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by Cate Berry

Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube…

But I write books for children.

D’oh!

There’s a special time at the end of the day when grown-ups and kids come together. After the dog-and-pony-show—the getting into pajamas, the getting teeth brushed, the endless hijinks—that’s when we finally connect.

Research shows that reading bedtime books has a palpable effect on early literacy. Magic happens when a child sits on a grown-up’s lap at the end of the day listening to a story, watching the text interact with the pictures on the page. Comparing and contrasting the drawn page with the pictures in their minds helps a child develop critical thinking. And the literacy “residue” from reading aloud helps kids develop a broader vocabulary at an earlier age. As the Times article states, “… every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.”

Learning benefits aside, I also believe it’s good for people to laugh with each other. Sharing a giggle can heal the day’s bumps and bruises. My characters, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp, want to share their laughs and smiles. Ultimately, they care about spreading joy and fun—together.

Teamwork.

That’s what this book is about. My two characters work together—the buddy system!—against a common goal of falling asleep. [Don’t tell them, but much yawning will ensue, almost guaranteed.]

Does bedtime make you wiggly? Grab a buddy—a lovey, a sibling, a book! I was paired with a great “buddy” for the making of this book, illustrator Charles Santoso.

My favorite kind of picture book feels like a duet between the author and the illustrator. On one page the text might drive the story, followed by a wordless spread with just illustrations. It’s give and take. Maybe a graceful dance is a better way to put it.

Charles understood Penguin and Tiny Shrimp so authentically. In our interview for Cynsations he described to me how he listens to an author’s characters, letting them guide his illustrations, which is probably why he’s so versatile. At the same time, his signature warmth and emotion are always threaded throughout his work.

So, books. But there is one video I think you should watch: the one for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (Spoiler: look out for Charles’ stealth characters!)

And, watch it with a buddy.

BIG thanks Tara for hosting me today on her wonderful blog!

Up with books, down with bedtime!


Cate Berry is the author of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (May 8th, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive antibedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7).” She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers’ League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as “Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices” and “From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books.” Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.

Cate is giving away a copy of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! upon publication in a few weeks.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

Character
I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Hook
Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

This Build-a-Fort Kit was #1 on my kids’ holiday wish list last year. My ten-year-old wanted it. My teenager wanted it. Heck, even *I* wanted it! It’s got blankets, and clothes pins and ropes, oh my!

So when I heard that Megan Wagner Lloyd released a picture book titled FORT BUILDING TIME this week, I knew I had to get her on the blog pronto.

Megan, OMG! Doesn’t every kid (and grown-up kid) LOVE to build a fort? Why do you think that is?

I think part of it must be that when kids make a fort they’ve created a place over which they have complete ownership. They’ve made a place that’s meant to be occupied solely by them (visitors welcome upon invitation, of course!). Kids have so little say over so many aspects of their life—it’s got to be comforting to create this cozy space that they can control.

So how did you know you hit upon a winning subject for a PB?

I try to make sure there’s something that kids can really relate to in my books—something that is universal or near-universal to the kid experience. Fort building fit the bill!

How did you take it from the initial lightbulb idea to a fleshed-out concept?

I went through a lot of drafts, some of which have almost nothing in common except that core love of building forts. I took the manuscript in a lot of different directions, but, to my own surprise, ended up returning to an earlier version in the end, and fine-tuning that. I guess sometimes you have to figure out what’s not working to understand what will work best.

Could you share with us what didn’t work—and how you ultimately came to realize it?

I ended up rewriting the book as a traditional three-act story, with more developed characters. It was cute and fun to write, but I was really happy when my editor ultimately found something special about the earlier—simpler and more lyrical—draft, a version that really held more of my heart.

So when writing picture books, do you recommend that writers follow their heart and instincts more than solid advice that somehow doesn’t resonate?

Hmmm. I’m not sure. Sometimes I get advice that doesn’t resonate, but it’s just not resonating because I’m being stubborn—and later I’ll realize that the advice giver was, in fact, right. But other times I can tell when someone is just not understanding my vision for a project, and what I need to do is either reach out for more feedback from others or else burrow deep into my own perception of the project and try to make it really glow as brightly as possible. In short—I guess I just don’t have all the answers! Most important of all is to press forward and keep trying. Some manuscripts work out, some ultimately don’t find their way. Each project is a unique process and I’m always learning something new.

I always love learning something new. Maybe you can leave us today with your best fort-building tips…?

