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by Michael Armstrong

When Tara agreed to host the cover reveal for my upcoming picture book, BEST DAY EVER, my initial thought was to have a writer friend do a Q&A type interview. Unfortunately, the few other writers I actually know were unavailable—all for perfectly understandable reasons (one had emergency dog neutering, one was having elective root canal, and one said, “I’ve told you before, we’re not friends, man!” That joke never gets old.)

So instead, I had to settle for my writing nemesis, Carrie Jeschelnig “CJ” Penko. And no, I have no idea what the “CJ” stands for.

MA: Hi CJ. I realize that interviewing me must be quite an honor for you, but let’s try to keep the gushing to a minimum and focus on my fascinating back story.

CJ: Ugh. Let’s just get through this. Do you have my check, old man?

MA: Questions first.

CJ: Fine. (sighs) So, I guess tell me about the cover of your book.

MA: I’m glad you asked. The illustrator is the very talented Eglantine Ceulemans. You might know her work from NO FROGS IN SCHOOL, the Marge collection and the Pug collection.

CJ: Was her cover design what you expected?

MA: Absolutely not. In fact, I was shocked at first. And maybe that’s true with every writer when they first see an illustrator’s interpretation of their story. But the more I looked at it, it became clear to me that it was perfect. Eglantine created a funny, playful cover that not only embodies the tone and content of the story, but added new elements that had never occurred to me. And that’s true of every single spread. I feel very lucky to have her as my collaborator on this book.

CJ: That was actually a good answer. Tell me more about her. She sounds interesting.

MA: I wish I could, but I’ve never actually met her. She lives in France.

CJ: Lucky lady.

MA: Because she lives in France?

CJ: That, too.

MA: Let’s get back to me, please.

CJ: Yeah, yeah. So, this is your first book. Was publishing a picture book the last item on your bucket list?

MA: That’s pretty funny. You should try being funny when you write.

CJ: Well-played.

MA: To answer your question, I first started writing after I became a stay-at-home dad. I spent an enormous amount of time reading picture books to my daughter, and eventually it occurred to me to write one. Seemed easy enough, right? When I tried it, though, I quickly realized that this is a craft that I needed to learn and develop. Five years later a book emerged.=

Also, when you’re home alone all day with a toddler, you need to find something cerebral to do. Writing seemed like a good way to keep my brain from turning to rice cereal.

CJ: Why didn’t it work?

MA: I dunno. Years of abuse and neglect?

CJ: I’m thinking decades. Moving on. How did the idea for BEST DAY EVER originate?

MA: It was from an exercise I picked up at an SCBWI conference. I was having trouble with my word counts being too high, so the idea was to write a story with no words, just illustration notes. Mine was about a kid with a new toy who sees his neighbor having WAY more fun than him with just a stick. Over the course of the next 18 months—with the input of critique partners and friends—it evolved into BEST DAY EVER.

CJ: Is there anything you want your book to accomplish?

MA: After spending several decades in the non-profit world, I came to a conclusion: the best way to change the world is through education. And education begins with reading. So, if we can make books that kids love, it stands to reason that they will seek out more. That’s how it starts. I hope we made a book that kids will love.

Also, I want to be a famous big shot so I can burn bridges with impunity. It has always been a dream of mine.

CJ: Another item on the bucket list?

MA: (stares).

CJ: Well, it’s past three-o-clock. We should probably wrap-up since you need to get ready for dinner. Anything else you’d like to say?  And remember, keep the word count low.

MA: Fine. Then I’ll just say thanks to all the critique partners, SCBWI members, FB pages, Twitter hashtags, and the entire PB writing community. It’s an incredibly supportive and generous group of people who are very giving of their time and talent. And they do it all for free.

(MA gets up and begins to leave.)

CJ:  Free? Oh, no. Where are you going? I want my check. Don’t turn your hearing aids off on me, old man. Mama needs to get paid. I mean it! Come back here!

