ensure a crowd pleasing event.

The happier the crowd, the longer they will stick around. Try to start planning for these events as far in advance as you can. My husband and I started a fun project in early spring that featured a battery powered toy car replica of my main character. He was tiny, so only the littlest of kids would be able to fit inside. For the older kids, I picked up a Hot Wheels race track during the Holiday season (at half price!) for the events. Both were huge successes! If possible, decorate your event with theme related items that tie into your book. I used racing banners, racing flags, a checkered rug, race tracks, and goodie bags with all sorts of racing themed items inside for giveaways. All of which I found on Amazon at great prices! And my publisher was kind enough to send me bookmarks and posters for the little ones to enjoy!

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Vrooming into first place!

On the day of the event, show up early because setting up in a non-bookstore will take extra time, especially if you hold it outdoors. Thankfully, mother nature was on our side and it was a beautiful day, but it’s best to have a backup plan for a not-so-friendly mother nature because well, she does as she pleases. We were prepared to move the event indoors if needed.

As kids and their families arrive, chat with them, show them around, point out the fun activities for the kids to enjoy, talk about your book, and mention when story time will take place (decide this in advance and stick to a schedule). Also, include your own family and friends as much as possible in your events. This always makes for an extra special day not only for you but for them as well.

And throughout the day, be sure lots of pictures are being taken. You don’t get re-do’s on events, and capturing the day will make for great memories.

Now, it’s your time to rev up your own creative engines!

So, as you can see, bookstores are not the only places to have a successful book event. If you have a release coming up, or a book already out in the world, rev up your creative engine and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a non-bookstore and ask if they’d like to host a book event for you — you just never know . . . it could lead to a vrooming good time!

Thank you, Sharon! Looks like you had a fun and memorable event!

Leave a comment below to be entered into the RACE CAR DREAMS Giveaway. The random winner will receive an autographed book, a poster, bookmarks, and a goodie bag stuffed with all sorts of racing themed items. Good luck!

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sharon-chriscoe-photoSharon Chriscoe may not vroom around a race track, but she does zip and zoom around in a bread truck with her husband, Ricky. Fueled with fresh bread, snacks, and writing tools, Sharon has made this her mobile office! She and her husband live in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. They have three children and one grandchild on the way, as well as an assortment of dogs, cats, bunnies and occasionally a groundhog. In addition to RACE CAR DREAMS, she is the author of BULLDOZER DREAMS (a companion book to RACE CAR DREAMS, Running Press Kids, 2017), and THE SPARROW AND THE TREES (Arbordale Publishing, 2015). She is also a contributor to several magazines such as Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids. She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. To learn more about Sharon, her books, and future events, visit her website: SharonChriscoeBooks.com.

by Maria Gianferrari

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The Katz is out of the bag!! Tomorrow’s the book birthday of my latest picture book, OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI: A TALE OF TWO TAILS, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Aladdin gets extra points for fitting two very long surnames on its spine!

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Since the blog tour’s kicking off right here at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), I thought I’d celebrate its release with a sneak peek at some of my favorite images from the book.

There are two kinds of magic in the book. The first is a kind of practical magic. Officer Katz is an inventor. This is his most prized and pawsome invention, the Katzapult:

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Houndini’s magic is more elusive. Like his namesake, Houdini, he’s an escape artiste, practiced in the art of disappearance. I love his exuberance as he bursts out of a box here:

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Officer Katz and Houndini have sidekicks, Deputy Catbird and Squirrel.

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And I absolutely adore the hilarious endpapers:

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Which place would you like to visit, New Pork, or perhaps Mane?

Leave a comment, and you will be eligible for one of THREE prizes:

  1. A query pass from agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (either a query plus a whole PB manuscript or a query plus first five novel pages).
  2. A picture book critique from Maria—either fiction or nonfiction.
  3. Your own copy of OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI (US residents only—sorry!).

Thanks again for having me here, Tara! It was pawsitively purrfect!

The prizes will be given away in early November.

OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI BLOG TOUR! BOOK GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!

Tuesday, Oct. 18th: Librarian’s Quest
Wednesday, Oct. 19th: Bildebok
Thursday, Oct. 20th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
Friday, Oct. 21st: Pragmaticmom + THREE book giveaway
Monday, Oct. 24th: Homemade City
Tuesday, Oct. 25th: ReFoReMo THINK QUICK Interview with Carrie Charley Brown

 

chanastiefel_head-shot_colorby Chana Stiefel

Back in 2014, a picture book idea popped into my head. Luckily I jotted it down in my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook. Gradually, the idea grew into a story about a girl named Chana who was miffed that everyone was mangling her name (“Shayna-China-Shawna-Kahana”). “I’m changing my name to Sue!” Chana cried to her grandmother.

