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I had a little visit with Santa and whispered all of these goodies in his ear! I hope you find just what you want under the tree this year.

The Book Seat

Besides a book, this is the perfect writer’s companion. It’s a sturdy pillow with a ledge to cradle your most precious possessions.

Get it: thebookseat.com

Once Upon a Time Card Game

Fancy a fractured fairy tale? Well, this one will definitely crack you up.

Get it: atlas-games.com

Wacky Wavy Mini Tube Guy

I dunno ’bout you, but I like silly things on my writing desk to entertain me. Enter this panic at the disco.

Get it: urbanoutfitters.com

Margaret Atwood Masterclass

What can I say other than WOW!?

Get it: masterclass.com

The Writer’s Toolbox

Doing Storystorm this year? This will keep your creativity turned up to 11!

Get it: chroniclebooks.com

Hemingway Typewriter Pencil Cup

A few years back, I shared this typewriter coaster set. Here’s a matching desk accessory!

Get it: victoriantradingco.com

Typewriter Wrapping Paper

Speaking of typewriters…you may want to use this as wallpaper.

Get it: theliterarygiftcompany.com

Scrabble Tile Magnets

The game you know and love, now in fridge format.

Get it: wildandwolfshop.com

The Pilot’s Pen (Night Writer)

In the 80’s there was Night Rider. Now in the teens, we get an upgrade to Night Writer.

These LED pens light up so you can write in the dark. (Remember to keep a notepad on your nightstand for those sleepy, brilliant ideas!)

Get it: amazon.com

Chapter One, The End Earrings

Little Gem Girl creates these earrings. You just have to fill in the middle.

Get it: etsy.com

Mark My Words Bookmarks

These comic/graphic novel-style bookmarks will be sure to get the word out that you love reading.

Get it: genuinefred.com

Tea Drops Sampler

Tea is my creative fuel…and this appears to be a genius new way of taking your tea to crit group.

Get it: uncommongoods.com

Ideal Bookshelf Art

Artist Jane Mount creates ideal bookshelf art from Shakespeare to contemporary favorites. See the entire collection…and read it, too!

Get it: uncommongoods.com

The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus

While not necessarily for kidlit, this looks to be a creative kick in the keister.

Get it: indiebound.org

Children’s Book Week Posters

There’s an entire store filled with posters from every Children’s Book Week dating back to 1921!

Get it: cafepress.com

Rest My Sole Foot Rest Cushion

If you’ve got your BUTT IN CHAIR, you need to get your FEET ON REST. (Sorry, socks not included. But see below.)

Get it: amazon.com

Banned Books Socks

Keep those tootsies warm and cozy!

Get it: outofprint.com

Literary Temporary Tattoos

To tat or not to tat, that is the question. Don’t make a permanent decision.

Get it: chroniclebooks.com

Tara Lazar Books

Yeah, shameless plug.

Get it: taralazar.com/taras-books

You can also view my previous holiday gift guides for writers:

Happy Holidays, writing friends!

Please share you writerly gift picks in the comments!

Well, hey-hey-hey, we’ve got a couple new early reader friends here today!

Say hello to FRANK AND BEAN!

I’m eager to eat…er, I mean…MEET them, so I sat down with the fellas to have a frank conversation.

So Frank, you’re quite the solitary, secret fellow. What did you first think when Bean came along?

In three words: short, round, and jarring. Frankly, he’s a loud bean. 

Frank’s got a point there, Bean. Why are you so LOUD?

WHAT’S THAT? *banging on drum* WHY AM I SO PROUD? 

BECAUSE I’M A ONE-BEAN BAND. LISTEN TO THIS! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* *bangs gong* 

Crash! Toot! Gooooooong!

Bean! She said loud, not proud. Why are you so loud?

 Me? Loud? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am exuberant. 

Well, we’ve got one quiet and one loud here. Does your friendship prove that opposites really do attract?

We’re different, but we’re the same in one way. We’re both like to use our imagination and be creative. I make up songs, but I have a hard time coming up with their words. Frank is a writer who keeps a Secret Notebook. What do you write in there, Frank? 

