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Recently a film by Pixar called “Bao” received the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards. The short featured a Canadian-Chinese mother whose son grew up and moved away, so she was feeling lonely. Enter a perfect, plump bao to give her a second chance at motherhood.

Since then, I’ve been a tad obsessed with the yummy bao. I enjoy one every time I shop at the Asian grocery. So I was excited to learn of a new picture book coming out on October 1: AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO.

What a cover! Not only is there a perfect bao, but Amy and her kitty are pretty darn adorable, too.

I asked the author, Kat Zhang, and the illustrator, Charlene Chua, a few questions. I also had them interview one another. They discussed the story and the delicious ideas behind it.

Kat, what inspired you to write Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao?

Making bao and mantou (another kind of Chinese steamed bread bun) with my parents is such a treasured childhood memory for me. As I grew older, and the whole family got busier, we made them less. It wasn’t until I was in late high school or early college that the bao-making bug struck me again, and I became obsessed with making bao that were as good as the ones I had in restaurants. Many, many rounds of lumpy, leaky, over-and-underfilled bao later, I not only had a darn good bao recipe, but an idea for a new book!

What was your reaction to Charlene’s illustrations?

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO is my debut picture book, and seeing Charlene’s illustrations has honestly been one of the most thrilling parts of the whole process! I had a general idea of how I pictured the characters and illustrations, but I was eager to see how an illustrator interpreted the text and the characters as well. Charlene did such an amazing job giving Amy’s family dimension and character through the illustrations, and I especially loved the addition of the little kitty, who wasn’t mentioned at all in the original text. Now I can’t imagine the book without it!

What do you hope young Asian-American/Canadian readers will get from this book?

The opportunity to see people like yourself in media is such a big deal, and honestly, something I don’t think I fully grasped until I was older. As a kid, I don’t remember specifically thinking that I wished there were more Asian-American characters in media. But not seeing myself reflected in the books and movies I consumed definitely contributed to my internalizing a lot of things as a kid about what sort of things I “fit” into. I was perpetually on the outside looking in. I hope that AMY WU is just one more opportunity for a kid to recognize themselves in Amy’s family. And of course, on the other side of things, I hope it lets non-Asian American kids explore a culture different from their own.

What is your favorite detail from the book that reminds you of your own homes/households?

I absolutely loved all the details Charlene snuck into Amy’s house! My mother has a total green thumb, so when I was growing up, we definitely had the bamboo plants, and the big leafy plants all over the house. Our steamer was metal, but I totally wish we had a cool woven one like Amy’s family!

What is your favorite bao?

I have a sweet tooth, and I love red bean paste bao and lotus paste bao!

Charlene asks Kat: Did the story change a lot from 1st draft till the version I got to illustrate? If so, what were the big changes?

Amazingly (at least for me, since my stories often undergo big changes from my first idea to the final draft!), AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO didn’t change much from the very first draft I wrote. The biggest tweak was probably having Amy herself come up with the solution of cutting the bao dough into smaller pieces so that they fit her hands better. In the first draft, it was Grandma who came up with the idea!

Kat, which is your favorite page/s in the book?

This is so hard to choose! I love, love the page with the phoenix and dragon surrounding Amy’s vision of a perfect bao, but I also laughed out loud when I first saw the page of her and Kitty with the three “messed up” bao. The “Perfect Bao Plan” page is also amazing. Really, I just love them all!

Did Amy and her family turn out looking like what you originally imagined them to be?

They did! I hadn’t originally imagined Grandma with pink hair, but I think it adds something great to her character. Amy is every bit the spunky, vivacious kid I wanted her to be!

Charlene, what was your inspiration for Amy Wu’s look—her hair, her clothes, her body language, etc.?

When I first read Kat’s manuscript, I thought that Amy was a very cheerful, enthusiastic girl, with a good amount of confidence in whatever she set her mind to doing. It was great to have a story with a young Chinese girl who isn’t afraid of expressing what she wants or how she feels. Amy is also character that sort of needs to be All-Amy, all the time, and I tried to match her design to those qualities. Amy’s actions are depicted with bigger gestures, because she’s not shy at showing how she feels. Her clothes allow her freedom of movement, and feature bold and eclectic colors.

What inspired you to create Amy Wu’s cat friend?

I had attended a kidlit conference shortly before starting work on the book. At one of the talks, the speaker mentioned that animals were a way to add more visual interest to a story, without altering the narrative. The thought stuck with me, and I’ve been trying to incorporate it ever since. With Amy’s story, I also really like Amy’s personality, it’s very strong – but to really show that, sometimes you need to contrast it with a softer character, such as a younger sibling that can look up to or copy the ‘stronger’ character’s actions. Since Amy doesn’t have any younger siblings, I thought that maybe her having an animal companion would be able to achieve the same effect. I also just like cats, and will take any opportunity to stick one into a story!

What do you hope young Asian-American/Canadian readers will get from this book?

I hope that readers who identify with Amy and her family will be excited to see a family like their own in this book. But I also hope that readers from all backgrounds will enjoy it too. You don’t have to be from an Asian family or know about Chinese food to enjoy the book—it’s very accessible so I hope that people will check it out just because it’s a neat story.

What is your favorite detail from the book that reminds you of your own homes/households?

The kitchen stove in the story is more or less based on my actual stove. It’s a gas stove, because I’ve cooked with gas all my life. My mum cooked with gas, and my grandmothers did too (one grandmother liked using charcoal as well, but that’s another story). The rice cooker also looks similar to the cooker I grew up with, although the one I use now looks different.

What is your favorite bao?

Char siu bao! (Chinese barbeque pork.)

Kat asks Charlene: I loved getting multiple versions of the illustration for each page during the initial stages of book coming together. How do you brainstorm various ideas for an illustration? What factors do you take into consideration?

I like trying out different layouts to see what works best – usually the first idea I come up with isn’t the one I end up going with. Most of the art for Amy Wu was done digitally, but the thumbnails were done with pencil on paper. I like to sit in a comfy chair and doodle out thumbnails—it works better for me that way as it’s just me and the paper, no fancy screens or Undo buttons to concern me. When working on thumbnails, I consider the text for a particular page or spread, and how best to bring that to life. I also think about what I could possibly add to make it more fun or impactful. When all the thumbnails are done, I try to look at them as a whole to see which ones connect the best. Sometimes there’s a thumbnail for a page that looks great on its own, but when it’s strung together with the rest, it doesn’t work as well.

Artists often have a very unique signature style. What would you say are the elements of yours? Do you feel like it’s still evolving a lot, or something that’s remained stable? 