  1. Embrace the materials you have on hand, whether they be couch cushions, cardboard boxes, blankets, or driftwood. It can be such a great creative exercise for kids (and adults!) to try to figure out how to translate their ideas into reality without buying anything.
  2. For the inside of your fort, you can’t go wrong with a favorite blanket, a stack of books, and a tasty treat.
  3. Don’t forget to invite a friend or sibling to join in the fun! Little brothers or sisters will be especially honored to be invited . . . though they might end up toppling the whole thing!

But toppling over the whole thing can be a lot of fun, too.

Thanks to Megan and Knopf, we are giving away a copy of FORT BUILDING TIME to a lucky blog reader!

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks. (Or longer, as is known to happen on this blog.)

Good luck and happy building!

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author Finding Wild and Fort-Building Time, as well as the upcoming picture books Building Books, Paper Mice, and The ABCs of Catching Zs. She lives with her family in the Washington D.C. area. For more about Megan and to sign up for her newsletter, stop by meganwagnerlloyd.com. And you can find her on Instagram @meganwagnerlloyd.

Penny Parker Klostermann has cooked up a new fractured fairy tale with Ben Mantle…but the book wouldn’t be a reality without her fairy tale agent, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Knowing many of you are hoping your fairy godmother will deliver a prince (or princess) of an agent, I asked Tricia how the two of them paired up to create kidlit magic.

       

Tricia, how did you and Penny connect? What made you fall in love with her work?

Penny was a referral from Erin. I was instantly interested because of her ability with rhyme. She’s got the elusive skill set and she still studies it all the time.

That’s like music to MY ears. I’m a Thomas Jefferson, INFJ, Hermione Granger personality type, so I love working with people who are always seeking to be better, and that, to a T, is Penny.

She is devoted to her writing. It’s her true love, but also a passion. That really does speak volumes to me. It reminds me of the book by Cal Newport called DEEP WORK, which inspires me constantly, about focused practice and preparation.

What about A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE do you adore?

Penny has an incredible sense of humor. THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT was full of it and A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE came right from that same vein of humor. You have this sense of “oh no!” as the familiar stories get cooked (oh no!), but there’s so much humor as it is happening. It is delightful.

How to you hope readers will react to it?

I hope readers (kids) get a kick out of it just like I did. Yes, I consider myself a reader (and a kid at heart).

Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s next in store for Penny?

Penny has always got something AMAZING cooking (ha, see what I did there) and right now is no different. But that’s all I can say!

You’ll have to ask me back to the blog another time to get the scoop.

Thanks, Tricia. You can count on it. 

Penny, this is your second fractured fairy tale. What do you enjoy about writing them?

I love taking something familiar and twisting it in a new way. And I believe that children connect quickly with the humor when they read something that has familiar parts but has been taken a different direction.

And what is uniquely challenging about writing them?

And the challenges (for me) mirror the reasons I love it.

It’s challenging to take something familiar and twist it in a new way. It’s tough to balance the familiar with the new and have a story arc that makes logical sense and flows smoothly.

Thanks, Penny. You know I love a good story, especially when it involves food.

A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE gives a new twist to the fish-out-of-water story (maybe it should be called a fish-out-of-soup story). William just wants to be a renowned chef, but the problem is that he lives in a fairy tale land where he cooks up a lot of trouble, especially when he bakes the Gingerbread Man.

But when William realizes fairy tales have their own special ingredients—like apples and pumpkins—he learns how to cook up ha-pea-ly ever-after endings.

This book is a delicious treat for all who love mash-ups (and mashed potatoes).

Penny is giving away a copy of A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE to a US resident. Enter by leaving one comment below.

A winner will be selected by release day, September 5th.

Good luck!

 

by Maria Gianferrari

To know me is to know that I love dogs. LOVE them! In fact, all of my fiction picture books currently under contract contain dogs as main characters (and I have several WIPs with dog characters too ☺).

So, to celebrate the release of HELLO GOODBYE DOG, it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite dogs, both real and literary:

It all begins with … Becca, the best dog in the universe. She’s a rescue dog from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she’s the inspiration for many, most, OK ALL of the dog characters in my books. We adopted her when she was six months old. This photo taken by her rescuers, stole my heart.

Now she’s 11 ½, and the perfect writing companion.

Before Becca, there was quirky Elvis, our junk-yard dog, literally adopted from an auto-body shop:

And this is Mac, short for MacTavish, my parents’ dog (more accurately, my brother Michael’s dog):

Apparently, I was infatuated with dogs, even as a young baby. This was my Nonno’s beagle, Socco, and some random pup I was playing with:

Now it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite literary dogs…

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: Bob. LOVE his voice—he’s hilarious!