BEST DAY EVER releases on May 5, 2020 from Sterling.

Editor’s Note: Mike is not quite as pompous, and CJ is not nearly as snarky in real life. They are also quite good friends.


CJ Penko is a writer and a stay-at-home mom. Follow her on Twitter @cjpenko.  Visit cjpenko.com, and look for her best-selling books in the near future.

Michael Armstrong is the author of BEST DAY EVER (Sterling, May 2020). Before becoming a stay-at-home dad, he spent most of his career managing non-profit organizations. He is an active member of SCBWI. Follow him on Twitter @wrongarmstrong.

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!

 

In honor of National Poetry Month, today we’re revealing the cover for Lisa Rogers’ debut picture book 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, illustrated by Chuck Groenink. The story is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that famous poem and releases on September 24, 2019. Find out more here.

Lisa, When did you first get the idea to write 16 Words, and what inspired you?

One summer morning, just before my family was to embark on a dream Italian vacation, I was sipping coffee and reading The New York Times. A photo of a mustachioed man standing proud beside towering sunflowers caught my eye. Thaddeus Marshall, ramrod-straight in a suit jacket, had been identified as the owner of a red wheelbarrow—the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams’ famous poem.

Marshall was a street vendor who raised chickens and grew vegetables in his Rutherford, N.J., garden. And, he was a patient of Williams, who was a medical doctor as well as a poet.

I told my husband that there needed to be a book about Mr. Marshall—and that I was going to write it. But not immediately. I wanted it to be just right. I carefully cut out Jennifer Schuessler’s story, folded into a tiny Moleskine notebook that my oldest friend had given me, and packed it with my sundresses and sandals. I thought about the story, thought about the relationship between Marshall and Williams, but I didn’t write down a word.

Then, on a train from Venice to the Italian Riviera, I took out my little notebook and began to write.

What kind of challenges did you face while writing the manuscript?

Ever since it was published, that seemingly simple 16-word poem has got people wondering just what depended upon that wheelbarrow. Williams had said he was inspired by a scene out of a window—and it turns out that window was Marshall’s. That conclusion was reached by the scholar William Logan, through an amazing amount of dogged research that turned up details like the wheelbarrow’s shade of red and the kind of chickens Marshall most likely raised.

But in telling the story of how Williams came to write the poem, I had to put together my own research so I could see what Williams saw. I combed census records and military records, walked the short distance between Marshall’s and Williams’ homes in Rutherford, and more. Teresa Marshall Hale, Mr. Marshall’s great-granddaughter, had grown up in the family home and told me the bedrooms faced the garden. Then, I distilled all that I had learned and tried to create the emotional story behind the poem’s creation.

What was your favorite part of the writing process for this story?

I loved creating the spare frame of the story. To me it felt like painting. When I paint, I like to layer color over color. I keep going back in and adding a little more. That’s how I worked on this story—slowly, carefully, layering in something else. Like a watercolor, it was important to know when to stop. I enjoyed working with my editor, Anne Schwartz, who gently guided me through this process.

The most incredible part of this process was viewing the illustrations. Chuck Groenink, through his own careful research and prodigious talent, has created a tender and beautiful work of art.

Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian and former newspaper reporter and editor. A native of the New Jersey shore, she lives outside Boston with her family and hound dog and is a three-time (soon to be four!) runner of the Boston Marathon. Visit her online at lisarogerswrites.com and on Twitter @Lisa LJRogers.

Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!


Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at lauragehl.com and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at joshuaheinsz.com and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

by Lisa Robinson & Eda Kaban

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the cover reveal for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN (Two Lions/Amazon), which hits the shelves in August 2019. We’d like to share a few stories about the book.

Pirate Emma is about to start kindergarten. But Emma’s not so sure she’s ready for a new captain and crew. Especially since her beloved Cap’n Chu is right down the hall. So Emma decides to sail back to preschool and stir up a mutiny against kindergarten. Is that what she really wants? Or does she just miss her beloved Cap’n Chu? Batten down the hatches, mateys, because the first day of school is going to be stormy!