Bean, shhh! We can’t give away the end of our story. These people haven’t read it yet.

Oh. Right. HEY, FRANK! 

Bean, you don’t have to shout. I’m on the same page as you.

We forgot that we have something else in common too, Frank. We both like jelly donut holes. And Frank? I like you too. 

Aw. Thanks, Bean. 

Well, your story ends on an interesting note, guys. Do you want to give us a little hint about what may come next?

Sure! Our next adventure is about creativity too. But it’s about creativity in the kitchen. Or a food truck. Bean gets a big idea to compete in the forest’s food truck contest. 

Will we win, Frank?

I don’t know. The book isn’t done yet. But I bet we’ll have fun.

Me too. Because we totally rock! *crashes cymbals* *toots horn* 

Gooooooong!

Well, now I need a couple of Tylenol…extra strength…fast acting…

Let’s take a look at the WORLD PREMIERE BOOK TRAILER!

FRANK AND BEAN is an adorable new early reader series from author Jamie Michalak and illustrator Bob Kolar, published by Candlewick. There’s full-color delight on every page, perfect for kids who are moving beyond picture books but don’t want to leave the best part—THE PICTURES!!!—behind. These pals have a tiny bit of a rough (and loud) start to their friendship, but they realize their strengths complement each other in perfect harmony.

If you’d like to win a copy of FRANK AND BEAN, leave a comment about what makes friendship so special.

One winner will be randomly selected very soon, because Tara has a lot of giveaways for which she needs to pick winners. So she’ll do it all in one fell swoop!

Good luck!

To follow this tour, you don’t even need a VW minibus! (But that would be more fun.)

by Salina Yoon

Ever wonder how those cute books with moving parts, lift-flaps, pop-ups, or touchable things get sold to publishers?

With a novelty book submission, the dummy is critical. Unlike other formats that may be story- or art-driven, a novelty book is format-driven. This means that the physical format can be even more important than the text, the story, the concept, or the art, though all of these elements have to work seamlessly together at the end. Creating a novelty book is like solving a puzzle on a multi-dimensional level. But the challenge is what makes it FUN!

The format has to be unique and versatile enough to work as a series.

But how do you build a book with moving parts?!

I’ll show you.

It begins with an idea. You sketch it out. This sketch is no bigger than 2”, but it’s got a lot of info here. The tail of an animal will wag by the pull of a pull-tab.

Since I already know that it would be important for the publisher to be able to make this into a series, I created a series title.

The things that I considered while creating the series title:

  • Must highlight its most unique feature on the book
  • Must be catchy
  • Must inform reader how the book works

I came up with a WAGGING TAIL BOOK. But I revised the series title to A WAG MY TAIL BOOK for the final submission, which the acquiring publisher kept.

Then comes the tricky part. Before I do anything else, I have to figure out how to make the tail wag with a pull tab. What if you’re not a paper engineer? While I consider myself a format engineer, I’m not a paper engineer myself, so I sought one out. I happen to have a good friend who can really make paper do anything! Having some experience with novelty, though, I knew the possibilities and limitations. I explained how I wanted the tail to move with a tab on the side. She sent me various options, and this mechanic worked the best for me.

You could hire a freelance paper engineer, like Renee Jablow or carefully open up other books with a similar mechanic to the one you want, and see if you could recreate it. No need to reinvent the wheel. All paper-engineers pull apart other paper mechanics to learn from them! Don’t worry about making it perfect. This is for the purpose of submitting it to a publisher so they see how it works. If the publisher is interested, they would send this dummy to their printer, and the printer would re-engineer it (and clean it up)—and supply quotes to the publisher. Pricing is KEY in getting through the acquisition process. If it’s too pricey, it’ll be passed. Be sure to only include interactive elements that are absolutely necessary and cost effective.