The Penderwick “tails” by Jeanne Birdsall:
Loyal and loving, Hound.

Kate DiCamillo’s Winn Dixie from the eponymous, Because of Winn Dixie, because whose dog doesn’t smile? In our household, we call it the “happy Hund” syndrome. (Hund is German for dog).

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron:
Tried and true, HMS Beagle.

Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Sweet stray, Wishbone.

Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Rontu/Rontu-Aru—I so wanted to live on an island with my dog, BFF, an introvert’s dream-come-true!

Dismay from the heartbreakingly lovely Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles.

A few other favorites:
Ragweed

Gaston

Daisy

Of course, this doggone good post would not be complete without …
Thyra Heder’s adorable, Jelly:

The Great Houndini, by Danny Chatzikonstantinou:

And last, but not least, Moose, lovingly rendered by Patrice Barton!

And, you guessed it! There’s a new dog in my next fiction book, Operation Rescue Dog, coming from Little Bee in 2018: Lulu! It will be illustrated by Luisa Uribe. Here are two dogs from her book, Un Día, to give you an idea of her style:

Now it’s your turn to say “hello.” Who are your favorite literary dogs?

Leave a comment below, and you’ll be in the running for your very own copy of HELLO GOODBYE DOG! I’m sure that you’ll love Patrice Barton’s illustrations just as much as I do!

Thanks for letting me gush about all these pawsome dogs, Tara!!

HELLO GOODBYE DOG BLOG TOUR
GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!!

*Monday, July 24th: Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Two for Tuesday, July 25th: Librarian’s Quest & Reading for Research
*Wednesday, July 26th: Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th: Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th: Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st: Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st: Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd: The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd: DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

EXTRA: August 25th: Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton

 

by Tammi Sauer

I have been a part of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo) ever since Tara introduced it back in 2009. Each year, as a guest blogger, I have shared one of my idea-getting strategies. I’ve mentioned everything from “celebrating the weird stuff in your life” to starting with a setting to playing with various structures. Each year, I have also accepted the challenge to come up with at least 30 picture book ideas.

And, each year, do you know how many of my 30+ ideas are good ones?

25? 10? 5?!

The answer is 1. Occasionally 2.

My other 29+ ideas? They are okay ideas. But okay ideas do not result in offers.

During PiBoIdMo 2013, I jotted down this snippet of an idea: funny rules for having an unusual pet.

I felt the idea had potential. But I needed a story. I needed a beginning, middle, and end. I needed a character readers could care about. I needed conflict. I, um, needed a lot.

Also, around this time, I had been wanting to write a book using the how-to structure.

Hmm.

Then one spring day, while I was in PetSmart with my son, everything clicked.

I saw a rack filled with brochures. Each brochure provided information on caring for a particular pet. There was a brochure on dwarf hamsters, a brochure on guinea pigs, a brochure on geckos.

 

I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do! I was going to write a pet care guide for a lion!

My favorite part about working on this manuscript was that I wanted the text to play the straight man to the art. I wanted the text to read as if caring for a lion is easy. I wanted the art to show that it is anything but. Because of this, I included more art notes than usual.

CARING FOR YOUR LION sold at auction to Sterling.

We ended up finding the perfect illustrator in Troy Cummings. Not only did Troy get the humor of the manuscript, but he amped it up to ridiculously wonderful proportions. Plus, he created the purrr-fect case cover for this book. (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal it here.)

This is what Kirkus had to say about Caring for Your Lion:

“Sauer’s terse text, presented as the steps in the care manual for the lion, are tongue-in-cheek smile-inducing, as are accompanying black-and-white diagrams from the manual. However, their interaction with Cummings’ full-color, digitally created illustrations of a light-brown-skinned child and the full-grown male lion that was delivered instead of a kitten are laugh-out-loud fun. Allow plenty of time to giggle over the details.”

I am so grateful to Tara for creating this challenge. Because of StoryStorm, the following books got their start:

  • Nugget & Fang (HMH, 2013)
  • Your Alien (Sterling, 2015)
  • Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016)
  • Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017)
  • Truck, Truck, Goose! (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Wordy Birdy + a sequel (Doubleday BFYR, 2018, 2019)
  • Knock, Knock (Scholastic, 2018)
  • Go Fish! (HarperCollins, 2018)
  • The Farm that Mac Built (HMH, TBA)
  • Quiet Wyatt (HMH, TBA)

Plus, I recently received an offer on a book that began as an idea in StoryStorm 2017. I think this world needs Tara Lazar Day. Until then, I came up with one small way to celebrate Tara. One of the aforementioned books is dedicated to her.