Lisa, what was your inspiration for PIRATES DON’T GO TO KINDERGARTEN?

My daughters loved their preschool teachers and had a hard time saying goodbye to them. When I want to process something with my kids, I look for a book to use for discussion. Although there were many books about the first day of school, I couldn’t find any about preschool children who were sad to leave their preschool teachers behind. So I decided to write one.

What did you think when you saw how Eda Kaban brought your story to life? 

I was so impressed with her vision for the book. I love how she made Emma such an expressive, lively, assertive character. What also amazed me was how Eda handled the interplay of fantasy and reality. Every time Emma leaves her kindergarten classroom and runs back to the preschool classroom, Eda portrays Emma as swimming through the ocean. This creates a delightful visual refrain.

What was your journey to publication? 

It was a long haul. I was writing for almost ten years, which included getting an MFA, before Marilyn Brigham, my Two Lions editor, offered me a contract for PIPPA’S NIGHT PARADE (which comes out soon after PIRATES). I made contact with Marilyn through the Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature Conference, which I highly recommend (so does Tara–she is the co-chair). Soon after that, I signed with my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin. I couldn’t have done it without the thoughtful feedback from my two critique groups, one online called Crumpled Paper, and my local SCBWI group.

Eda, what was your approach to the cover design?

I was picturing her doing a Tarzan swing while I was illustrating the interiors. She has such a big and strong character that I thought she should be doing something big and dynamic on the cover as well. I originally had her swinging on a rope in a pirate scene rather than kindergarten but our art director and editor had the input to have her in a classroom setting to tie up the concept more strongly. And with that feedback, the cover sketch came together.

What was your process for developing this distinctive and spunky pirate girl? 

I fell in love with Emma the moment I read the manuscript. I could visualize her spunky attitude and I started sketching her out right away. I could see myself as a kid in her so it was easy to get into character and animate her in different poses. I created a lot of rough sketches. I edited the ones that didn’t relate to her as closely and cleaned up and colored the rest. Luckily everyone loved the designs when I presented her.

Can you say a little about your journey to becoming an illustrator for children’s books?

I’m originally from Turkey and I moved to the U.S. around 13 years ago to study art and become an illustrator. I spent 4 hard working years at art school. It’s a challenging restless marathon of drawing and painting everyday to build up your skills. Next big challenge was breaking into the industry. There are so many ‘no’s before you get one ‘yes.’ It can be really tough. About a year after art school, I signed with my current agent and only a week after that, I was offered my first book deal. I’ve been illustrating children’s books professionally since then for over 5 years now.

Thank you, Lisa & Eda, for revealing your cover! And now let’s reveal that Lisa is giving away an F&G to one lucky commenter.

Leave a comment below for a chance to enter–one entry per person, please. A winner will be chosen soon!

Good luck!

 

A few weeks ago, I teased the cover to my upcoming book YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL on Twitter. You may have seen some garbled gobbledygook like this:

You can see a little hint of what’s to come in the lower right corner…

Or you can see the entire thing by following the cover evolution below…

The illustrator is Melissa Crowton, winner of SCBWI’s 2017 Winter NYC Conference portfolio showcase. Yeah, I am one lucky ducky to be paired with Melissa’s whimsical art.

She’s the star of this cover reveal, so let’s ask her some questions.

Melissa, what was your approach to the cover design for YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL?

The cover for this book was such a delight to work on. Covers in general are always a challenge—a lot of questions go through my mind.

  • What type of mood do I want the cover to convey?
  • Should it tell a story? 
  • Should it be simple, or more complex?

Because this book features a circus school, I knew that I wanted the cover to reference vintage circus memorabilia in some way—a nod to the past, but with a modern update.

I love collecting images for any project, and luckily for this book there was a gold mine of photos and poster designs available in books and online. The first sketches I worked on for the book were more simple in nature—a cast of characters against a backdrop of the stripes of the tent.