Once I had the mechanic figured out, I worked on creating an art sample. But since I want to show this format as a series, I created four covers. After building the four dummies, I had to source the fabric for the touch-and-feel tail. This could be done by visiting a fabric store, or even a party store that sells costumes. All I needed was a tiny piece of fabric for my dummy. A fully designed dummy shows the publisher exactly how I am envisioning this series.

But I wanted to offer less-expensive versions of the dummy, too, so I did not put fabric on the tails of all of the animals. It’s nice to offer options.

After building the dummy, I created a video to show how the dummy works. This would allow me to share the dummy without actually sending it, unless it was requested.

The acquisition process for a novelty book typically takes far longer than a traditional picture book, even when the publisher is excited about it. Expect 7-12 months…or longer to get an offer, if one is coming! Some books have been acquired as late as 18 months after submission!

The Wag My Tail series was sold to S&S as a 3-book deal (though more are coming). Instead of going with the original concepts, the publisher asked for holiday themes, which was easy to apply to this format. The first book HALLOWEEN KITTY is available now, and the others will follow.

Don’t be afraid to tackle a novelty book idea. Take it just one step at a time—beginning with the format. It’s challenging on multiple levels, but you’ll have lots of fun and maybe less hair than what you started with. Good luck!

Thanks, Salina! What a fascinating process. You are the novelty master. How could any publisher resist?

You can visit Salina and her books online at SalinaYoon.com.

To celebrate the release of HALLOWEEN KITTY, Salina is giving away 5 copies of the book!

Leave one comment below to enter. Five random winners will be selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

by Gabi Snyder & Robin Rosenthal

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE!

READY TO EMBARK ON A JOURNEY?

When the gate is left open, one dog escapes the yard for an adventure on tricycles, trolleys, and trains. This hilarious story counts up to ten and back down again as more pups join the fun—and one very determined cat goes on the chase!

Coming in May 2020!

We (author Gabi Snyder and illustrator Robin Rosenthal) “met” for the first time over video chat to discuss our experiences creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, which is the debut picture book for us both!

RR: What inspired TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE?

GS: I’d say one part real-life and one part kidlit! The dog versus cat dynamic that plays out in the story was inspired, in part, by my childhood pets. I grew up with a cat we called Kinko (named for his kinked tail) and an assortment of dogs. Kinko was the undisputed boss. Now my family includes one dog and one cat. (They take turns keeping each other in line.)

As a kid, one of my favorite picture books was GO, DOG. GO! by P.D. Eastman. I must’ve read that book hundreds of times, anticipating the playful and action-packed dog party at the end. The silly dogs and sense of movement and fun in TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE are, in part, an homage to the P.D. Eastman classic.

GS: Speaking of silly dogs, I adore the characters you’ve created for TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE and your bold, colorful style! What drew you to the text?

RR: Thank you! Wow, I love hearing the backstory!

I loved this text when I first read it. It is so simple, and you leave such a generous amount of room for the illustrator to play. The joke is entirely in the illustrations. You really had to trust your illustrator to pull it off! It’s a true partnership of art and text.

RR: How did you make choices about leaving room for an illustrator? Was that hard? What, if anything, surprised you about my art?

GS: Tough questions! I didn’t make a conscious effort to leave room for an illustrator, but I did aim for spare. The text is very simple, but functions as both a counting book and an epic chase! As a counting book, it does specify the number of pups and mode of transportation for each spread, but the appearance and personality of the dogs and the setting were left open to interpretation. I did include a few illustration notes about the cat character and her story arc that’s not obvious from the title or the text!

The story escalates to “Nine daring dogs on a hot-air balloon.” But when we reach “Ten dogs,” there’s a revelation. That tenth animal is NOT a dog! And while my illustration notes made clear who that is, I did not specify where we are. Robin, your illustration there is hilarious and unexpected! I gasped in surprise when I saw it, and yet it seems like the inevitable “of course!” choice. Truly perfection. Thank you!

GS: The humor in your art is fantastic. I especially love the facial expressions and costume choices for the cat. What influences did you draw upon when creating this fun group of pups and one sneaky cat?