“Sue’s a nice name,” said Grandma. “But did you know there was another Chana who came before you?” Grandma proceeded to tell her granddaughter all about Great Grandma Chana, her voyage to America, and her amazing qualities. Guess which name Chana chooses in the end? I titled the book THAT’S NOT MY NAME, and sent a draft to my critique group.

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The critiques I received were lukewarm. My writing partners liked that the book drew on my personal experience. (Not a day goes by without someone bungling my name. The “Ch” is a throat clearing kh sound, like Challah bread or Chanukah, + Ah +Nah.) I had a feeling that all the Sibhoans, Seans, Xaviers, and Chiaras, of the world could relate. The book also emphasized the meanings of names and the importance of maintaining family traditions. Some of my critique partners found the story relatable, BUT . . . they didn’t like that Grandma solved Chana’s problem for her, which made the story fall flat as a pancake run over by a Zamboni.

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How could Chana solve her own problem? I made about 10 different attempts at revision. In one draft, Chana scrutinized old photographs. In another she studied a family quilt. She even tried on Grandma Chana’s name necklace. But all of these ideas were BORING! I was stuck.

Then, in the summer of 2015, I read a guest post by my agent, John Cusick, on the Kidlit Summer School blog. John offered “Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag.” Tip #1 was a field trip. “In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery,” John wrote. “Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting.”

I love field trips. (Anything to get away from my desk.) Around that time, I went hiking on vacation with my husband in the Canadian Rockies. We were trudging two miles up a mountain in the rain to get to the Lake Agnes Tea House when BAM! It hit me.

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What if I drop my character into a whole new setting and a whole new era? Inspired by the rocks around me I thought: What if Chana is a cave girl named…

WAKAWAKALOCH!

(See how I kept the Ch?) And what if she’s really steamed that her friends Oog, Boog, and Goog keep bungling her name? And what if she can’t find a T-shirt with her name on it? And what if she’s inspired to solve her own problem after looking at cave paintings of her great, great, great grandmother, the Mighty Wakawakaloch?

By placing my character in a whole new time and place, I had a fresh, new story with more action, more layers, and lots of humor. My critique partners gave it a thumbs up. I shared it at last year’s NJ-SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend and got rave reviews. When John read it, he tweeted:

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Making your agent cry is a good thing (sometimes). We submitted the book to publishers at the start of 2016 and got the obligatory pile of rejections. And then, sometime during Round 2, the wonderful Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said yes! She signed with the hilarious illustrator Mary Sullivan (author/illustrator of BALL, TREAT, and more!).

I’m forever grateful to Tara Lazar & the soon-to-be-renamed PiBoIdMo for giving me the spark to get this story started. Without my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook—and the lessons I’ve learned over the years about freely jotting down ideas & then fine-tuning them—none of this would ever have happened. Stay tuned for WAKAWAKALOCH’s debut in 2019!


Chana Stiefel (back of the throat Ch-ah-nah STEE-ful) is the author of more than 20 non-fiction books for kids on topics like exploding volcanoes and stinky castles. Her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, will be published by Feiwel & Friends in May 2017. WAKAWAKALOCH will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is represented by John M. Cusick at Folio Literary. Check out Chana’s work at chanastiefel.com and on her authors’ blog, which she co-writes with her writing partner Donna Cangelosi, at kidlittakeaways.com.

shawna-tenney-author-photo-smallby Shawna J.C. Tenney

Any good film director uses a storyboard. So why not every picture book writer? After all, a picture book is a full story experience almost like a movie, just a little shorter.

A storyboard can help you pace your story, even if you are an author only. It can help you think about what you can leave out of the text and show in the illustrations. It can help you think of where to pause in the words and let the pictures do their magic…

A storyboard is different from a dummy book in that you can see the whole story at once. The dummy book simulates the real book with page turns. A storyboard will help you visualize your entire manuscript all at once.

Here are some ideas to help you start thinking visually!

Pacing Book:

Start by making a pacing book. To make a pacing book, fold 8 pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 copy paper in half. and staple them down the folded side. Now you have 32 pages! The front page will be your title page. Either the second page or the back page will be your copyright page.