There are so many fun children and adults who show up in the book, and the publisher and I thought it might be fun to have a group on the cover, almost like a school photo. But the more we worked on it, the more it didn’t quite fit. So I went back to the drawing table and I decided to take a more decorative approach.

One thing I noticed in my research was a consistent use of graphic patterns and simple shapes. I had saved some images of old poster designs that used borders and shapes to highlight parts of the circus, so I thought that using a device like that show off the main characters, while also alluding to the busy school setting might be a good solution. I was also able to squeeze in a few animals friends on the cover as well which is always fun.

Once the publisher approved of my second attempt, everything was pretty easy at that point—I arranged the elements around the central focus, the blackboard, and passed my artwork off to the folks at Tundra after I was finished for them to add the title.

Although covers generally go through a lot of back and forth, I am so happy with where it ended up. I wanted the end result to hint at the exciting nature of the story inside, so hopefully it does just that!

How did you decide upon the color palette?

I looooove color, so choosing to make a book with a limited palette was a challenge, but also really fun! I didn’t realize how much I would love trying out different combinations.

I knew I wanted the interior to use a lot of black and white elements, so that was easy to nail down. As for the other colors, that was a bit more difficult, especially considering how many different animals and people were going to be in this book. I had originally chosen a yellow and blue color, but we decided to add pink into the mix to round it out—basically the primary colors but with a twist. I love that the colors play well off of each other but have their own personality, just like the characters in this book.

Did you go to the circus as a kid? What was your favorite part of the circus?

I went to the circus once as a kid with my mother and three sisters. I remember being really excited to see the performances, but my favorite part was actually the costumes. I loved that everyone looked different, but at the same time they were all part of a big family. There were a lot of patterns and colors in interesting combinations which is always something I have tried to incorporate into my own illustration work. I still love looking at old images of the circus for inspiration, there is a lot of great design that was used to promote the circus during those early years.

Melissa, you did a stupendous job on the cover! Thanks for showing us your process to get there!

YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL will be released by Tundra Books on June 4, 2019.

You can pre-order now…online or via your local indie…and if you do, leave a comment telling me so.

Everyone who pre-orders will be entered to win a PRIZE PACK of circus school goodies, including a signed F&G, poster, SKYPE call/visit, and whatever other good stuff I can stuff in the package.

Thank you, Melissa and Tundra Books!


Melissa Crowton is an illustrator and designer who has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Creative Quarterly, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as the Portfolio Showcase winner at their Winter 2017 Conference. She earned her BFA in Illustration at BYU in 2012 and an MFA in the Illustration Practice Program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore in 2016. Melissa originally hails from Utah, but she now lives in the East Bay of Northern California. Visit her at melissacrowton.com and follow her on Instagram @mcrowton.

 

by Lori Alexander

Last October, I headed into our pediatrician’s office with my 12-year-old who could not shake a deep, rattling cough. While we waited in a small, astronaut-themed room I wondered if my son might have pneumonia. While we waited some more, I wondered about this picture hanging on the wall.

As a seasoned Storystormer, I knew inspiration could strike just about anywhere. The image of the baby got me thinking about board books. I knew science-themed board books were selling well. But I didn’t have much interest in writing a book of facts for toddlers. What about a book that showed a baby’s current skills and how they might tie-in with a future career? I made a few notes in my phone, snapped the picture, and got back to checking my son’s temperature with the back of my hand.

One year later, I’m excited to share FUTURE ASTRONAUT (Cartwheel/Scholastic), illustrated by the amazing Allison Black. Part of the “Future Babies” board book series, upcoming titles include FUTURE ENGINEER, FUTURE CEO, and FUTURE PRESIDENT. And because I’m such a fan of Allison’s, here’s a peek inside Book #1 and a few words from the illustrator herself:

Allison, your style is so perfect for the youngest “readers.” Is this your first time illustrating board books?

