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Today I’m welcoming author-illustrator Leah Hong to reveal the cover for her debut picture book, HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY from Little, Brown! (Are you ready to go “awww”? Because here it is…)

Leah, I’m struck by the light, airy softness of your illustrations. It looks like I could cuddle with this pillow of a cover! Can you tell me a bit about how you developed your unique style?

Lots and lots of experimenting! For this book I knew I wanted the artwork to have a classical feel and color palette, a kind of a throwback to the Little Golden Books I had as a child. The first test pieces I did were in gouache and although I was happy with them, I wasn’t achieving the depth of detail that I wanted and was feeling frustrated. Then I remembered one of the best pieces of picture book illustration advice I’ve ever been given; it was from an instructor who said, “You’ll be spending many hours, even months, on the final artwork so you have to choose a style that you enjoy working in”. She had also recommended that I try colored pencils and although I was initially resistant, I found that I really enjoyed the careful layering I needed to do in order to mix my colors. But I quickly realized that it would take forever to complete the artwork and decided I could still achieve the look I wanted by laying down a quick background in soft pastel and working overtop with colored pencils. As soon as I gave myself permission to go in a different direction, my style seemed to develop on it’s own. In the end my instructor was right, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of making the art for this book.

Besides the softness of the art, your characters are floating (and boating) among the clouds. What secrets about the story inside does this scene reveal? (P.S. But don’t give it all away!)

The story is about a little bunny who can’t fall asleep because he has too much on his mind. But with a little help from his mother, he finds he’s able to channel his whirling thoughts into plans for that night’s dreams. The book explores the fantastical space between storytelling and dreaming and many of the images in the book are quite surreal. The scene on the cover hints at the soothing dream-like quality of the imagery in the book, and the special relationship between Little Bunny and his stuffed elephant, without (I hope!) giving away any of the adventures that await these two friends.

I’d love to see more of your work. Can we get some sneak peeks of the book?

This is a spread in process…

And this is a peek at the final art proofs.

Oh, and I can’t forget the back cover…

Awww! What a sweet cuddle bunny!

I’m going to tiptoe quietly out (shhh!), but not before telling my blog readers that they can win an F&G of HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY before Little, Brown releases it in February 2021.

Leave one [quiet] comment below to enter.

A winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck! And HAPPY DREAMS!


Photo credit: Makito Inomata

Leah Hong spent many of her childhood hours drawing stories, but it wasn’t until she had children of her own that she became re-immersed in the world of picture books, and fell in love with them all over again. A graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design with a visual arts degree in painting and drawing, she has worked both as an illustrator and graphic designer. Her lifelong love of drawing and storytelling led her to create her picture book debut, HAPPY DREAMS, LITTLE BUNNY (Little, Brown Young Readers, February 2021). She lives with her family in Vancouver, British Columbia. Visit her online at leahhong.com.

Today we have a gorgeous cover reveal from Rajani LaRocca and Chaaya Prabhat. (Yes, all cover reveals are beautiful, but this one struck me!)

Wow, the cover is so bright and colorful! It reminds me of Indian holidays and celebrations I’ve attended. Can you explain why color is so important in Indian culture?

In India, colors have spiritual and political significance. For example, the color saffron—the bright orange found on the Indian flag, the color that comes from the most expensive spice in the world—stands for fire and purity. Speaking as someone who has grown up in the U.S. but who has visited India every few years since I was a kid, I can say that the exuberance of colors in India, especially in clothing, is just incredible. Clothes tend to feature vibrant combinations that aren’t common here in the U.S., and as a kid and now, I’ve always felt very special wearing bright, celebratory colors. Chaaya captured this energy in her illustrations for BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS: every single page is filled with glorious colors that combine to make the characters and home in the story feel exciting and cozy, all at the same time.

There’s more Indian culture in the book, like the holiday for which Bina is making bracelets. What is Raksha Bandhan?

Raksha Bhandhan, also known as Rakhi, is a South Asian holiday that celebrates the love between sisters and brothers. Sisters tie bracelets or amulets on their brothers’ wrists as a symbol of protection, and brothers give their sisters small gifts in return. I love this holiday, as it commemorates sibling bonds that last through time and distance. I don’t have any brothers, but I was inspired by the wonderful relationship between my daughter and son, and between other sisters and brothers in my family. In BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS, the first lines sum up the relationship: “Bina had three big brothers: Vijay, Siddharth, and Arjun. They sometimes annoyed her, but she loved them anyway.”

That’s exactly how I felt about my brother when we were kids.

I love that there’s a holiday for siblings! 

Indian children will enjoy seeing themselves and their family traditions in this book. What do you want children from other races and cultures to take away?

I hope they enjoy learning about a different tradition and holiday! I also hope they see themselves in Bina and her brothers, who sometimes bother each other, but whose love shines through, especially when they spend time together and make gifts for each other.

I think it’s a beautiful holiday and one that we all should celebrate. (Maybe I would have appreciated my brother more instead of sitting on him.)

I noticed “storytelling math” on the cover. How did you incorporate math concepts into this picture book?

I’ve always loved math—I love its logic and precision, and I love the satisfaction of getting a “right” answer. When I attended a workshop on early childhood math hosted by Charlesbridge and TERC, the STEM education nonprofit, I’d never thought about pattern making as a math concept. But that experience opened my eyes to the ways that even very little kids learn and use math, and I’m grateful to be able to write a story that reflects my culture and family and explores an early mathematical concept for children.

Last but not least, I want to thank you for putting me in the book. I am honored.

Umm, “Tara” is the family DOG in the story. In Sanskrit the beginning is pronounced like the word “tar” so it’s TAR-a and it means “star.”