Now cut up your manuscript. Tape your story in your book. Move sentences and paragraphs around. Imagine what could be in the pictures. Figure out where your page turns could be. You will soon find out if your story is long enough.

Note that the illustrator will figure out the final pacing of the book, so if you are only the author, you won’t have a say in how the book will be laid out. But this will help you have a good idea if the pacing is working. I will help you see if there are too many words in a certain section of the book.

Storyboard:

Here is the storyboard I made for my new book, BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY…plus the final images from the book.

brunhilda-storyboard

(Click for larger version)

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Final Title Page

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Final Page 8-9 Spread

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Final Page 13

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Final Page 18

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Final Page 28-29 Spread

Now, it’s time for you to make a storyboard! Here are some ideas to make your own storyboard:

You can use my template below (also refer to Tara’s picture book layout post). Remember the first empty square will be the title page, and the next square will be the copyright page- unless you want to put it on the last page.

storyboard

(Click for larger version)

Some other ways to make your story board are to use sticky notes, index cards pinned up on a board, or even dry erase board. Remember, most picture books have 32 pages.

Now start drawing your action! Don’t worry if you don’t think you can draw. Just draw stick figures. If you aren’t the illustrator, you don’t need to be worried about the composition. This storyboard is for you only.

Ask these questions once you’ve drawn out your storyboard:

  • Is there enough action and visual interest happening in the story?
  • Is there a change of a scenery, or does everything happen in one location?
  • Is each part of the storyboard moving the story forward?

Remember to leave room in the text for illustrations. Take out visual descriptions that can be shown in the pictures. See where the pictures can carry the story!

If you are the author and not the illustration and there is something you want to show in the illustrations, you can write illustration notes. Illustration notes should only have the basics in them. Don’t include descriptions unless they are absolutely necessary to move the story along. Give the illustrator room to use his/her imagination and creative genius!

Drawing your picture book out in storyboard form can help you think of more ideas for a truly delightful picture book. Drawing out your story can even help you think of a subplot or unspoken characters that can only be shown in the pictures. Think of all the possibilities for your story when you start thinking visually!

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Thank you, Shawna! Your debut picture book as both author and illustrator is chock-full of visual candy, even the cover with its reflective background—which is SO COOL. (I like shiny things. I played with the cover for at least a half hour, LOL.)

And blog readers, you can win a copy of BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY just by commenting below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks. Good luck!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at ShawnaJCTenney.com or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at ShawnaJCTenney.com/brunhilda.

carlehonors

Tonight the Eric Carle Museum will present four winners of its prestigious Carle Honors. I will be there to capture it all and report back to you, picture book devotees. In the meantime, I asked the honorees to answer one important question about the state of our craft and business:

Six years ago, The New York Times published an article about the demise of the picture book. Fast forward to this past January, and a picture book won the Newbery Medal. Plus, the current market has been heralded as “the golden age of picture books.”

Why have picture books defied the Times’ portent of doom–and why do they continue to remain a strong and important art form? Why are picture books more loved now than ever?

stevenheller“Is there any better medium for bringing together such varied artists and writers and stories and styles? The book has not died after 500 years and the picture book continues to be the most accessible of media. It’s not a fad. It’s not obsolete technology. It is an intimate tactile entity for making ideas come alive. As long as there is paper, what better way to use it?”
~Steven Heller, Bridge Honoree

allensay“A lot of American mothers today have become what the Japanese call “Education Mamas.” They want their offspring to start college at 12 and retire at 30, and book merchants are hell-bent on accommodating them. They have forgotten the Alice who asked for all children: “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?” Thanks to the conversation of Lewis Carroll and pictures by Sir John Tenniel, Alice is very much alive today. Would anybody remember Alice without Sir John?”
~Allen Say, Artist Honoree

jasonlow“The demise of picture books is connected to other mistaken predictions like the death of the print book when e-books came on the scene years ago. There is a general backlash against electronic books because of the amount of time people are spending on their phones, online, and binge-watching TV. People need a break from screen time. Also, the e-book experience, when compared to the tactile experience of a print picture book is not significantly better. The time spent reading an actual book is still a great past time that relies on the power of imagination, and the close relationship of words and pictures.”
~Jason Low, Angel Honoree

reginahayes“I never believed in the demise of the picture book! Picture books will always remain a vibrant art form. They are constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented as new authors and illustrator enter the field. Styles change; a new style surprises and delights, then there are imitators, and eventually something different will turn it all around again. I’ve seen a style dismissed as outdated, then a few years go by and it is fashionable again, maybe even considered classic.