RR: When I read the text, I immediately knew that I wanted to create this cat character. In my head she was part Garfield/part Terminator: kind of aloof, but also with strong drive and purpose. I wanted the dogs to be happy, optimistic, and confident. I also wanted each dog to be different so there would be a surprise on every spread. I spent a lot of time getting the expressions right, as they need to convey the emotion of the story without any text to back them up. The clothing is a little bit 80s retro mixed with current kids’ fashion styles.

GS: Part Garfield/part Terminator—ha! I love the 80s retro vibe in your art.

RR: What was your experience like as a debut picture book author? Anything that surprised you about the process?

GS: I was delighted to have the opportunity to work with editor Meredith Mundy and the team at Abrams. The suggested text changes were pretty minor, but definitely strengthened the story. As a newbie, I didn’t know what to expect, but was happily surprised that Meredith kept me apprised of each new development with the art. It was such a delight to watch the characters come to life in your adorable illustrations.

Meredith recently asked me whether the book looked like what I’d imagined when I submitted the text. In truth, the book’s illustrations are even more adorable and humorous than I’d imagined in my head. The 80s retro vibe/wardrobing of your characters is very much in line with my aesthetic. The only big surprise was the “Ten dogs…WAIT!” spread (which, as I mentioned above, I ADORE). And then when I saw the full color illustrations—wow! It may sound clichéd, but there’s something magical about the picture book collaboration between an author and an illustrator. The whole is so much more than the two parts!

GS: What was your experience like as a debut picture book illustrator? Anything that surprised you about the process?

RR: So, first of all, that is so nice to hear! I appreciate that they keep the author and illustrator separate throughout the process, but it is also a little strange to not really know how an author is feeling throughout the process. Meredith would give me very nice updates—like “The author loves the character sketches!”—so that was helpful. I felt a big responsibility with your work!

I think the hardest part for me as a debut picture book illustrator was the pressure I put on myself. This is your first impression, DO NOT blow it! I had to keep reminding myself that the kids are my audience. Will they laugh? Will they love it and want to read it again? I tried to make that my focus.

Meredith and our art director, Hana Nakamura, were a pleasure to work with and they gave me a lot of freedom and great feedback. For the cover, we agreed we wanted to show our three main characters. I drew a lot of options and here are a few.

Meredith and Hana and the team at Abrams picked one and sent some feedback:

And here is the final cover! I’ve just heard they are going to foil stamp the blue type and the scarf stripes, so I am excited to see that when it is printed!

TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE is available for pre-order!

Gabi and Robin will give away one copy of TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in May 2020)!

Leave one comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected next month.

Good luck!

 

I was chatting with my editor last week about my upcoming book with Mike Boldt, ALIEN IN THE DOGHOUSE (working title). I mentioned my philosophy about picture book art notes—how they describe the action that needs to happen for the story to work.

While I teach this at writing conferences and workshops, I never Tweeted it. So…

…and this resonated with a lot of picture book writers.

New writers often hear “don’t use art notes”—but that’s not correct.

I believe some editors/agents say that because new writers tend to misuse art notes. The mistake is overusing them—writing visual instructions that are unnecessary or superfluous. It’s like writing [bunny hops away] when the text already says that the bunny skedaddled.

Misused art notes can also dictate what things should look like when that’s not a writer’s job. Art notes like [she has pigtails] or [green ball] aren’t the writer’s decision. The only time something like that is necessary is when the appearance of pigtails or a green ball act as important plot points. Can the girl have short, curly hair? Can the ball be orange? Does the story still make sense? Then leave out the art notes.

Art notes should only be used when it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. Like when you want to be subversive:

She smiled!

How will anyone know your character is supposed to look upset? Art notes! Erm, I mean ACTION NOTES.

Then Kevin asked me a question…

So, here’s my newest book from Tundra, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, illustrated by the fabulous Melissa Crowton.

I set out to write a story with mostly visual puns and jokes, and this book is the result.