Thank you! This is not my first time working on board books.  I currently have three published, but I think this series is really special and I can’t wait for them to be released! I love making board books because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son and it’s nice to be able to read to him without worrying that he’s going to rip, eat or destroy them!

How did you get your start in children’s publishing?

I’ve always been interested in children’s publishing, but I didn’t get really involved in it until 2016. That year I was approached by a couple of publishers who had discovered my art through my stationery line and my work with Target. I enjoyed making those books so much that I decided to get an agent and leave my job to be able to focus on this type of work – and I’m so happy I did!

What else are you working on, if you’re able to share?

Right now I’m working on a few books (which is all I can say about those), as well as developing some new items for my shop. I just released my Fall line a couple weeks ago so now I’m focusing on holiday products. I’ve also started to write some children’s book manuscripts. There’s a lot more work to be done on those (authors really are amazing!), but it’s exciting to try something new!

Plan for the future and pre-order a copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT today.

Lori will give away one copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT to a lucky commenter (in the future, release date is June 2019)!

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck.


Lori Alexander is the author of picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction for older readers. ALL IN A DROP, a chapter book biography of scientist Antony van Leuwenhoek releases in fall 2019 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, followed by A SPORTING CHANCE, a biography of Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, in 2020, also from HMH. Visit her at lorialexanderbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @LoriJAlexander.

Allison Black is an illustrator and designer specializing in cute and colorful creations. Originally from Upstate New York, Allison now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, son and four pets. Allison’s career started as a designer for Target where she developed items ranging from Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets to party décor and apparel. In 2017 Allison left Target to focus on children’s book illustration and to work on her own line of products. She now has six published books and has another ten in progress! You can find Allison’s books, stationery and more in her online shop, Hip-Hip. In addition to making art around the clock, Allison has a particular love for goats, guinea pigs and gummy bears. Visit her at allisonblackillustration.com, shop for art at hip-hip.com and follow her on Instagram @allisonblackillustration and @hello.hip.hip.

by Nancy Viau

Hey there, readers of this wonderful blog!

Betcha can’t wait for hot, hot summer days, right? I know I’m looking forward to lots of sunshine and NO SNOW!

WAIT.

A.

MINUTE!

I canNOT say that because I am all about snow these days. The reason? In September, my fourth picture book makes its way into the world, and it’s called FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman & Co.). So, put on your clunky boots and funky hats, think chilly thoughts … instead of OMG, it’s summer and it’s ridiculously hot, and please check out:

What does this cover reveal about the book? Simple. Snow. Is. Fun! If you’re an adult, do you remember the hours spent building igloos, having snowball fights, sledding, and that feeling of cozy warmth from a cup of hot chocolate? (Yeah, I know, dear grown-ups, you’ve gotta put aside the snow shoveling, buried cars, bad roads, etc. for a minute. I haven’t forgotten about you. When the book comes out, look at my funny dedication!)

As with my other picture books, this story is written in rhyme. Before I even thought about being a writer, I loved to read rhyming books. The words seemed to roll off my tongue, yet I never really understood why until I tried my hand at rhyme. It was much harder than I ever imagined! With rhyme, there is so much to consider—the rhyming words, internal rhyme, meter, length of phrases, length of stanzas, vocabulary, and more. Still, I love it. I love that every single word counts. It often takes me weeks to find that perfect word—the one that fits for all the right reasons. When that happens, it’s magical, trust me. If you write in rhyme, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

As far as finding a topic for a rhyming picture book, nature has always been my inspiration. I enjoy every season and the weather that comes with each one—warm, breezy, rainy, super-hot and humid, or freezing cold. While some may grumble, growl, and complain about a pending snowstorm, I’m a little kid again. There is something about the crunch of snow under my feet; its clean smell; that blanket of white; the cheery voices of children playing; and at night, the quiet peacefulness it brings.

Puffy jackets. Scarves in place.