“The rise of e-books have, ironically, made publishers and the public more aware of the importance of the book as a physical object, an object that should be beautiful. I notice more and more care being lavished on paper and binding and innovative jacket treatments.

“I don’t think children should ever be urged to give up picture books when they are ready for chapter books. In my experience, children constantly go back and forth. They return to old favorite picture books even when they reach double digits, perhaps because the books provide a feeling of security, of coming home, perhaps recapturing the warmth and closeness of being read to by a beloved adult. And for that, a real book is essential!”
~Regina Hayes, Mentor Honoree

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Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Honorees, and congratulations on being recognized.

To learn more about the Carle Honors and this year’s Honorees, please visit The Carle Honors website where you can also bid on the charity art auction.

Follow me on Twitter @taralazar, as I will try to live tweet from the event. A recap of the evening will be published here later this week.

 

authorphoto_anika_deniseby Anika Denise

Tis the Season!

What’s in the secret sauce of a successful seasonal title? Anika Denise, author of Monster Trucks, a high-octane Halloween tale of vroom and doom, divulges tips on crafting seasonal stories that SELL!

First, what’s a seasonal title? (It may seem obvious, but indulge me a moment, kidlit peeps.) A seasonal title is any book that relates to a season or holiday, be it Halloween, Hanukah, Easter, Earth Day, Back-to-School or Black History Month. (Think table displays in bookstores and libraries.)

So, why am I singling them out? I mean, shouldn’t we all just write good stories, and if they happen to have a holiday hook, all the better?

Yes! But this might get your attention: At a recent SCBWI retreat, Christian Trimmer, Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster, revealed seven factors that help get a picture book acquired. Number one was: “Be a Celebrity!” (Unless you’re Kelly Clarkson, read on.) Number two: “Get that Promotion!” In other words, books with potential for holiday placement are more likely to catch an editor’s eye.

Excellent! So how do you write a seasonal story that sells?

BE SEASONAL, BUT NOT OVERLY SPECIFIC

My editor on MONSTER TRUCKS, Nancy Inteli, pointed out that while she frequently acquires seasonal titles, she especially seeks books that aren’t so narrowly holiday focused that their shelf life is limited. “Monster Trucks has a clear Halloween hook,” she explained. “But it also appeals to the truck-loving crowd, which makes it a perennial.”

monster-truckscover

That’s not to say you should abandon that Arbor Day book you’re writing, just keep in mind that a broader seasonal story might have a better shot at finding a home.

Another great example of a not-so-specific seasonal book: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. Although Creepy Carrots is quite likely on every Halloween book display table in America, it’s not strictly a Halloween book. Quirky and funny, it and can be read and shared all year round.

And speaking of quirky and funny…

ORIGINALITY IS KEY!

It’s always key. But when traversing well-trodden territory like “Back to School,” you better come packing a twist. Take School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, for example. It explores first day jitters from the SCHOOL BUILDING’s perspective. Genius! And delightfully original.

RAMP UP THE READ-ALOUD APPEAL

One happy outcome of writing a seasonal title is, booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents are going to want to incorporate your book into story times. It helps to keep this in mind as you polish your manuscript. Humor, action, poetic techniques, evocative language and relatable characters will ramp up your read aloud appeal.

baking-day-interior-copyright-christopher-denise-2014

In BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, bouncy rhymes, rhythmic refrains, and descriptions of sweet scents filling the air (hopefully) engage and entertain the read-aloud crowd. And although the new board book edition is being marketed for Christmas—at its heart—BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S is a cozy wintertime tale about spending time with family.

So if you’ve got an idea for a seasonal story simmering on the back burner, fire it up and submit! Tis the season!

Thank you for the useful information on selling a seasonal book, Anika. As the first stop in Anika’s MONSTER TRUCKS blog tour, we are giving away a copy to a random commenter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. Good luck!

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Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book Monster Trucks, illustrated by Nate Wragg, “a mash-up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. When not writing tales of vroom and doom, Anika can be found zipping around her hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island in her monster minivan, or reading not-so-scary stories with her husband and three kids. Visit her online at AnikaDenise.com, or on Twitter @AnikaDenise.

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

WAY PAST BEDTIME
illustrated by Rich Wake
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
April 2017

7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY
illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
May 2017

THE WHIZ-BANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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