Here’s one of my favorite pages…

My manuscript reads:

Don’t worry, the bus has an endless number of seats! [clown car]

How else is the illustrator supposed to know the school bus is really a clown car?

Then there’s this page…

My manuscript reads:

Walk this way! Your big brother will show you the ropes. [tightrope]

Now, truth be told, I imagined the brothers on a high wire, carrying a balance stick and walking into the school, hence the “walk this way”. However, coupled with the previous page, which had to show the BIG TOP, this was the best way to illustrate the entire spread. Notice I did not dictate exactly how or where the tightrope should go. All the illustrator needs to understand is the literal tightrope.

And this is another hilarious page…

My manuscript reads:

You can let off some steam during recess [circus train], but watch out for other stuff that steams! [poop]

Ahh, what’s a picture book without some well-placed scatological humor?

That’s how I approach art notes, as action notes. Note that I don’t even write “art note” between the brackets—the brackets and italics is enough for the editor and illustrator to know what they are.

I try to be as succinct as possible so I don’t interrupt the flow of the story.

But Tara, I hear you ask, what do you do when the art notes are so plentiful, it does interfere with reading the story?

Well, take a look at the grid format solution. It’s how my agent and I submitted YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

And now that it’s back-to-school time, how about a giveaway?

I have 3 signed copies of YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

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

Good luck—with your art notes and the giveaway!

 

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I recommend kidlit writers secure an agent. Literary agents provide many crucial services that go far beyond selling manuscripts. A good agent guides you through every step of your career—the ups, the downs, the slumps, the triumphs. They are your ever-hopeful cheerleader and your biggest fan (often the smartest one, too). As one literary agent states, “There’s no greater professional joy than championing a book that you believe in and watching the world delight in it.”

Today I’m delighted to interview that agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. She serves as Senior Vice President of Trident Media Group. 

Alyssa, why (and how) did you get into representing children’s literature?

When I was a second-semester-senior English major in college, I suddenly found myself finding a way to tie children’s literature into all my term papers. I wrote one called “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out” about tea in Alice in Wonderland. And for my History of India class I wrote another about the British Raj in India as shown in the works of Hodgson Burnett and Kipling. I took this as a sign that I was meant to work in children’s publishing. And later that summer when I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course, I found myself making a bee-line for all the kidlit jobs, although nobody really used the term kidlit back in 1998.

In the spring of 1999 I was hired by S&S Books for Young Readers where I spent over seven years as a children’s book editor. And in year six of those seven years, when I decided I wanted to segue into the more entrepreneurial pursuit of agenting, I only ever considered doing so if I could be a children’s book agent. I’ve heard it said that children’s literature is the body of literature people know the first and the best, and that’s definitely true for me! Luckily for me, Trident specifically sought out a children’s book agent in the Fall of 2006 and they were open to hiring someone with an editorial—rather than an agenting—background.

How did the years spent working as an editor influence your agenting style?

I think my years spent working as an editor taught me a lot about the importance of having an editor who is an advocate, someone who can really sell the publisher’s sales force on an author’s book and make them realize they have something really special on their hands, as opposed to just another book in a sea of many books that will fly under the radar.

I always try to make editors realize that they need to pound their drums about the book and get the jacket just right if they want the book to really shine.

I also learned about the importance and transformative powers of revision. If I fall in love with an author’s voice, I will still take on the project even if it means a year or two of editing until the plot and the story arc are in the shape they need to be in order to sell.

Can you pinpoint a particular quality that makes you fall in love with a voice?

I’m a huge sucker for setting so the ability to conjure a sense of place that feels palpable always goes a long way with me. When I think back on the books I love, both front list titles and those that I still hold dear from my childhood, the #1 thing that stands out to me is how much I love the characters. So, when voice grabs on and makes me care, like really care such that I’m still thinking about the characters after the fact, then I know the voice has done its job. Lyrical lovely language that I want to quote doesn’t hurt anything either, of course!

I know agents get asked this a lot, but is there anything specific you’re dying to see? What’s on your wish list?