It’s kind of hard for me to pin down my own style (I think many artists have that problem!). I guess my art tends to be quite energetic, usually with pretty strong colors. I think it’s evolved over the years, especially now that I’m working with more non-digital art for some other projects. But at the same time, I think if you looked at the older and newer work, it’s still possible to see the same artist behind it.

Thank you, Kat and Charlene, for sharing the stories behind the story!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO when it is released.

Just add one comment below and a random winner will be selected soon! (Tara has many winners of recent contests to select!)

Good luck!

You can visit Kat Zhang at KatZhangwriter.com and Charlene Chua at CharleneChua.com

by Colleen Paeff

The year or two leading up to the publication of an author or illustrator’s debut book is a rollercoaster ride of exciting milestones (“I signed my contract!”), new experiences (“Hello, Copy Editor.”), and sheer terror (“You expect me to read my book aloud in front of how many children?”). And, like a rollercoaster, it’s best experienced with friends. That’s where debut groups come in.*

The Soaring ‘20s Picture Book Debuts is a collective of picture book authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators with debut picture books being released in 2020** and beyond. We’ve pooled our resources, talents, and sympathetic ears so none of us has to experience this ride solo—and that’s fitting because we certainly didn’t get this far on our own. We’re all in the happy position of awaiting the release of our books thanks to the authors, illustrators, teachers, editors, or agents who looked at our work and offered targeted feedback to help improve it.

And now we’d like to do the same for you!

To celebrate the launch our new website Soaring20spb.com, we’re giving away 20+6 free manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critiques in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY!

If you’ve been in the picture book game for a while, you probably already know the value of a thorough, thoughtful critique. But if you’re new to writing or illustrating for kids or you’re on the fence about whether or not to hand your baby over to a set of critical eyes, allow some of our members us give you a nudge:

“Critiques have been an essential step (many steps! multiple flights of stairs!) on my path to publication.”

Angela Burke Kunkel, author
DIGGING FOR WORDS: JOSÉ ALBERTO GUTIÉRREZ AND THE LIBRARY HE BUILT (Random House/Schwartz & Wade, Fall 2020)

“If you’ve put your all into your work-in-progress and are ready to see it with fresh eyes, a critique is a fun way to open new pathways in your brain and to rekindle your enthusiasm for your work.”

Shelley Johannes, author/illustrator
MORE THAN SUNNY (Abrams, Spring 2021)

“The more we embrace the journey of improving and collaboration, the more we learn and the better we become as authors, illustrators and artists.”

Sam Wedelich, author/illustrator
CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE* TALE (Scholastic Press, Spring 2020)

“I’ll always remember how Jo Whittemore, author of FRONT PAGE FACE-OFF, critiqued me years ago. She called problems in my manuscript ‘opportunities.’”

NoNieqa Ramos, author
BEAUTY WOKE (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, spring 2021)

“The more you have your work critiqued, the less personal it becomes. You learn to listen for the gems of advice, questions, concerns, and ideas that other readers/writers have for you. Then when you take those gems and apply them to your work, the proof is in how much your writing is improved and how much your skill grows as a storyteller. And while this process sometimes has you feeling vulnerable and exposed, ultimately when you send your writing out into the world, you will feel so proud of it!”

Anna Crowley Redding, author
RESCUING THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (HarperCollins, spring 2020)

Convinced? Go to our website to enter to win a free picture book manuscript, dummy, or portfolio critique in the MEGA SOARING ’20s CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY by midnight on September 15 and you could be one of 20+6 lucky winners!

*We’re not the only game in town! Check out KidLit411’s list of Debut Year Groups (scroll all the way down to the bottom).

**One of us got bumped up to 2019! Look for Author Saira Mir’s MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: INSPIRATIONAL CHAMPIONS OF OUR TIME (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster) on October 29.

Big thanks to Tara for letting us share the news about our giveaway on her blog!

(And Tara says thanks right back!)

by Rosanne L. Kurstedt

I could not be more excited to celebrate my brand-new picture book KARATE KID on Tara’s blog. We all know she loves a good celebration.

KARATE KID introduces readers to karate in a fun and engaging way with an emphasis on how karate can increase confidence. The simple, measured, and meditative text is complemented by playful yet instructive illustrations by Mark Chambers.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few months about launching a book in the age of social media…and about myself. So, I thought I’d share some thoughts from my experience.

My good friend Eva Natiello and I discuss writing and book promotion often. She is a self-published, New York Times best-selling author, so she knows a thing or two about reviews, pre-sales, and also finding angles to market a project.

Beginning in January, she started asking me what my thoughts were for promoting KARATE KID. I said I was going to reach out to some local bookstores, schools, and probably do a blog tour. She asked, “but what are you doing before the book comes out—on social media?” I said I hadn’t thought about it much yet. She then told me about an idea she had—find some karate students who are willing to dress up as Karate Kid and film them doing some of the techniques featured in the book. Then promote the book by using the videos on social media. I loved the idea. BUT. I dismissed it. I didn’t have the time. Where would I find kids who did Karate, would agree to dress up, and whose parents would be okay with me sharing all the videos?

I was talking to another friend of mine, the award-winning author, Laura Sassi, and she told me about her neighbor, James, who loves karate. Laura said she’d ask James’ mom if she’d let him be the star of the videos. Turns out James and his mom loved the idea. I was still skeptical. How would we dress him up? How would we film? I don’t have time. Laura and Eva persisted.

When Laura confirmed a date with James and his mom to film, I really had no more excuses. This was happening. I needed to get moving. One night, I went to Michaels and AC Moore with another friend. I had no idea how we would dress James to look like Karate Kid so I bought a lot of items. After much trial and error, for the horns we used a head band, model magic, and pipe cleaners. For the hooves, we used old socks cut and re-sewn, and for the arms and legs, we used fuax fur. Finally, we McGyvered a goatee by cutting and taping and reconfiguring a few stick-on mustaches.

While planning for the video Eva and Laura reminded me that I needed specific hashtags. I decided on #KarateConfidence and #KarateKidTheBook. The day of the shoot the weather was beautiful. With just an iPhone, the help of friends, and a patient and talented young Karate student, James, the filming went off without a hitch.

Next, I had to edit the footage with iMovie, which I hadn’t used in years. After a few mis-starts, slowly but surely the clips came together. I asked James to do some additional audio recordings since the audio from the filming wasn’t loud enough. I was able to layer that in seamlessly (well probably not seamlessly).

Two of the videos are below, so you can see (hear) for yourself.