Extra mittens, just in case.

In FIRST SNOW, you’ll see the kids scramble to see those first snowflakes, then head outside for adventure. Illustrator Talitha Shipman has done an amazing job of showing how beautiful snow is. (It’s not easy to paint white snow on white paper, right?) The colors she has chosen are varied and bright, and the expressions on the kids’ faces are priceless. Seeing how an illustrator works with my words is one of my favorite things about writing picture books.

So, next winter when meteorologists predict a big winter storm, I hope you’ll curl up with a copy of FIRST SNOW and think back to a time when snow meant serious, crazy fun. Then bundle up and go out and play!


Nancy Viau is the author of five picture books: PRUETT AND SOO (Two Lions, TBA), FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman), CITY STREET BEAT (Albert Whitman), LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! (Abrams Books), and STORM SONG (Two Lions). She also writes middle grade and has several published with more forthcoming. Look for her latest, BEAUTY AND BERNICE, at the end of August! During the summer Nancy works as a librarian assistant at a public library and is the first to check out the travel books, searching for adventures out-of-state and out of the country. It’s in nature where she finds inspiration and whether it’s navigating mountain trails or riding her bike, she’s always writing stories in her head. Visit her at NancyViau.com.

Nancy is giving away a signed copy of FIRST SNOW in September. Comment now to be entered into the random drawing. A winner will be selected…on the first day of summer…? (Oh, the irony.)

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

In the midst of her first Storystorm in 2015, Sarah Lynne Reul was picking up her daughter from French lessons (her husband is French with family in France) when she began receiving a slew of text messages from friends checking in to say they were safe. She had no idea what was going on. Turning on the radio, she heard scant details about the terrorist attacks in Paris.

“I walked into the after-school building full of people with family in France, and it seemed nobody else was yet aware of the attacks.  I couldn’t decide if it was helpful or harmful for me to tell them about it, since I had so little information on what had happened.”

She recalled how everyone was glued to the TV during September 11, even though the news anchors kept repeating themselves, trying to reach conclusions before the mesmerized, worried audience.

While she was driving home, Sarah could tell that her daughter knew something was going on, even though the radio was off. “She told me she’d make a forcefield to protect everyone we knew, and it made my heart ache. I jotted that down when we got home as the idea of the day. I kept coming back to the concept, and a few weeks later created the first draft.”

The result is THE BREAKING NEWS, her debut picture book as author-illustrator. And today Sarah is revealing the cover with the story behind its evolution.

Thanks for hosting my cover reveal, Tara.

We went through a bunch of different iterations for the cover—my editor, Claire Dorsett, and my art director, Anne Diebel, provided lots of guidance and feedback throughout the process.

I began the process for the cover after I had finished all of the interior art. The original working title had been “THE BAD NEWS”, which felt a bit too negative, and for a while, we were playing with the title “ONE SMALL THING”, so you’ll see those names in some of the early sketches below. We eventually settled on “THE BREAKING NEWS” as a final title, which we all felt works best for the book.

Here are some of my earliest sketches for the cover.

I liked the one that I had circled here—I felt like it showed a problem for the main character to solve, but ultimately it didn’t show a connection to the actual news media, which plays a pretty big role in the book.

So I tried a few options that put the focus on newspapers and/or TV, as well as the reaction of the family.

We ended up going with a variation of the middle option, and then we went back and forth on the framing. Here’s a sample mockup from Anne:

Finally, I worked on softening the expressions and exploring options for the colors and the hand lettered title to find the right combination for the final.

Fascinating glimpse into the process for this book, Sarah, thank you! And having been lucky enough to read it, I can say that it sums up the story beautifully.

THE BREAKING NEWS by Sarah Lynne Reul makes it debut April 10, 2018 from Roaring Brook Press. Mark your calendars, eager readers!

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

by Marcie Colleen

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

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

auction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

frontcoverlovetriangle

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

backlovetriangle

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

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

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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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