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish (but no lions). Visit her at tammisauer.com.

 

Tammi is giving away a Caring for Your Lion prize pack to one lucky commenter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

This pack may or may not come with a real lion.

You’ve been warned.

One day I’m not home. ONE. DAY.

Ah, the glamorous life of a kidlit author!

Truth be told, that sink is almost always full of dirty dishes…and the day was somewhat glamorous…as I appeared at an Eastern PA SCBWI event.

During the “squibby” shindig at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, an attendee asked me what the best book marketing methods were. I answered honestly: I DO NOT KNOW. (I wish I did.)

There are a multitude of things I do to promote my work, but I really have no way to gauge the effectiveness of any of it. Sometimes I will show up to a book reading and stare at this…

…and think it has been a total disaster. I go home to a pile of dirty dishes and cry.

But I forget the efforts to market the event—my books that sat in the window display for weeks, the mentions in the paper, the little things that helped to promote the unfortunate empty-seat syndrome. It was just dumb luck that the event occurred on the first sunny weekend in October and everyone went pumpkin picking instead. (Hey, can you blame them?) So I do not know how all that publicity actually fared in the long run. I may never know. And so, I keep plugging away.

So today, I have for you WAY PAST BEDTIME Pre-Order Prize Packs.

WAY PAST BEDTIME features a precocious hero who’s determined to stay up late. Joseph imagines a party of epic proportions going on and he doesn’t want to miss all the frivolous fun.

Kirkus Reviews says, “It’s not all DJ dance parties and hot-fudge fountains when parents stay up late…or is it? Forget staying up to wait for Santa Claus. After reading this, kids will clamor to investigate someone a little closer to home.”

If you pre-order WAY PAST BEDTIME before the release on April 25, leave a comment below stating so. (This is on the honor system. No need to send me a receipt. I will believe you.)

You will then be entered to win one of THREE PRIZE PACKS.

Grand Prize Pack:

  • Edu Science 3D Night-Sight Goggles
  • Sleeping Emoji Pillow
  • Superhero cape
  • Three Signed & Personalized Books
  • 45-minute SKYPE visit (with your child’s class or your class if you teach)

Two Runner-Up Prize Packs:

  • Two Signed & Personalized Books
  • 45-minute SKYPE visit (with your child’s class or your class if you teach)

You can preorder a signed copy by calling my local indie, The Bookworm at 908-766-4599.

Or you can order via your favorite local or online bookseller. The choice is yours.

Leave your comment below confirming your order—with one comment per pre-order made—and you will be entered to win.

Winners announced on release day, April 25!

GOOD LUCK!

I’m a sucker for monsters.

And in Aaron Zenz’s new picture book, monsters are suckers for suckers.

TeethB

When Aaron told me about MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT, I have to admit, I got a bit panicked. I have a bedtime book coming out, too! But leave it to Aaron to create a fresh and giggle-worthy take on the bedtime ritual. We may have written on the same subject, but his book is a monster all its own. A snuggly one.

On first glance, if MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT seems like just another going-to-bed read, you’d be monstrously mistaken. Yes, like children, monsters like to eat bedtime snacks, put on pajamas and give kisses. But…monsters do it in their unique monster way.

The page turn surprise is key to the humor in this book. The child reading the book is told “Monsters eat bedtime snacks” and is then presented with a range of delectable options–milk, bread, carrots or an…umbrella? You must turn the page to find out what the monsters prefer.

There are many monsterly midnight conundrums to solve. What kind of pajamas do monsters wear? What do monsters snuggle with? What do monsters take baths with?

You guessed it, chocolate pudding! (Pass the whipped cream shampoo, please.)

monsterpudding

The illustrations use contrasting colors to POP those adorable creatures right off the page. There’s a blue monster on an orange background, a yellow monster on a purple background. While the monsters are bright and bold, there is also something soft and lovable about them. Maybe that’s because of the monsters’ creator…and I don’t mean Aaron. I’m talking about Elijah. Who’s Elijah, you ask? Watch this:

.

Parents, MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT is my new top-rated pick for bedtime with toddlers and preschoolers. If you aren’t snuggled up with a tuba by book’s end, I guarantee you’ll be cuddling with your own little monster.

Night-night!

yawn

Win a copy of MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT! Just leave a comment below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in early September. Good luck!

monstersgonightnight

Available now from Abrams!