With the videos at the core of the social media campaign, I also searched for goat jokes, karate quotes, and articles to post throughout the weeks leading up to the book birthday. I even made myself a calendar and designed some posts on Canva.

I’m not sure how effective the campaign has been in how many books were sold because of the social media, but I’m really glad I did it. I stepped way out of my comfort zone. (I’m really uncomfortable promoting myself and my work.) I realized I actually enjoy creating videos and images for posts. In addition, connecting with teachers and parents from across the country has been a real highlight. Below are the four main lessons I learned (or was reminded of) from this process:

  • Lesson 1: Ask for help.
  • Lesson 2: Try the uncomfortable.
  • Lesson 3: Make the time. It might be fun.
  • Lesson 4: I have awesome friends.

To celebrate KARATE KID’s birthday and all that I’ve learned, I’m extending the social media campaign with a new focus. Starting today, I’m beginning the #IAmAKarateKid campaign—kids and adults can send in pictures or words describing how they are a Karate Kid—someone with confidence and focus—someone who embodies the discipline and respect which is at the heart of karate.

So, if you are, or know of someone who is a Karate Kid, tweet, post to Instagram, or to my author Facebook page. Remember to use #KarateConfidence and #IAmAKarateKid. One person will receive a signed book and some awesome swag. If the winner is a teacher or a student, I will also do a free SKYPE visit. Kiya!!!


Rosanne L. Kurstedt, Ph.D. has been an educator for over 20 years. She’s been an elementary school teacher, staff developer, administrator, adjunct professor, literacy coach, curriculum writer, and most importantly an advocate for children and teachers. She is a co-author of Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000) and author of the 100+ Growth Mindset Comments series (Newmark Learning, 2019) for grades K-6. She is currently the Associate Director of READ East Harlem/Hunter College and is so excited about the launch of her new picture book KARATE KID (Running Press Kids)—on sale September 3, 2019.

Finally, she is the founder and president of The Author Experience, a 501(c)(3) organization committed to the transformative power of sharing stories. In collaboration with students, families and educators, The Author Experience provides sustainable experiences that build a culture of literacy—one that elevates connections and delivers lasting impact. Please check us out at http://www.theauthorexperience.org and become a part of the story!

Rosanne can be found on Twitter and Instagram @rlkurstedt and on Facebook @rlkurstedtauthor.

Today we have debuts up the wazoo! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

When Dawn Babb Prochovnic contacted me about debuting her new book trailer, I was intrigued because she collaborated with Annie Lynn, a songstress I knew from Twitter. (Which means today not only is there a trailer debut, but a musical debut as well. Yes, we are dropping music this week just like Taylor Swift!)

Of course, come on my blog! I said. But first, tell me about this awesome collaboration!

Dawn:

There is so much to love about the song that Annie and her team created for the WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? book trailer.

When I first connected with Annie, my thought was that I would send her a copy of the book, and she would read it and magically be inspired to write a song. Instead, she nudged me to write the lyrics for the song before she ever saw the book.

Her feeling was that I knew the heart of the story better than she or others would or could. That nudge opened up a whole new creative channel for me—I’m so proud to have been involved in the making of this song, and I’m so grateful that Annie and her music came into my life. I sincerely feel like the song is an extension of the book, versus just a fun extra.

That said, the song is a work of art in its own right that could stand alone without the book’s scaffolding. It’s so kid-friendly and ridiculously catchy. I find myself humming it ALL THE TIME. Good thing I love it!

Well then, let’s hear it!

Annie, how did you get into writing songs for kidlit?

I was lead to kidlit the way I was lead to kindie music (kids + indie musician = kindie). By accident….OR WAS IT????

Sometimes life gives you signs, and if you pay attention, and put the pieces together there is often an exciting path open to you. I went from recording kids music with my son and the students I was working with at an elementary school, to kidlit, as a result of reading with kids.

My first kidlit song was 2 years ago. I gifted OLGA AND THE SMELLY THING FROM NOWHERE by Elise Gravel to my kid neighbor. We read it together out loud and I felt strongly that the words needed music (yes, I do that constantly, lol). I took 97% of her words, added music, made a demo, and ended up asking Elise for permission to share with the world and she said yes. She said she loved it and I could use it as I like. But that’s when I found out that songs are most valuable before the book comes out, especially for book trailers and value-added content for the book. Lesson learned. Completely different model from radio!

My next kidlit song was for Author Patrick Adams. He has this fun kidlit travel series LISA GOES TO… with this stuffed toy bear, Lisa, who can do amazing tricks and is guardian to 3 kids.

That brings me to our latest collaboration, with author Dawn Babb Prochovnic.

We were connected by mutual friends…one knew an author who wanted to write a song with a musician for a book trailer for her upcoming book, the other knew a children’s songwriter. See? THAT is the synchronicity I was just talking about.

However, that songwriter was tied up recording her next album, but had a friend who had been working a few years in kidlit, writing songs. We were introduced in a lovely email, and then began chatting on the phone about concepts and instruments. It quickly became apparent that I had been SENT one of the most lovely and kind people I had ever met. And she likes to talk and joke as much as I do, so we had some memorable, very funny conversations.

I lucked out with Dawn in that I gained a professional Author mentor, as well as learning about word pacing in picture books.  I was used to being Free Range Annie, writing about whatever I wanted to, whenever the Muse visited. If you listen to the back and forth exchange between the Captain and his crew in the book trailer song for WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? there’s a rhythm pattern that would not have occurred to me until Dawn wrote it out on paper. I kept thinking “Wow…she’s good. I just learned something new and useful.”  I also gained a friend and mutual supporter for life.

I also appreciate Dawn’s enthusiasm and vision for music in kidlit, and she has wonderful educational ideas that send my creativity into overdrive. She revealed that she recognizes the power music has to pull all the different pieces together in putting out a kidlit book trailer. And I can’t wait to hear kids singing this song to her on School Author Visits. She can now send it ahead of time, to any school she is visiting. They can learn it and sing along with the video. Kids will love singing her song to her. I always love how excited kids get when they sing my songs for me. And they can see me beaming, which makes them feel good too. Get ready to beam, Dawn!

I also need to mention that this song taught me not to take myself so seriously….I was writing an environmental doomsday song for an enviro group when she called. I needed a little break from heavy subject matter, and a song about a Pirate needing to find a potty quickly sure did the trick. My son is the Captain in the song and my husband Walt and I are the crew. Chris Arms plays guitar & mixed. We laughed so much recording this song. We tried to vocally make seal and dolphin sounds, til we realized we needed to sample the real thing. Listening to samples of seals and dolphins for an hour will make you laugh your butts off! And from downstairs, it sounded like seals were in my studio. I wrote to Dawn in tears after that….the really happy kind.  She brought us a memory that we will always cherish. And it got Alex off the darn PS4! He hasn’t been able to record with me since his voice changed. He’s really happy and proud of his performance; we are too.

