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I am so absolutely thrilled that BOY + BOT releases today because I’ve been waiting for it for a long, long time.

It’s the debut picture book by my good friend, Ame Dyckman—and get this—it’s illustrated by the hugely talented Dan Yaccarino! I mean, this has got to be the best picture book EVER with an author-illustrator team just as lovable as Boy and Bot themselves.

And for this very special day, I’ve got prizes to give away! One AFFIRMATIVELY AWESOME prize pack including BOY + BOT, stickers, bookmarks, and an *exclusive* BOT keychain clip made by author-zoologist-educator-sculptor Jess Keating!

So let’s get on with the fun!

TL: Ame, you and I have been friends for a few years now, after meeting at NJ-SCBWI first page sessions. (I knew I had to get to know you, with your spiky pink hair and Lego bracelet.) Is that how you began your kidlit career, attending SCBWI events?

AD: *laughing* Was my hair pink back then? I don’t remember my hair color at the time (it’s blue, now), but I remember thinking, “Wow! This Tara person is funny and nice and she really knows her kidlit! I like her!” BAM! Friends!

And yes, attending SCBWI events–YAY, NJ-SCBWI!–started everything for me! When I first joined, I knew I wanted to write picture books, but I didn’t know how. My first manuscripts were REALLY bad, but nobody made fun of me. Everybody was helpful. (YOU taught me how to page a PB, remember? I still have your diagram!) I went to as many events as I could—First Page Sessions, Mentoring Workshops, Networking Dinners, Annual Conferences, etc. I learned tons—still do!—and met lots of amazing industry professionals and made lots of wonderful friends. At the 2009 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, I pitched BOY + BOT to Super Agent Scott Treimel, and he said, “I love it! Let’s work together!”

TL: I distinctly remember the 2009 conference and a certain editor making goo-goo eyes at you during lunch…but he had read your manuscript and was bonkers over BOY + BOT. I thought to myself, GO AME! You could feel the buzz about that manuscript at the event. You were in deep conversation with several agents.

So we want to know—how did this beep-worthy book idea come about?

AD: The short answer: I love robots! (I used to doodle robots instead of doing my math homework. Even in college!) The long answer: I love robots and unusual friendship stories and mirror stories always make me laugh, so I hoped mine would make other people laugh, too.

TL: So BOY + BOT is your debut and it has something like 347 starred industry reviews! Are you thrilled or what?

AD: I’m SO happy, and really grateful for all the reviewer love. Here’s hoping the little Boys (and Girls!) and Bots that Dan and I made the book for love it, too!

TL: We’re chatting on the eve of your book’s release. Will you be able to sleep tonight? It’s a little like Christmas Eve, isn’t it?

AD: It feels like Christmas Eve and Birthday Eve and Leaving-for-Disney-World-Tomorrow Eve all smooshed together! I was up until 3:45 this morning because I was so excited already! (But, I think I’d better try to nap later today—I just searched the fridge and then the entire house looking for the bag of baby carrots, only to find I’d put them in the clothes dryer!)

TL: How awesome was it to see Dan Yaccarino’s vision of your characters? Were they anything like you imagined?

AD: Seeing Dan’s first sketches was the greatest! My family gathered around, we clicked “Open,” and then we all shouted, “Look! Bot’s… BIG! That’s BRILLIANT!” (Up until then, we’d envisioned Boy and Bot being the same small size! I dunno why!) But a small Boy and a big Bot is GENIUS! We could already see all the wonderful humor and affection Dan was putting into the characters, and knew his final artwork would be amazing. When it came in, I loved it SO MUCH, I hugged my computer!

TL: *insert clever segue to Dan here*

Howdy Dan, Mr. Keeno Yaccarino! Tell me, when you read Ame’s manuscript, it was love at first sight, right? Kind of like BOY + BOT themselves, right? RIGHT?! (Say “affirmative,” Dan.)

DY: AFFIRMATIVE.

TL: Ame said said when the illustrations came in, she was surprised to see BOT was a big bot and not a small one, like Boy. Why did you make the friends different sizes?

DY: Hmmm. I’m not sure. I guess it was the vision that formed in my mind when I read the manuscript.

There is rarely a logical reason why I do things visually. I listen to my impulse and trust my vision. If it feels right and is right for the book, then I do it.

Then perhaps I’ll rationalize it later.