With the popularity of graphic and middle grade novels, I’m trying to expand my stable of illustrators and author-illustrators at the moment. I’m also very influenced by my rising-4th-grader son’s love of shorter books, so I’d love to find more fictional manuscripts for middle grade in verse or alternative shorter text formats that still manage to tell a full, high-stakes story. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction and history, and while the category in younger MG has kind of exploded already, I still think the market could really use a series like I SURVIVED, but for upper elementary age and middle school readers; there’s a big hole for kids after they finished many of the I SURVIVED and WHO WAS/IS books. And I’m also keen for books that are laugh-out-loud funny, as I never see enough of those in either MG or YA. And I always gravitate towards books with vividly-drawn settings, bonus points for those regional, cultural, and ethnic flavors that I’ve yet to see much of in kidlit before.

Beyond the writing, what else do you look for in a client?

I tend to look for clients who are hardworking, passionate about their craft, and good at marketing. Again, a sense of humor in life as well as in art is a virtue. And also patience is a big plus.

Speaking of patience, can you explain why it’s an important virtue in authors? What do you advise your clients to do during the wait?

It’s rare that things happen exactly as we expect them to. Sometimes books take a long time to sell and sometimes they sell quickly but the contracts due to various reasons take time to be finalized. Sometimes there’s an auction but bidders are on vacation, so the whole timeframe gets pushed back a month. Everyone has their own “dog ate my homework” story when it comes to waiting and publishing. And once the book is sold and paid for, odds are there will be more waiting, whether it’s for an edit letter, marketing plan, illustration sketches, sales figures etc. I always tell my clients to keep busy when their books are on submission: Try writing or outlining new works. Revise your five year goal plan. Get a lot of exercise. Binge watch a worthy show. Spend time in the company of loved ones and dear friends. A watched pot never boils!

Does a potential client have to have a blog and/or a large social media following for you to sign them?

If it’s celebrity- or news-driven nonfiction, having some social media out of the gate holds value when getting editors to read a proposal. But for fiction and more scholarly nonfiction or picture books, it’s certainly not a prerequisite when I go on submission. It’s nice if by the time of publication authors have a way for readers to reach them online. And I’ve had several clients tell me that booksellers have reached out to them on Twitter pre-publication, so again, it does hold value, but I always put the most stock in the book itself.

When you have a client project ready to submit, what steps do you go through? How do you strategize the submission process?

When a project is ready for submission, I love creating a submission list that includes a variety of different editors. Generally, these include a mix of imprints at larger houses and smaller houses, and includes editors at all different career stages. The common thread is that I know these editors to be hungry for this particular type of book. I usually learn who is looking for what by doing research on PubMarketplace and Manuscript Wishlist. And since I’ve worked with a bunch of editors over a number of years at this point, sometimes I also intuitively just know who might like what. Depending on the type of book, I usually submit to be between 8 and 14 editors at any given time. That way, the list is small enough to make each editor feel special. But the body of editors reading is large enough to have a healthy competitive situation if it goes to auction.

Over the course of your agenting career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

I love seeing client dreams come true, and quite a lot have in my 12+ years as an agent. I’ve had my hands in numerous long-running bestsellers, a major motion picture and the early stages of a Broadway musical. I’ve seen clients win Caldecott, and Printz Honors and Siebert and Belpre Awards. I’ve helped put in motion author tours, conference appearances, and front-of-store promotions, and have been instrumental in keeping titles in hardcover for years. I’ve negotiated offers that doubled and tripled from where they started. But my greatest achievement is overall is not doing anything by rote, and always trying to think outside the box. Because of this, each new situation becomes a wonderful learning experience that often sheds light on the next book…and the one after that.

What changes and challenges in publishing do you foresee happening over the next few years?