Thank you, Dawn and Annie Lynn, for sharing your experience collaborating on kindie/kidlit music! I have a feeling Annie Lynn is about to be inundated with musical requests!

But first, a couple of giveaways!

From Dawn, you can win either a copy of WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? or a picture book critique! Your choice!

From Annie Lynn, you can win a music CD: SONGS FOR SCHOOLS!

Just leave a comment below to enter. Random winners will be selected in September!

Good luck!

Follow these creative ladies on Twitter: @DawnProchovnic & @AnnieLynn215 

In one month, The Carle Museum of Picture Book art will hold its annual Carle Honors, awarding four people/entities who have made significant contributions to the art form.

Also that evening, September 26th, final bids will be accepted on original artwork by picture book masters. Today, The Carle Honors are pleased to announce the artists whose work will be auctioned this year.

The auction will go live on Friday, August 30th and you can register to bid here.

For the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to ask the Carle Honorees a question about picture books. My question this year is…

“Picture books exude a certain kind of magic. How would you describe that magic?”

Melissa Sweet
2019 Carle Honors Artist

In a picture book, the magic begins as a swift and surprising connection to the art and design of a book, and later the words.

Often I dissect a book from cover to flaps to endpapers and everything in between, in order to figure out the decisions that make it compelling.

But in thinking about magic, I also think of magicians. One thing that makes a magic trick awe-inspiring is the set-up, which takes practice, timing and repetition, and drawing in the audience.

Then a myriad of decisions so that every word, every movement, points to witnessing something extraordinary.

Creating a picture book also requires minute decisions by a cast of dozens. The words, images, and design come together to create something wholly new.

Often there’s a moment when a book seems to have a mind of its own.  And when the final book feels effortless and like something we’ve never seen before, it seems…like magic.

 

REFORMA
The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking
represented by Kenny Garcia, President
2019 Carle Honors Angel

‘Picture books allow readers to imagine a world or a future that the reader exists in and thrives. It opens up new possibilities, words, and worlds full of love, hope, expressions, and emotions that affirms the reader’s life. This magical spark empowers children to imagine and create a better world for themselves and their communities. Multicultural picture books can be such a transformative experience for all of us, but for children of color, the ability to see and read picture books by illustrators of color can nurture the idea that they can also have a future career in writing and illustrating books, and continue the magic for future generations.

 

Chihiro Art Museum 
represented by Takeshi Matsumoto
2019 Carle Honors Bridge

statement by Yuko Takesako          
Executive Director of the Chihiro Iwasaki Memorial Foundation
Chief Curator of the Chihiro Art Museum (Tokyo & Azumino)

When children open the cover of a children’s book, a special kind of magic bubbles up. It gives a glimpse of a world yet unseen, enables the reader to experience something never done before, or brings back a memory of an event long forgotten.

The magic of picture books especially has a great impact on children of different nationalities or languages, or on babies who still cannot read, or at times on children who are not so adept at communicating with others. The visual magic cast on a young child once he or she opens a picture book is so powerful that memories of the book may suddenly come alive when the book is placed firmly in their hands—once again after a forgotten period of 10, 30, or even 50 years.

In this fashion, the yearning, understanding, and sympathy found through experiencing a different world helps to create another sort of magic which is respect and love for people of different cultures and the world they live in.

Such is the magic that exudes from picture books—something all too precious and special.

 

David Saylor
VP, Creative Director, Trade Publishing

Publisher, Graphix
Scholastic Inc.
2019 Carle Honors Mentor

What I love most about picture books is how the words and artwork blend to create an enhanced and perfect entity: the book itself. Their heightened interaction is the alchemy that every picture book hopes to achieve, that moment where words spark a thought and the pictures expand the narrative spaces between and around the words and sentences. For that reason, my favorite picture books are fully alive with emotion and artistry.

I’ve often wondered why picture books that were read to me as a child have stayed so vivid in my memory. I don’t think it’s simply that my young mind was eager to discover the wider world. I think it may also be that hearing my mother and father read aloud to me was my first experience of artistic communication. Those moments—the warmth of a lap, the sounds of words, the lively pictures on the page—brought to life a moment where a writer and an artist spoke directly to me, to my innermost self. I felt suddenly more alive, more aware, more full of life than I had felt just a moment before.

There’s a beautiful scene in the play Wit, by Margaret Edson. The main character is Dr. Vivian Bearing, an English professor, dying from ovarian cancer.  Her mentor, an older professor, visits and tries to comfort her by reading aloud. Then her mentor does something extraordinary: she lays next to her in bed and reads a picture book that she had intended for her grandson. The books is Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny, and it’s one of the most beautiful and touching moments I’ve seen in any play. In her final moments of life, when Dr. Bearing’s ebbing life has been paired down to the elemental, only a picture book could express the right feeling with such simplicity and depth.

Thank you, Honorees, and congratulations!

Blog readers, I hope you’ll visit the Carle Honors Auction, attend the Honors gala, or donate to The Carle Museum for all they do to celebrate picture books. Just visit carlemuseum.org.

You can celebrate, too, if you’re the winner of Eric Carle’s THE ARTIST WHO PAINTED A BLUE HORSE. Simply share this blog post and comment that you’ve done so…and you’ll be entered into the random drawing to win a copy. A winner will be selected next week.

Good luck!

I first met author Michael Sussman when I reviewed his debut picture book OTTO GROWS DOWN, illustrated by Scott Magoon. I LOVED IT! In fact, OTTO remains one of my favorite picture books of all time, and I often refer to it when teaching humor and picture book workshops.

Michael wrote me a lovely thank-you email and we became fast friends and critique partners. He went on to write novels, but now he’s back to picture books and his latest, DUCKWORTH THE DIFFICULT CHILD, is creating a kidlit buzz for its retro vibe and dark humor.

Michael, I’m so thrilled to have you back in picture books! It’s been a while since OTTO GROWS DOWN!

OTTO is the boy who wants his little sister to disappear, and she does. In DUCKWORTH, he himself “disappears,” but he didn’t want to!

For fun, can you compare and contrast OTTO and DUCKWORTH as characters?

What a wonderful question!

First off, I want to thank you, Tara, for all your help in promoting OTTO GROWS DOWN, and for being such a wonderful critique partner for so many years.