TL: OK, would you care to rationalize why the inventor is bald?

DY: All inventors should be bald!

TL: *spittake* You’ve got a point there. Plus he reminds me of a lightbulb, so that’s very clever.

And here’s something else that’s clever—our contest to win the AFFIRMATIVELY AWESOME prize pack (book, Bot clip, stickers & bookmarks) PLUS there’s also TWO MORE copies of BOY + BOT to give away!

WOWZA!

Enter by telling us what you think Boy’s real name is. Ame says she’s always wondered about it. So let her know!

You get one entry for commenting and then one entry for every share on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Just mention it when you comment!

Have fun and good luck! Comments will close the end of April 20 and winners will be announced on April 21.

Me announce winner of ME WANT PET contest.

But first, if you a parent/caregiver/teacher with picture book kids, subscribe to blog (see left column). Me have more book contest soon. Comment on this post if you new subscriber and you can win THREE PICTURE BOOK PRIZE PACK (BOY + BOT, EXTRA YARN, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT)! Me pick winner APRIL 1. THIS NO APRIL FOOL’S!

Now ME WANT PET winner.

It be Anna, age 9! ConBATulations!

Now me show you more great pets!

Isaac, age 6:

This Kid Erik, age 10:

Josie, age 8:

Jordan, age 6:

Renn, age 5:

Me and Tammi Sauer thank all kids who draw pets!

Maybe Tammi write SEQUEL!

OOGA!

ImageOoga!

Know Tammi Sauer? She write new book. She write good book. Bob Shea draw picture. It ME WANT PET!

(Me read to five-year-old class. They giggle. They snort. They LOVE!)

Cave Boy star. Cave Boy want pet.

He find pet. Mama say no. Gah!

He find new pet. Papa say no. Gah, ug!

He get new new pet. Gran say no.

Cave Boy sad. Me sad. You sad!

What Cave Boy do?

Me no tell.

You read book. Ooga!

So…

Daughters want draw. I ask, “What pet you want Cave Boy have?”

Daughter Eight draw dinosaur. Me say no. Too stompy.

Daughter Five draw giraffe. Me say no. Too tall. No fit cave.

You have kid? Kid draw Cave Boy and new pet. Send to tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) com by March 13. Me post here. Me pick pet. Kid win book.

OOGA!

Tammi Sauer author. She write many, many kid book. Book like CHICKEN DANCE and MOSTLY MONSTERLY and MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS. You visit her: TammiSauer.com. OOGA! (Ooga not book. Me like say OOGA!)

Thanks for everyone’s patience while I reviewed the Picture Book Premise entries. There were some wonderful ideas and I had a difficult time choosing my favorite. In the end, it boiled down to my gut reaction.

And thus, I got a feeling of what it’s like to be an editor, inundated with multiple pitches, trying to decide which stories sounded the most appealing.

Most of my regular blog friends know that I’m a quirky, humorous writer, so it will surprise you to know the winning premise was NOT quirky or funny! (Hey, it surprised me, too!) I now understand why agents and writers don’t typically tell aspiring authors what they’re looking for. Instead they say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” If I advertised that I only wanted laugh-out-loud premises, I would have missed out on some unique ideas.

Before I tell you the winner (I know, I’m like an awards show cutting to commercial), I’d like to give everyone a few tips on how to write their premises.

Your premise is your pitch. If you have to write a query letter, it’s the whiz-bang-pow paragraph that gets the editor begging to see more. It’s also your 60-second elevator pitch. When you meet an editor or agent and they ask, “What do you write?”, it’s your chance to dazzle them and entice them to request the manuscript.

Your premise should read like jacket copy. Here’s the jacket copy from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s THE HOG PRINCE:

“Eldon Hog is fed up with mud-swallowing and slop-gobbling. He and his friend, Petunia, watch the royal carriage pass by every morning, and Eldon dreams of becoming a princely passenger.

“So it seems that all of Eldon’s dreams have come true when Miranda, a somewhat frazzled fairy, tells him that if he can break the Hog Prince spell put upon him, he will transform into a prince. SMOOOOCHES abound as Eldon searches far and wide for that magical, spell-breaking kiss. He tricks the Cinder girl, Ella (Smoooch! Eek!); Lady Aurora, spinning gold (Smoooch! Yecchhh!); and all the ladies he can find. But is it possible that true love has been sitting under his snout all along?”