Children’s publishing is incredibly competitive with many more agents and one less big six (now big five) publishers in town now, and I wouldn’t be shocked by further consolidation in the future. Clearly bookselling in the era of amazon.com offers up many challenges for booksellers and authors generally. The fact that B&N, after having been owned by one individual for so long, has been recently purchased by an equity firm is leaving a lot of people wondering about the future of book chain retail in the digital age. That said, there are several new kidlit publishers  as well as Indie bookstores on the rise, and I think audio originals and graphic and illustrated books are growth areas. As long as libraries and schools continue to have book-buying budgets and people continue to have kids, I’m relatively optimistic about the future of kidlit publishing.

And lastly, are you open to submissions?

I am open to submissions, five pages in the body of a query letter for longer works, complete PB texts in the body of a query, and any art or illustrations inserted as links in a query letter, no attachments. Email to ahenkin@tridentmediagroup.com.

Alyssa, thank you for an informative and engaging interview!

Good luck with your queries, kidlit writers!

by Lydia Lukidis

As you all know, the publishing industry works at a snail’s pace. Maybe slower. It takes time to find the right publisher and go through all the steps necessary to publish a book. Writers must be perseverant and patient.

But the actual writing process also takes time. This was the case with my new picture book NO BEARS ALLOWED. Here’s a quick timeline for how things went down, from concept to publication:

2012
Yay! An idea was born. Believe it or not, this book started with an inside joke (but don’t ask me to explain it to you, it makes no sense!). Yet somehow, the phrase “No Bears Allowed” stuck with me. I saw humor in it, and I knew that one day, it would become a children’s book. I tucked it away in my inspiration folder, where it would remain for 3 years.

2015
I was leafing through my ideas one day, and I stumbled across the phrase that I had once fallen in love with. That’s the moment I committed to developing this story. I wrote the first draft, and the second, and so on, so on. I kept getting stuck on the ending, so it took about 8 months to write. Then I swiftly sent it off to my critiques partners, who helped me bring the text to the next level. By the end of the year, I had a polished book. Now, I just needed to sell it.

2016
This was a milestone year. I got my first agent! I did my happy dance for days. In my naiveté, I thought I would soon be swimming in contracts from the Big Five. NO BEARS ALLOWED would surely find its home in a few months, right?!

Nope. That’s not how the cookie crumbled. My then-agent did submit it to various publishers, but never followed up because we had decided to part ways. So there I was, agent-less, contract-less, and feeling utterly and completely dejected.

2017
But wait, suddenly there was hope on the horizon! After receiving 3 offers, I landed a new agent at a reputable firm. My dreams were back on track. Except—this agent didn’t want to submit NO BEARS ALLOWED because they felt it was a “quiet” story.

I decided to take matters into my own hands, and with that agent’s blessing, I subbed it on my own. A few months later, I received an R & R (revise & resubmit) request from Alayne Christian, editor at Blue Whale Press. I revised the text, and they acquired it. It went through several rounds of rigorous editing, but it was smooth sailing after that. We found a talented illustrator, Tara J. Hannon, who not only produced quality work, but did so quickly.

2019
Victory! By May of 2019, I was holding the ARC in my own hands. It was definitely worth the wait. I’m ecstatic that my story made its way into the world. Its themes touch on overcoming one’s fears and resisting the urge to judge others and make preliminary assumptions. If everyone could follow this advice, we would be living in a very different world!

NO BEARS ALLOWED will be officially released July 1. It’s now available for pre-sale.

About the book:

Rabbit is afraid of many things, but most of all he’s afraid of gigantic, monstery, BEARS! The very nervous Rabbit is soon confronted by his worst fear who appears to be far more interested in making new friends than causing Rabbit any real harm. Despite his apprehension, Rabbit agrees to join his jovial new acquaintance for dinner, but wait a minute . . . is Bear planning to “have” Rabbit for dinner? In this tender story about a very nervous rabbit and a lovable bear, Rabbit discovers that things aren’t always as scary as they seem, and sometimes you may just have more in common with others than you think.


Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with a multi-disciplinary background that spans the fields of literature, science and theater. So far, she has over 40 books and eBooks published, as well as a dozen educational books. Her latest STEM books include The Broken Bees’ Nest and The Space Rock Mystery. 