To my mind, what links Otto and Duckworth is that they both face dire circumstances which they must overcome without any help whatsoever from their parents. Unbeknownst to his mom and dad, Otto is trapped in backward time and will disappear altogether if he doesn’t figure out how to return to the present. Duckworth’s parents are oblivious to the fact that he has been swallowed by an enormous cobra, and he is left to his own devices to escape from inside the snake.

In contrast to Duckworth, Otto has a loving family, but must come to terms with an interloper: a new baby sister. In order to overcome his understandable resentment and animosity toward Anna, he must grow up and become aware of his burgeoning love for his sibling.

Duckworth is an only child and is faced with a far more difficult predicament: narcissistic parents who are utterly oblivious to his needs and concerns. Although Duckworth is as successful as Otto at conquering his life-and-death dilemma, the ending of his story remains bittersweet, as he is still stuck with woefully inadequate parents.

Poor Duckworth, stuck with oblivious parents who seem like the despicable adult characters in a Roald Dahl story. DUCKWORTH, as a whole, has a very nostalgic energy, like a picture book from days long ago. Did you get any inspiration from “dark humor” authors of the past?

DUCKWORTH is my homage to the classic picture book, THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN, by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey, soon to be a motion picture directed by Ron Howard. I love the dark humor of Gorey, Dahl, and William Steig’s SPINKY SULKS.

What is it about those dark humor books that you admire? Why did you want to pay homage to them?

I guess I just like dark humor in general, and have featured it in both my picture books and novels. Dark humor presents unpleasant and taboo aspects of life in a satirical manner, taking the edge off and relishing in the absurdity of the human condition. In stories, it allows authors to address potentially painful topics—such as sibling rivalry in OTTO and poor parenting in DUCKWORTH—in a manner that’s less threatening and more enjoyable than a straightforward or didactic approach.

I was also eager to riff on THE TREEHORN TRILOGY because I felt it was under-appreciated and falling into obscurity. Now, thanks to me and Ron Howard, it’ll be rediscovered! 😉

Let’s talk about the illustrations by Júlia Sardà. They are dark and mysterious, with a retro European surrealist vibe. (Maybe I think that because the mother looks like Salvador Dali?) The gorgeous cinnabar of the cobra jumps out and bites you.

The art takes full advantage of perspective—I love the illustration of Duckworth in the serpent’s stomach, surrounded by floating items the cobra has swallowed.

Is the art what you had imagined?

Júlia Sardà’s illustrations are spectacular, and way beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for. Her style, sense of composition, and attention to detail are extraordinary, and perfectly complement the story. The illustrations are so striking that I actually became concerned that they’d overshadow the text, and convinced my editor—the wonderful Emma Ledbetter—to switch to a more dramatic font, and make use of drop-down letters to highlight the first word on some pages.

I was initially surprised by some elements of the artwork that diverged from what I’d expected. The snake is WAY bigger than I’d anticipated, and I think that was a brilliant choice. The mother’s face, body, and attire are quite masculine-looking, which bothered me at first, but I think this allows the parents to be presented as a single unit, which fits the story. (Not to mention that the mother, as I wrote her, is utterly devoid of maternal concern!) I expected Mr. and Mrs. Snodgrass, the neighbors, to look British, but they are decidedly Russian in appearance. Finally, Duckworth looks more peculiar than I’d envisioned him, but I’ve grown to like that. Initially, he looked far too old, but Emma and I convinced Júlia to make him younger.

So there were some changes and edits to the art. What about to your original manuscript? Did anything turn out differently than the version you submitted?

Initially, the boy’s name was Bowlby. I wanted an odd name, to parallel Treehorn, and I think I unconsciously selected Bowlby because of the famous British psychologist, John Bowlby, who did pioneering work on maternal deprivation. But Emma wasn’t wild about the name, so I made a list of unusual monikers, and the two I liked the best were Duckworth and Digby. My son, Ollie, preferred Duckworth, which Emma liked as well, so I used Digby for the name of Duckworth’s cousin.

Ha, Bowlby is a funny name, but I do like Duckworth far better!

In giving a workshop on humor recently, I talked about “superiority humor” and how feeling superior to someone else is a cause of laughs.

In DUCKWORTH, the child feels superior to the parents, and I think your reader will also feel superior to the Mr. & Mrs. Was that a deliberate decision to make the adults in the book so hapless?

Superiority theory states that we laugh at the misfortunes and shortcomings of others because it makes us feel better about ourselves. And indeed, a portion of the story’s humor stems from seeing the pompous stupidity and ineptitude of Duckworth’s parents. The vast majority of parents who read the book to their kids will be able to pat themselves on the back, thinking I may have my faults, but I’m a far better parent than these hapless twits.

But I think that Incongruity theory, the notion that humor derives from the enjoyment of a perceived or imagined incongruity, is a better fit here. The discrepancy between Duckworth’s desperate plight and his parents’ haughty indifference and self-preoccupation, is amusing.

Surrealist or absurdist humor is also at play, in that the story presents a ridiculous situation that is impossible to take seriously, and the obliviousness of Duckworth’s parents is exaggerated to the point of absurdity.

Well, I think you use all those forms of humor brilliantly.

I’ll close our interview with how I typically begin…

You know I host Storystorm to inspire writers. So what inspired DUCKWORTH?

Well, I was suffering from writer’s block at the time, so I resorted to my patented Whack-a-Plot™ titanium mallet, which I invented for your 2010 PiBoIdMo (forerunner to Storystorm). Within seconds of regaining consciousness, the story came to me in a flash.

Seriously, folks, the story was inspired by a visual image, which is unusual for me since I have aphantasia, a condition where one does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot voluntarily visualize imagery. (I’m not making this up.)

One summer evening, while taking a stroll, an image passed through my mind of a snake that had swallowed a child. As I imagined the bulge working its way down the length of the serpent, it struck me as a compelling (if somewhat macabre) basis for a picture book. I recalled a similar image from The Little Prince, but when I returned home, I discovered that the prince’s drawing was of a boa digesting an elephant. (Although, as the prince notes, grown-ups all thought it was a picture of a hat.)

I worried that my concept might be too scary for young children, unless I made it a funny story, so I decided to model the tale on THE SHRINKING OF TREEHORN.

Michael, I think you’ve created a new classic! Thank you for chatting with me about DUCKWORTH!

Blog readers, Simon & Schuster is giving away 2 copies of DUCKWORTH THE DIFFICULT CHILD.

Just leave one comment below to be entered in the giveaway.

Two random winners will be selected in mid-August.

Good luck!