 

mybigtreeMaria Ashworth is a dedicated children’s book writer who has just released a big new venture, a picture book entitled MY BIG TREE, illustrated by Bailey Beougher. What makes this book different than the ones I typically feature? It is with a smaller, independent publisher…but it has led to big things for Maria’s career. (You note the theme is BIG here, right?)

MY BIG TREE features a sweet little blue bird who has found a favorite place to nest in a big, swirling tree. Soon other animals think it’s the ideal place to be, too. The little blue bird isn’t ready to share her space and decides it’s no longer the “best tree to nest in.” She finds a new tree, but something is missing. In the end, the little bluebird realizes there is one thing more valuable than nesting in her favorite tree…

Maria, what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to challenge myself to write a concept book with a message. An idea came along where what if there was a bird who had something she loved, a big tree. And then what if everyone thought it was their favorite tree too. Would bird be happy sharing…???

The dog in the story doesn’t have a speaking role in this production, so how did he come to be?
At first I had the animals in the tree and was satisfied. The illustrator perfected a dog in her portfolio so I thought, huh, wouldn’t it be neat to add a dog in each page doing his own thing? It would get the reader curious, maybe even make them suspect the dog was up to no good, especially near a big tree. But he is just a dog doing his thing on every page with no real purpose other than to create more curiosity surrounding the big tree.

page9mybigtree

What do you want kids to take away after reading MY BIG TREE?
The message is about friendship but also that materialistic things are not what is important in life. Building relationships with others, having friends is what matters. Toys and things are just stuff. They are a temporary happy. Relationships are forever and can last a lifetime.

Your book has a classic feel. It’s a friendship book, a counting book and a search-and-find book. How would you describe it?
It has a BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR feel with a hint of Handford’s WHERE’S WALDO? books, but aimed at the younger set. I wanted the animals to be placed randomly throughout the book so kids would have fun finding the animals in the tree. Then at the end, the animals join together in their grouping so children can make sure all the animals are accounted for. And I snuck in some chicks so they’d better not miss those!

This book is with the Spork imprint of Clear Fork Publishing in your home state of Texas. Can you tell us how you decided to self-publish at first and then sign with them?
My critique group enticed me into self-publishing. I have a couple of gals who are gurus in the self-publishing market. One of them is Indie and boasted how being an independent author reaps more benefits. I felt I had put in my time into the writing world and was salivating to get myself out there. To date, I’ve accumulated a hundred and seventy-five rejections from my submitted work. I’m a salesperson by nature and knew I could do it myself instead of waiting on rejections.

So I was all ready to self-publish MY BIG TREE–I found the perfect illustrator and had my finger on the “send” button to the printer…but then I went to my first Texas Library Association conference. I met an editor from Clear Fork and we grabbed coffee together. I told the editor about MY BIG TREE, which she loved, and offered to be my publisher. She also asked what else I had stirring in the pot! It’s all a fairy-tale ending after that, with a multi-book deal. IGGY LOO is coming out this winter, with TOMMY JAMES, THE LITTLEST COWBOY IN RECKON’ series following next year. I am blessed.

What are the advantages to working with a small publisher in your own backyard?
I see for ME a BIG advantage and that is I am asked my opinion on everything. Right down to who I see as an illustrator for the book to the vision and look of my characters. I’m not sure it’s this way with all small press editors. Matter of fact I know it’s not, because a writer friend is with a small press and doesn’t have the same relationship I do. I think after seeing the work I put into MY BIG TREE she saw my vision as a writer. The editor and I hit it off like sisters. Joining forces with her felt right. The publisher is only three years old. I want to make them just as much as a success as I hope to be for them.

Congratulations, Maria. Your experience just proves that it pays to keep writing…and always have more than one story ready to go. You never know when someone will ask for MORE! Best wishes with THE BIG TREE and your upcoming titles.

Hey, BIG NEWS! You can win a copy of MY BIG TREE, just leave a comment below. What BIG things are you planning for your writing career? One comment per person. US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly chosen in early September.

mariaashcroftMaria Ashworth volunteers her time when she’s not writing for the Maud Marks Library Friends Board in Katy, Texas where she serves as President, as well as a Member-At-Large for the Friends of the Harris County Library. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Some of Ms. Ashworth’s picture books and middle grade novel manuscripts have been nominated as finalists in several contests. She’s published a handful of short stories through contests and a women’s anthology. Visit her at MariaAshworth.com.