Lydia is also passionate about spreading the love of literacy. She regularly gives writing workshops in elementary schools across Quebec through the Culture in the Schools Program. Her aim is to help children cultivate their imagination, sharpen their writing skills and develop self-confidence. Visit her at lydialukidis.com.

by Tammi Sauer

Back in 2009, Tara first prompted us to join her on her challenge to generate 30 ideas in one month’s time. That year, I wrote a blog post about an idea-getting strategy that worked for me, and I have written about a different approach every year since.

In the spirit of Posts of Storystorm Past, however, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite strategies for brainstorming ideas. It’s something I share at writing conferences and school visits. It’s simple.

Celebrate the weird stuff in life—it’s good material for stories.

Many of my books got their start by some weird thing that happened to me.

One day, for example, I was hard at work and under a deadline. Everything was going well until, in the course of less than 30 minutes, the FedEx guy knocked on my door, the phone rang, the doorbell rang, the dog barked, and someone added me to a group text which included approximately 827 people who suddenly had lots to say.

All of these distractions made it hard for me to concentrate, and I just wanted Calgon circa 1980 to take me away.

 

That evening, I got to thinking I needed to write a book about a character who grew more and more frustrated by distractions. After all, frustration was a relatable experience.

This led to KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis. The story is told almost entirely through knock-knock jokes and the art. It stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hibernate. Then, just after he tucks himself into bed, a friend unexpectedly shows up at his door. Then another. And another. Soon Harry’s house is filled with friends, and, just when he is about to flip his over-exhausted lid, Harry realizes his pals are there for a very good reason. They’re throwing a surprise happy hibernation party for you-know-who.

Another example of a weird thing in my life that led to a book involved the fine art of procrastination. One morning, while I should have been writing but I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed instead, I clicked on the link to Jama Rattigan’s latest blog post. On that particular day, Jama was featuring the wonderful work of artist James Ward.

See for yourself:

Well! The second I saw that big, hairy bear in those giant red underpants standing in a pile of cake crumbs, inspiration hit. I had to write a story about a character who loved cake as much as this guy did.

The result? That bear became Moose in I LOVE CAKE! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Angie Rozelaar.

So yay for procrastination!

Think about the weird stuff in your life. These things can be big or small. Jot down a few examples.

1.

2.

3.

Later, choose one for a story starting point. Keep in mind that this idea should just serve as the seed for a story rather than a factual recount of every little detail about a particular weird thing.

I say we celebrate annoying times, sightings of big, hairy bears in giant red underpants, and everything else in between. You never know where those weird moments might take you.

Tammi Sauer is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. Her 25th picture book was recently released. She has many more books on the way as weird stuff seems to happen to her all the time.

Tammi is happy to report that, at long last, she has a real-deal, fancy website courtesy of her very first writing friend, Flora Doone of somethingelseinc.com.

Please check out Tammi’s new site at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

  

Tammi is giving away copies of two of her upcoming books! There will be one winner for each title.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

by Katie Davis (from 2013)

KD 30 days FINAL3 (1)

Parsons, Pratt, Rhode Island School of Design.

Katie Davis has walked by all these schools of fine art. She has attended none of them. Katie has always been creative but never thought she could earn a living as an artist. She could write though, so after graduating from college she went into PR and advertising. After getting fired six or seven times, she figured she should work for herself. Besides, she hated wearing panty hose. As an author/illustrator she’s had a stack of picture books published (like Kindergarten Rocks), a middle grade novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon, and a young adult novel, Dancing With the Devil.

Learn more about Katie at KatieDavis.com.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

 

by Kelly DiPucchio

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

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

1. Let the voice come to you.

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

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

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

3. Don’t try too hard.

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

4. Less can definitely be more.

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

5. Be flexible.

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

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

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

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

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

And the solution is listening, right? 

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

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

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

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

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

“Remarkably, that plan failed as well. 

As did this one. 

And that one. 

Nope. Nothing doing.  

Seriously?”

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

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

Marigold would approve!

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

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

One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


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

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

 

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

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


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


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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