Abandoned by a cackle of laughing hyenas, Michael Sussman endured the drudgery and hardships of a Moldavian orphanage until fleeing with a traveling circus at the age of twelve. A promising career as a trapeze artist was cut short by a concussion that rendered him lame and mute. Sussman wandered the world, getting by on such odd jobs as pet-food tester, cheese sculptor, human scarecrow, and professional mourner while teaching himself the art of fiction. He now lives in Tahiti with Gauguin, an African Grey parrot. Visit him at MichaelSussmanBooks.com.

A few weeks ago, I saw a joyous tweet from Minh Lê praising SMALL WORLD, Ishta Mercurio’s debut picture book, illustrated by Jen Corace.

And then I remembered—I’m supposed to be interviewing Ishta about this very book! WHAT A SMALL WORLD!

But no, this SMALL WORLD is not like that Small World. No earworm here.

This book is about our changing perspective as we grow, learn and achieve…and our place in the world through the stages of life. It’s a beautiful book that landed at just the right time.

Ishta, since I run Storystorm, let’s talk about the idea for this book first. How did it originate?

I love this question, because it shows how ideas really can come from anywhere.

I was on a plane (in the window seat, which is my FAVORITE SEAT—it’s one of the perks of being short!), flying home from Oregon, looking down at a large body of water. I noticed that there was a cluster of white flecks on the surface of the water that kept disappearing, then reappearing further along, then disappearing and reappearing again, and it occurred to me that they were probably caused by a pod of whales or dolphins or something. And that got me thinking about how tiny those flecks were from my vantage point inside the plane, but how big a whale would be if I were sitting next to one… And I also started thinking about how much diversity the world holds: in plant and animal species, in cultures, in land forms… And I wanted to explore how a child might sit with and come to terms with that, with this knowledge of the world’s complexity and of our small-but-also-big role within it.

I see your other published book is about insects. Do your ideas often come from nature?

t’s funny, but most of the time, they don’t. Or if they do, I get about halfway through the brainstorming session before I realize that my idea is actually just an extension of SMALL WORLD, or of another manuscript that I’ve already written. Most of the time, my ideas come from something I’ve overheard in a cafe or on the train, or from a news article, or something my kids will say, or my dog. (I have a couple of ideas I’m playing with that have come from my dog…)

OK, I’ll bite! Tell us about your dog and dog stories!

We got him from a rescue organization. His name is Rocket, and his mother was a feral dog in an area that’s a bit overrun with feral dogs, and she gave birth to his litter next to someone’s shed and abandoned them. So we have no idea what kind of dog he is! He looks a little bit Lab/Rottweiler/German Shepherd/Boxer. He’s stereotypically “dog-shaped”. And he’s big! He weighs 80 lbs., which is almost as much as me.

Without giving too much away, my dog stories were both inspired by this one silly thing that he does. But one is serious, and deep, and essentially social commentary, and the other is light and funny and very silly. I don’t know if they’ll both be published, but I’m having fun writing them.

Rocket is a cool name! And so in Nanda, the MC in SMALL WORLD. Can you give us the story behind the unique choice?

Finding a name for this character was a challenge! I went through several different names, looking for the one that was just right. At first, this character was a boy. I’m a mom of two boys, so I think it just felt natural for me to think of this character—who shares a lot of interests with me, but whose story isn’t really based on my own childhood at all—as a boy. But then about halfway through the revision process, I thought, “You know what? I have a lot of common interests with this character. And where are the books about girls who get to do things like this?” And so I decided that this character needed to have a girl’s name.

And then it came down to what girl’s name to choose! It needed to have two syllables, with the stress on the first syllable, to match the rhythm of the rest of the text. I wanted something soft sounding, that ended in an “a” sound or some other open vowel sound (as opposed to a closed vowel sound, like a long “e” sound), because this is a soft flowing lyrical kind of book. And, of course, a name can tell us a lot about a person’s background and family, and Nanda’s family is important in the first half of this book.

One of the things that people might be surprised to learn is that I come from a mixed background: my dad is Italian on his father’s side and Irish and German on his mother’s side, and my mom is Polish on her father’s side and Filipino on her mother’s side. Her dad was an American GI stationed in the Philippines during WWII, and he fell in love with a Filipino woman (my Lola) and they raised my mom and her brothers and sister there. My mom and each of her siblings came over to the US one at a time, as they each finished high school in the Philippines and enrolled in college in the States. And what’s interesting to me is that even though I take after my Filipino side in stature and bone structure and build, which is, like, 90% of my body, because I have my Italian grandfather’s face, most people are surprised to learn that I’m part Filipino. And I think that this is partly because we see what we’re conditioned to see: in other words, if the majority of books and movies and TV shows we see feature Caucasian characters, as most of them do, we become conditioned to look for the signs that point to that heritage. And we miss or gloss over the rest. I want us to be able to see each other more completely, and more clearly. And I want us to accept one another more readily. And giving books to children that broaden and deepen their understanding of people from a variety of backgrounds, and that illustrate the things that are different as well as the things we share, is part of that work.

So I wanted this child to come from an immigrant background. And the rest of the story of how I chose Nanda’s name is in the back matter of the book, so people will have to go and read that for themselves.

I was surprised at Jen Corace’s illustrations because they are a wildly different style from LITTLE PEA (with Amy Krouse Rosenthal), one of my favorite books. I suppose I should know that illustrators are wildly talented! Jen’s style in LITTLE PEA is spare and simple, lots of white space, childlike. While SMALL WORLD also has a childlike feel, the art is complex, layered and bursting with color. It emits a palpable energy!

Jen Corace did such an amazing, amazing job with the illustrations in this book. I love the way she picked up on the geometry references in the text and took them to a whole other level. But my favorite thing, and the most delightfully surprising thing, was the spread of Nanda building a cityscape with blocks in her bedroom! I love the way the city skyline she sees through her window echoes the skyline she’s building, and the star chart on her wall, and I especially especially love the pictures of female astronauts on her wall. When I recognized Sally Ride and Mae Jemison and Kalpana Chawla’s portraits, I gasped. Seeing these real women on the walls of this fictional character–tying Nanda to real kids, in the real world—was such a special moment.

What is the hope that you want to pass onto those who read SMALL WORLD? What do you want your readers to feel as they finish the book?

I want them to be left with the feeling that even though each of us is one small person, we can still do great things. And I also want them to have a deeper appreciation for the Earth, which is the one place in all the Universe that we call home. It’s ours, and we *all* belong here.

Thank you, Ishta, for the interview and this gorgeous new book!

A book that blog readers can win!

Leave one comment below and a random person will be selected to receive a copy of SMALL WORLD, which is available in bookstores now!