Now, that may be a tad big longish for jacket copy, but see how it ends in a question that begs for an answer? You’re left hanging until you open that book and read on.

Not everyone sent a premise that sounded like jacket copy. Some only gave me one sentence, which wasn’t enough to understand what the entire story was about. I couldn’t envision the character or their predicament fully.

Others wrote a little too much detail. Remember you’re pitching a picture book, so if your premise is wordy, an editor may assume that your manuscript is full of unnecessary words. Trim down your pitch; trim down your story’s word count.

Others sent me snippets from their story, but I wanted to see that you could tell me about the story without sending the manuscript. That’s what editors and agents will ask for in a query. If they ask for a query letter but you send the manuscript instead, it may be discarded for not following instructions. (To be fair, I didn’t say DON’T send the manuscript, but you get my gist.)

And now onto the winners!

First, the person who referred the most people to my blog was MONA PEASE! You have won a picture book critique, redeemable at any time, as long as I’m still alive! LOL!

Next, I’ll tell you a little about the premise I choose without giving away the farm. Actually, the two top finalists were what you would call “multicultural” stories. They both struck me as very unique, although the winner’s premise is based on an actual event with a Latin-American folklore feel. Without further ado, the winner of the critique is VALARIE GIOGAS for THE RAIN OF FISH!

Mona and Valarie, please email me at tarawrites dot yahoo dot you-know-the-rest to discuss the details of your prizes.

Thank you to everyone who entered. There were 33 entries, out of which I had “starred” 7 premises, which I think is a pretty darn good percentage of darn good ideas. Y’all are smart and talented writers! Keep writing! Keep dreaming! Keep inspiring! (And keep reading this blog! LOL!)

It’s summer, so let’s have some fun, shall we?

How about a contest?

Good. I thought you’d like that.

And this one is easy. You don’t have to send a manuscript. All you need to enter is a premise.

That’s right! A picture book premise.

Make it unique, make it funny, make it touching. In less than 100 words tell me your story’s premise. What’s the problem? What crazy situation has got your character all flummoxed? Imagine it’s your book’s jacket copy. What would you say to sell the audience on your book? You’ve only got a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so make it snappy.

The best premise will win a free critique–and get this, you don’t even have to have the book written yet! Think of a great premise now, claim your critique later. I’ll honor the free critique for as long as you need (although it’s non-transferable and its cash value is 1/100th of a cent.)

There are three steps to enter:

  1. Subscribe to my blog via email if you haven’t already. (See handy button in the top left column of my blog.)
  2. Send your premise in the body of an email with the subject line “PB Premise Contest” to tarawrites at yahoo dot you-know-what. All entries must be received by Sunday, August 14th. (One entry per person, please. So make it your best.)
  3. Tell your friends. The person who refers the most people to my blog will also win a critique! (Just let me know in a comment below who you referred. I’m working on the honor system here.)

That’s all! So easy-peasy! I’ll announce the winners the week of August 15th.

One last thing–if your premise is anything like one of my current projects, I will notify you, just to let you know, I’m not taking anyone’s premise. I’ve got enough of my own begging me to write them!

Carol Gordon Ekster is a former teacher, author and writing tutor, and if you live in the Andover, MA area, she will visit your classroom for free!

Sponsored by this blog as part of the KidLit4Japan auctions, the giveaway runs now to May 15, with a visit to be arranged before the end of the school year.

Carol Gordon Ekster will visit for an hour, read her book Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? and  lead the class in a writing lesson, focusing on the features of good writing. Sending home a note to parents for possible purchase of her book would be appreciated.  And of course she will sign them!

The winning class should be within 25-30 miles of Andover, MA and the visit is most appropriate for 2nd through 5th grade.

To enter, leave a comment telling us why your class would love to win this author visit. The winning class will be chosen on May 15. Good luck!

by James Burks

It’s day 18 of PiBoIdMo and I’m here to give you inspiration or at least a small push towards the finish line. I’m sure that, at some point in your life, most of you have put together a puzzle. It could have been a small puzzle with only a hundred pieces, or a ginormous puzzle with a bazillion pieces. Regardless of the size, if you can put together a puzzle then you can put together a story. So let’s get started.