Lately I’ve been walking around my house saying, “Nose friend! I want to roll in this smell with you!”

I know you thought picture book writers were crazy, but maybe not this insane. My kids certainly think I’ve lost it.

bogartandvinnieBut, once you’ve read BOGART & VINNIE: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, you might be repeating the same thing.

Vinnie is a lost yet crazy-happy dog, one of those mutt-types with a helicopter tail and an insatiable appetite for canine chatter. It doesn’t seem to bother Vinnie that he’s lost his boy—he’ll just make another bestie. And of course, no other animal has quite the bestial allure of a square-lipped rhinoceros named Bogart. But what’s Vinnie’s moniker for Bogart? What else can a pup call a double-horned behemoth? NOSE FRIEND.

Audrey Vernick’s the name, hilarious picture books are her game. You might know Audrey from IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?, which in my opinion is one of the finest get-ready-for-school stories ever published.

Audrey, how did you capture Vinnie’s doggy dialogue so well? I love his voice! (I do his voice. You might want to tap me for the audio version.)

AudreyAPThank you! I have dogs. I realize there are few readers who will say “Oh, how COOL that Audrey Vernick is!” when I reveal that I often talk in my dogs’ voices. I give them words, and I am confident that I give them the right words, and the right tone of voice, too. I do think some readers might nod and say “Well, duh, of course. Me too.”

Once I had the general idea of Vinnie’s voice, I just had to push it a bit so it was more over-the-top enthusiastic.

Bogart and Vinnie is about an unlikely friendship. Did you get your inspiration from one of your unusual associations?

In a bizarre show of life imitating art (or “art”), an unlikely friendship, along the lines of the one Bogart and Vinnie share, came about in our very own house when we brought an excitable, happy puppy, Hootie, into our lives when our soulful dog, Rookie, was 10 years old. They WERE Bogart and Vinnie. But Hootie didn’t enter our lives until after I had written this book. (She must have gotten her paws on an early draft somehow.)

The inspiration for this book was actually born of skepticism, I’m afraid. I had read all those nonfiction interspecies friendship picture books and wondered about the use of that word, friendship. I thought it would be fun to find out what happened if animals photographed in close proximity were mistaken for friends. And Vinnie had been waiting around for a book to appear in. He had been the narrator of a manuscript that never quite worked, A Puppy’s Guide to Training, and apparently what had been missing in his life, all along, was a rhinoceros who wanted nothing more than to be left alone.

Your blog is about literary friendships. What was the most surprising friendship story from your site?

Do you know how there are some authors and illustrators you just never really discovered when you were young? For some reason, I never read a Roald Dahl book as a child. And the biggest surprise for me has been how many authors and illustrators, but especially illustrators, cite him as an inspiration. He was always just a name to me. As an adult, I read his memoir, Boy, a sort of Angela’s Ashes for the younger set.

But maybe that doesn’t answer your question. The biggest blog surprise is that my most read post was not an interview with a brilliant writer or illustrator but a post about my mother and how my writer friends sort of fill part of the hole where she used to be.

I think that doesn’t answer your question either. I think maybe I suck at answering questions. The most surprising friendship story from my site is what I’ve learned from the wisdom of everyone who has visited. There are so many, from Ruth Barshaw, Erica Perl, Bob Shea, Liz Scanlon, but for some reason, this one springs to mind, from Linda Urban:

“(when I was young…) I was waiting for someone to see me and tell me I was responsible and smart and special and worth being the subject of a novel. Of course, these are things that we can’t wait for, can we? We have to tell ourselves those things, and then become them. Which is sort of what the kids in my books do. My characters are much smarter than I ever was.”

Isn’t she smart?

audreysmallWell, yeah, but I happen to think you’re darn smart, too, Audrey, my new NOSE FRIEND!

Do you have an unlikely friendship story to share? Leave a comment to enter the giveaway! You might win a copy of BOGART & VINNIE, guaranteed to make you talk like a dog (a crazy-happy one)!

In the meantime, you can visit Audrey’s blog at Literaryfriendships.wordpress.com.

Audrey Vernick writes funny picture books, nonfiction picture books, and middle-grade novels. Her picture book, Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012. In 2014, two new books will hit the shelves–the funny/tender picture book Edgar’s Second Word, and the middle-grade novel Screaming at the Ump, and her first novel, Water Balloon, will be released in paperback. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Arts Council’s fiction fellowship, Audrey lives near the ocean with her family.

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:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

YOUR FIRST DAY OF (CIRCUS) SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

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

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

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