A winner will be chosen in August.

Good luck!


Ishta Mercurio was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, until she was 16. Then she attended college in the Berkshires, spent a rustic summer on a Maine island, grew up and got married in England, found her home in Scotland, and made a new home in Canada.

She has been an environmental activist, a barista, a behavior therapist, an actor, and an author. I still am most of those things, but I only do a couple of them for money. Mostly, I am a storyteller.​

Pull up a chair at ishtamercurio.com.

At the risk of dating myself, I’ll mention an old commercial tag line from the 1970’s—“when E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

Well, when Holiday House contacts you and asks if you’d like to chat with two-time Caldecott and Geisel Honor book winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger, you also stop everything and LISTEN!

Laura’s latest book is a charmer, snuggle-worthy for the littlest ones. It’s titled, simply, WHY?

I met Laura last year at the Irma S. Black Award ceremony where she served as keynote speaker. She showed us her newest book at the time, BLUE, about a boy and his best friend. (Notice how the die cut on each page forms a new part of the image with each turn.)

 

Laura, you must know you are the only PB creator to make my husband tear up, as you read BLUE. And he’s never even had a dog! He was incredibly moved. How do you inject so much heart into your stories?

With every book, I try to distill the story down to its essence and I always draw upon strong feelings and beliefs while writing and illustrating.

With BULLY, for example, I’ve always felt a deep sense of empathy for anyone who was bullied or feeling left out, so it was important to me that above all else, empathy is the most important aspect of that book.

BLUE is probably the most difficult book I’ve ever created. It really comes from a deeply personal place. As a young child, I’d experienced the sudden loss of a family member—my brother—and that very complicated trauma was never really worked through. Consequently, I’ve always had an overwhelming fear and dread of loss. BLUE is a kind of therapeutic, cathartic personal exercise, but more importantly, it’s an attempt to offer comfort, as well as a starting point for deeper discussion with young children, (or anyone, really).

Your husband’s reaction truly means a lot to me!

So with your new book WHY?, what did you distill its essence down to?

WHY is a about curiosity, patience, and understanding. The little rabbit is having a bit of an existential crisis, and at one point in the book, the apparently all-knowing bear is faced with a similar crisis as he realizes that he can’t explain everything after all. Ultimately, their loving and enduring friendship is more important than anything, even when there are unanswerable questions. (I’ve always been fascinated with unanswered questions…)

Why do you think WHY? is a child’s most pressing (and frequent) question?

Well, given that children are witnessing everything pretty much for the first time, I think it makes sense that they would seek to have a deeper understanding of what they’re seeing and hearing.

I think adults often take for granted their surroundings, even if those deeper meanings were never fully explored or questioned.

Why are the characters in the book a bear and a bunny—instead of a bear and cub (or rabbit and bunny)? Why is the relationship shown as one of friendship instead of parent-child?

Ah, I thought long and hard about that.

With this book, as with many, I had an immediate vision that I wanted to stay true to. I knew that I wanted one of the characters to be very large, and one super small, which in many ways ended up dictating the decision about whether or not they’re related to one another. I also wanted them to be friends rather than relatives because friendship is a voluntary relationship, which I felt made the story more interesting in many ways.

Also, from the beginning. I’d envisioned a bear and a rabbit, but I did explore a substitute for the bear because I was worried that there might be confusion between the bear in WHY, and the bear in my DOG AND BEAR series. In the end, I felt the bear was undeniably perfect, and I was confident that the character would be distinctive in its own right.

He is distinctive! And so lumpy in a furry-cuddly way. Plus, it’s more visually interesting to showcase contrasting characters!

Speaking of your art, it’s gorgeous, full of depth and texture. Can you tell us a little about your illustration process for WHY?

Sure! With each book, I try to envision an art style that will match the text I’ve written. Hence the multiple, various art styles over the years.

With WHY, I envisioned a softer style, unlike any of my other books. It’s been years since I’ve worked with watercolors, and I had such a great time painting the art for this book!

So, I began each painting with a pencil drawing, and then I painted over the drawings with watercolor paint. I repeated this process lightly, many times, which gave the art depth and a layered feel, without any thick paint or brushstrokes. This way, the softness was retained and the pencil lines showed through.

Once all of that was done, I still felt it needed something – a bit of grittiness and a little more depth. I wanted it to feel more organic.

So, I finally broke out a fabulous gigantic Japanese brush I’d bought a few years ago in Singapore and I soaked it full of water so that it was completely saturated. Then, I brought it into my backyard where I dipped the sopping wet brush into India ink and flung it at watercolor papers. When I was finished, I had a huge stack of paper, each sheet full of splotches, spots, drips, etc. I created so many sheets because I didn’t want to repeat any of the elements.

Then, I scanned my original watercolor paintings and all of the “splotch” art sheets. For each painting, I overlaid several different “splotch” art sheets, I isolated the splotches, and I either lightened or darkened those areas on the original paintings.

Your process is fascinating! I love the thick and chunky Japanese brush!

What’s so lovely about the illustrations is that they feel soft and safe for a young child who is asking WHY, who is questioning the world around them. What do you hope that young reader will take away from your story?

I think with WHY, I’d love to encourage curiosity and the freedom and “permission” to question absolutely everything, which ultimately I believe, would encourage independent thought and informed decision-making. I also hope WHY is an example of patience and understanding, for sure. And lastly, I hope that young readers understand that not all questions have immediate answers, and that’s okay.

What a wonderful take-off point for a meaningful discussion between adult and child. 

Thank you, Laura, for giving us a glimpse into your creative process!

WHY? is available from Holiday House on August 13…or you can win a copy here.

Leave a comment below and someone will be randomly selected to receive a copy in a couple weeks.

One comment per person, please.

Good luck!


Laura Vaccaro Seeger is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator and a 2-time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award, winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book, and a 2-time winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award. She is also the recipient of both the Massachusetts Reading Association and the New York Empire State awards for “Body of Work and Contribution to Children’s Literature.”

She earned her BFA degree at the School of Fine Art and Design at the State University of New York at Purchase. She then moved to Manhattan and began a career as an animator, artist, designer, and editor in network television. She created show openings and special segments for NBC and ABC for many years and won an Emmy Award for an opening animation for an NBC Special.

Laura and her husband, Chris, have two wonderful sons, Drew and Dylan. They live in Rockville Centre, New York. She loves painting, writing, surfing, boating, tennis, running, playing the piano, and spending time with her family and friends. 

Visit her at www.studiolvs.com.