To put together a story puzzle, the first things you need are the pieces. That’s where your ideas come in. Every single idea you come up with is a piece of the story puzzle. This includes characters, settings, or lines of dialogue; you name it, they are all pieces of the puzzle. And here’s the best part: there are no wrong pieces. If a piece doesn’t seem to fit into the puzzle you’re working on, you can set it aside to use later.

Here’s an example of a recent story puzzle that I put together:

About a year ago, I sat down and tried to come up with my next great idea. I had just sold my first two stories to different publishers and was trying to come up with a third story that my agent could send out. I had the first piece of my story puzzle: a squirrel. I spent the next few days creating more pieces. I gave the squirrel a name (another puzzle piece), and I came up with a bunch of stuff that he loved to do (more puzzle pieces). After a few days I took all the pieces and arranged them into a simple story, drew some rough drawings (for illustrators, these are more pieces), and sent it off to my agent. My agent thought it needed something more, though, and at the time I didn’t know what that was. So I set the entire puzzle aside and went off to work on another project.

After about a month, my agent called and asked if I had come up with any new ideas. I hadn’t. Or at least that’s what I thought. After hanging up the phone I started running through a bunch of random ideas while surfing the internet. I remember contemplating Amelia Earhart (I think the biopic was coming out or had just came out), went from there to Penguins, then to the South Pole, and from there to a bird migrating south for the winter. (It’s always a good idea to let your brain off its leash once in a while and let it run free. You never know what it might bring back.) Something about a bird flying south for the winter ended up sticking with me.

I didn’t know it just yet but I had just found another piece to my story puzzle.

From there, everything seemed to magically fall into place. I took the bird migrating south for the winter and stuck him with the squirrel from my earlier story. A small part of my story puzzle took shape.

Then I started to ask myself a series of questions to fill in the rest:

Why do they have to migrate south together for the winter? There had to be a reason and it had to be big. I asked myself what would happen if Squirrel was forced to go along after he unintentionally sacrificed his entire winter stash of food to save Bird from an attacking cat. He would have no other choice; if he didn’t go with Bird then he’d starve.

But, where was the conflict? What was going to make my story interesting? Maybe they were like the odd couple. I imagined Bird as a total free spirit who just wanted to have fun, while Squirrel was a bit neurotic and was all about responsibility. Squirrel can’t stand Bird, but they’re stuck together. A natural conflict of personality that would provide for some humorous scenes.

This left one last question. How would the two characters change by the end of the story? What would their character arc be? In the case of this story, I decided to have Bird learn to be a little more responsible and Squirrel learn to have a little more fun. The story, at its heart, would be about finding a balance between having fun and being responsible. And by the time the journey ended, they might even become friends.

At that point I could pretty much see the overall structure of my puzzle. The edges were complete and all the major parts were coming together. All I had to do was fill in the missing pieces in the middle, which solidified as I wrote the outline and got to know the characters better. Two weeks later I sent it off to my agent, we made some minor tweaks, and eventually sold it to a major publisher. (Deal announcement pending; I’m drawing and writing the book for release sometime in 2012.)

I hope you find inspiration in my recent experience and are able to put together some great story puzzles of your own. Just remember that there are no wrong pieces. You may not use every idea or piece you think of right now, but every piece (used or not) helps you build your puzzle. Now go forth and conquer the book world!

James Burks has spent the last 15 years working in the animation industry on various movies and television shows, including The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Space Jam, The Iron Giant, Wow Wow Wubbzy, and most recently on Fan Boy and Chum Chum. His first graphic novel for kids, GABBY AND GATOR, was published by Yen Press in September 2010 and is a Junior Library Guild selection. James is currently working on a picture book with Lerner/Carolrhoda entitled BEEP AND BAH (2012), and the graphic novel mentioned above.

James is giving away a signed copy of GABBY & GATOR! Leave a comment to enter. A winner will be randomly selected one week from today.

Thanks to James for the PiBoIdMo 2010 logo and badges!

Today’s inspiration from author-illustrator Adam F. Watkins is purely visual. You figure out the story—and you can also win this signed illustration. Just leave a comment! A winner will be randomly selected one week from today.Adam lives in southern Ohio with his wife Amy and daughter Lucy. He graduated from the Columbus College of Art and Design in 2004, where he majored in illustration. He studied under C.F. Payne his junior and senior years. He worked for an advertising agency in Cincinnati after graduation and is now a full-time freelancer. He loves children’s books and the outdoors. Adam hopes to one day share his illustrations and stories with kids all over the world.

Some awards he has acquired along the way:
2003 – Society of Illustrators student show
2004 – Best in Show, Art of Illustration Show
2006 – Gold Addy Award

by Sarah Dillard

It’s not always about the cute bunnies.

I’ve been drawing a lot of bunnies lately. Well, actually one bunny in particular.

He is very persistent and keeps showing up when I’m doodling, waiting for his chance to star in a story. He is not what I am supposed to be drawing right now. I am supposed to be drawing chickens and mice and Christmas trees as well as coming up with a brilliant picture book idea everyday, none of which have had anything to do with bunnies so far. But he keeps showing up, begging for attention like a puppy who wants to go for a walk.

I have nothing against him, I think he is kind of cute. It’s just that I have no time right now for cute little bunnies. I really need to be working on these other things, before I can pay any attention to him.

So I am just trying to ignore him. And the more that I try to ignore him, the more I find myself thinking about him. Where did he COME from? Why does he keep BOTHERING me? What does he WANT? What does he NEED? WHO is this BUNNY?

Ideas are funny things. Sometimes it seems that you will never have another good idea again no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you need to wheedle an idea out of a germ of a thought. And sometimes they just burst through the door and kick you in the head. Who knows which ideas will grow into a full fledged story and which ones will just fizzle away. The best that you can do is listen to them, push them if they need it and give them a chance to shine.

I don’t know yet who this bunny is or if he will ever grow into his own story. All I know is that he’s been bugging me and pretty soon I am going to have to do something about it. The other characters are starting to complain.

Sarah Dillard is an award-winning author/illustrator. Her latest book is Perfectly Arugula.

You can win Sarah’s signed illustration of Bunny and Mouse above! Leave a comment to enter. (One entry per person.) A winner will be randomly selected one week from today. Good luck!

by Bonnie Adamson

Those of us you who were children once upon a time will surely remember how frustrating it was suddenly to have been plunked down in a world where everyone knew more than you did—about everything. Children spend a great deal of time trying to figure things out: where does snow come from? Why can’t dogs talk? What happens next? Or, as we say in our family: “Who ordered the veal cutlet?”*

Kids develop their own little GPS-like subroutines, constantly recalculating to keep themselves on track—but sometimes, inevitably, they get it wrong. Misperceptions and missed information lead to misunderstandings . . . and—I won’t sugar-coat this—little misunderstandings often lead to:

Major Disappointment!

Total Humiliation!

Nightmares!

(Yeah, I was grown before I figured that one out.)

Thank goodness for picture books!

In a picture book, you can check out your own real-live dinosaur any time from the Storybook Lending Zoo.

You can have the queen invite the golfer with the highest score to the palace for tea, and meet the prince, who is even worse at Goony Golf than you are.

You can become a super-hero in training, and rid the world of evil, baby-eating furniture.

How cool is that? As children’s book writers and illustrators, we get to do this all the time. So, having aired three of my own neuroses . . . er, picture book ideas . . . here is a tip for today: think back to those times in your childhood when things were not quite what you expected them to be—and imagine what it would take to discover a new, old friend . . . or have the last laugh . . . or fly to the rescue.

And then, for the love of heaven, explain to the little person in your life that dinosaurs are really extinct; that, as silly as it sounds, low score wins at Goony Golf; and that, yes, if necessary, a very tiny baby can sleep safely in a dresser drawer . . . but only if you take the drawer OUT of the dresser first!

*A line from Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie . . . um, maybe you had to be there.

Bonnie Adamson’s latest illustration project is BEDTIME MONSTER (¡A dormir, pequeño monstruo!) by Heather Ayris Burnell, released in September by Raven Tree Press.

Visit Bonnie’s soon-to-be-completely-overhauled website at www.bonnieadamson.net, or hang out with her on Twitter, where she co-hosts #kidlitchat on Tuesday nights and #kidlitart (for children’s book illustrators and friends) every Thursday.

Bonnie then, practicing her skeptical glare; and now—-an older and wiser children’s book illustrator.

Prize Alert! Leave a comment to enter. One randomly-selected winner will choose one of the three picture-book-inspired sketches above for Bonnie to paint in watercolor (Dinosaur, Royalty, Superhero). One entry per person! Winner will be selected one week from today. Good luck!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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