 

by Tammi Sauer

In the spring of 2013, two unlikely friends swam onto the picture book scene—Nugget and Fang. From the start, Nugget & Fang, written by me and illustrated by Michael Slack, did really well. I was proud of our standalone. It never even occurred to me to write a sequel.

Then in 2017, my new editor at Clarion, Lynne Polvino, asked if I’d be interested in revisiting a certain underwater world.

Now, all these years later, my favorite fishy friends are back in the SEA-quel, NUGGET & FANG GO TO SCHOOL.

When Fang the shark is invited by his friends to attend Mini Minnows Elementary, he thinks it’s a great idea! But then his first day of school arrives . . . and suddenly, he’s not so sure. He’s not very good at reading or math. He doesn’t exactly fit in with his classmates. And the teacher looks crabby! Can Fang’s best friend, Nugget, and the other minnows help him discover that school really is FANG-TASTIC?

When a publishing house asks you to write a sequel, please know this situation comes with advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  • You already know your characters.
  • You already know the tone.
  • You already know the style.
  • You already know the voice.
  • You already know the general setting.
  • You already know the basic pacing.

Disadvantages:

  • The book needs to be written.
  • The book needs to be at least as good as the original, preferably better.
  • The book needs to appeal to fans of the original as well as to people who have never read it.
  • The book needs to meet a deadline.
  • The book needs to get approval from the publishing house, and, if the book does not get this approval, you can’t submit it elsewhere. Plus, you, um, still have to write a sequel that gets approval.
  • The book needs to be similar to the original. Oh. But it needs to be different, too.

But how do you actually write a sequel????? In my experience, such a task involves gallons and gallons of tropical tea, endless quantities of chips and salsa from Torchy’s Tacos, and a critique group that reminds you that you can do this.

These are the three things that were most helpful to me as I wrote Nugget & Fang Go to School:

  1. I read the original. Then I read it again. And again. And again. After that, I read it again. This not only helped me to dive back into Nugget and Fang’s world, but it helped me to rediscover the rhythm of their story.
  2. I typed out the text of the original and paginated it. This gave me a clear and concise visual of my pacing and page turns. I kept the paginated text of book 1 right next to me as I worked to create the text for book 2.
  3. I played with words. (Book 1 incorporated lots of wordplay so book 2 had to have that as well.)

First, I compiled a list of the wordplay that I had used in book 1:

  • Holy mackerel!
  • Swim for your lives!
  • Sounds fishy to me.
  • Oh, my algae!
  • I feel seasick!
  • Have you lost your gills?
  • Catch of the day
  • Fang’s heart sank.
  • You’re fintastic.
  • Fanned his gills.
  • Wrung his fins.

This served as a cheat sheet. I knew what wordplay absolutely could not go into book 2. I then wrote a long list of different potential wordplay to use in the sequel. These are the items that made their way into book 2:

  • Other fish in the sea
  • Oh, my starfish!
  • Swim for cover!
  • Cool as a sea cucumber
  • School of fish
  • Crabby
  • Sea of faces
  • Fang-tastic
  • Best friend in the whole underwater world
  • Made a splash
  • A fish out of water
  • There was nothing fishy about that.

Having lots of new wordplay to choose from allowed me to give book 2 a similar feel to book 1, but it helped me to make the new book fresh as well.

Overall, writing a sequel is quite a challenge, but, if my editor asks me to write another book about Nugget and Fang, well, wild seahorses couldn’t pull me away!

Luckily, wild seahorses aren’t pulling away our giveaway—a copy of the chummy SEA-quel to one lucky blog reader. Leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks!

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 28 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Her book Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently made into a musical that is currently touring planet earth. (Well, the United States anyway.) Visit her at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

by Kevan Atteberry

GHOST CAT all began because, well, I have a ghost cat in my house. I never really see it—just darts and blurs out of my peripheral vision. There may be any number of logical explanations for this phenomena but I’m going with the ghost cat explanation.

We had a cat, a black cat, that showed up at our house years and years ago. It just appeared on our porch for several days in a row and eventually my wife, Teri, stated feeding it. I warned her if she fed it it would stick around. And she did, and it did. It came to us as an outdoor cat but eventually became an indoor/outdoor cat. If it had other places to be he was free to go there. He didn’t, preferring to live with us. And he did for about a dozen years. One day I hadn’t seen him around and went looking for him. I found him lying dead in the side yard.

When the cat died, my wife was five or six years into a diagnosis of young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I had to tell her several times over the next few days that the cat had died. Each time it was like she was hearing it for the first time. Eventually she forgot that we even had had a cat.

Jumping ahead, a year or so after the cat died I ended up having to place Teri in an Adult Family Home. I had been her primary caregiver for seven years of decline but it got to the point I couldn’t do it anymore and still make a living, let alone have a life. I can’t remember if it happened before I placed Teri, but this is when I started noticing the “ghost cat appearances.” Maybe because I was home alone all of the sudden with no responsibilities.

It was always interesting and I don’t think I really believed I had a ghost cat, but I kept almost seeing it. So, naturally, as a writer, I thought I’d write a story about it. I had no idea what the story was, but I knew it would be different than anything I had written before. When I shared the first few drafts with my critique group, I was encouraged by their acceptance and suggestions. A year later, several more drafts, and they told me, “Kevan, this is your story,” which of course it was. I’d written it. “No,” they said, this is YOUR story. You have a ghost in YOUR house.” And what they meant is that ever since I had placed Teri in a home, I really was living with a ghost in my house. It became imperative at that realization that I get the story absolutely right. And I understood where exactly it needed to go. This was a story about loss, moving on, and the permission to love again while never giving up the love that came before.

Publisher’s Weekly said it well…”The heart, it seems, has room for everyone we have ever loved.”

It may also be notable that this is the first time I’ve jumped back into traditional medias to create the art for GHOST CAT. Every book before has been primarily digital. And the illustration style, obviously, is completely different than anything in previous books.

Initial thumbnail for spread 10-11.

First sketch for page 11.

Problem: page 10 and 11 were too similar. And besides that, the boy is not supposed to see the cat, yet he seems to be looking right at it.

Decided to keep page 10 as it was but change the angle on page 11 to more of a profile, putting the cat out of the sightline of the boy. This first rough sketch.

Created final pencil work (I would clean up in Photoshop.)

Created final illustration in Photoshop using pencil lines and the painted sources below.

These are the uncorrected colors and textures I used in coloring most of Ghost Cat.

Kevan, thank you so much for sharing the very personal story behind GHOST CAT–which was released June 11th!

You can win a copy here by leaving a comment below. 

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

Good luck!

7ate9

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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 eXplore
August 2020

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