Yes, I am a star, thanks. And so is this book! 

Thank you for sharing it with us!

BRACELETS FOR BINA’S BROTHERS will release from Charlesbridge on April 20, 2021!

 

Charlotte Offsay is celebrating her picture book debut with a cover reveal of THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP, illustrated by Katie Rewse, publishing in March 2021 with Albert Whitman. This book also happens to be a Storystorm Success Story!

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP is about Cora, a young girl who joins hands with her local community to clean up plastic litter along the seashore and save the local sandcastle competition.

Congratulations on your debut picture book, Charlotte! Do you have a fun story about the making of the book you’d like to share?

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP was the result of a few Storystorm ideas colliding. (As many of you reading this already know, for the month of January Tara Lazar runs Storystorm, where a number of kidlit creators help the writing community get their creative juices flowing and develop picture book ideas, which many of us then use to fuel our picture book writing for the rest of the year.)

During Storystorm I write down anything and everything that inspires me. My three-year-old son had just begun his superhero phase (which two years later is still going strong—maybe not a phase?) and I wanted him to clean up his toys before school. I attempted to motivate him by pretending we were superheroes who needed to clean up to save the world (whatever works right?!). Unfortunately, he saw right through my plot and responded with “I don’t feel like being a superhero today.” My first thought was “yea, I don’t feel much like a superhero today, either.” This thought stuck with me as I had to jog with the stroller uphill to get him and his five-year-old sister to pre-school on time. I added “I don’t feel like a superhero today” to my Storystorm list.

Later that month on one of our walks back from pre-school (which were always more leisurely that our walks to pre-school), as we paused to inspect whatever flower/leaf/bug my kids had spotted, I casually picked up a piece of trash and tossed it into a nearby garbage can. My kids immediately wanted to know what I was doing. Why was there trash outside? Who had put it there? Why was it important to throw it away? Their inquisitive nature lead to a series of environmental discussions, which resulted in their relentlessly pointing out garbage everywhere we went and “doing our part” eventually made its way onto my list.

Stay with me—this is the final puzzle piece, I promise. As part of my Storystorm process, I also look back to my lists from previous years for ideas that I still wanted to pursue. For a couple of years in a row I had written “how many hands.” This stemmed from my passionate belief that if we can convince enough hands to join together, we can change the world. I hadn’t found a path forward for this idea so I added it to my 2019 list.

These three Storystorm ideas…

  • not feeling like a superhero
  • doing our part to clean up after ourselves
  • and small hands joining together to change the world

…collided and I wrote what will be my debut picture book: THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP.

Tell us more about the story!

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP is about Cora, a young girl who plans to be a sandcastle-building champion. When the contest is canceled due to litter at the beach, Cora’s plans come to a halt. Cora and her Mama pull on gloves and get to work, but soon Cora realizes it will take more than two pairs of hands to solve a big problem.

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP introduces young readers to the impact of human trash on the environment. With practical solutions for tackling the plastic problem, this heartfelt story demonstrates that a person doesn’t have to be a superhero to make big change. By joining hands with those around them and doing their part, they can change the world.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to Heal the Bay.

How did you find your publisher?

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP is being published by Albert Whitman. I was fortunate to connect with my editor, Christina Pulles, during an Inked Voices workshop. My agent, the wonderful Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary then submitted THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP to Christina when it went out on submission last summer.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring PB authors?

The journey to publication is a rollercoaster—don’t get off the ride before you get your yes!

Charlotte is giving back to the PB community by offering a critique to one lucky blog commenter.

Leave a comment below to enter.

A random winner will be chosen next month.

Good luck!


When Charlotte Offsay isn’t busy building sandcastles with her husband and two small children, she can be found dreaming up and writing picture book manuscripts at home in Los Angeles, California. She passionately believes in the power of small hands joining together to make big change and wrote this book with the hopes of empowering young readers to follow in Cora’s footsteps. Her second picture book HOW TO RETURN A MONSTER is publishing in Fall 2021 with Beaming Books. Read more about Charlotte and her books at charlotteoffsay.com or follow her on Twitter @COffsay and Instagram @picturebookrecommendations. Her debut picture book THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP from Albert Whitman can be pre-ordered at BAM.

 

Author Chana Stiefel is here today to release the cover of her upcoming nonfiction book, illustrated by Chuck Groenink: LET LIBERTY RISE! HOW AMERICA’S SCHOOLCHILDREN HELPED SAVE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY. This book will be released on March 2, 2021 with Scholastic…

But first, Chana shares a few things she’s learned in the process of creating this nonfiction book:

1. Listen to your friends for book ideas!
A few years ago, when humans still ate meals together, I invited my author friends Sue Macy and Jackie Glasthal over to my house for Friday night dinner. Jackie mentioned that she had published a middle grade novel based on the true story of the building of the Statue of Liberty.* Many of us know that the French sent the statue to America as a symbol of friendship. But did you know that America didn’t want it? And New York’s richest millionaires refused to contribute $100,000 to build the pedestal! Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the World newspaper, was outraged. He insisted that the statue stand in New York harbor, the gateway to America. Pulitzer said he would print the name of every person who donated to the pedestal fund—no matter how small the sum or how small the person. Guess who donated their pennies to America’s first crowd-sourcing campaign? KIDS, of course! Right then and there, I knew this story had to become a picture book! Jackie gave me her blessing and offered to help.

2. Do the research!
Researching this book took years. Back when humans could take ferries and visit libraries, Jackie and I met at the Bob Hope Memorial Library on Ellis Island. We pored over archives and took pictures. I also time traveled in the map room of the New York Public Library, scrolling through microfilm of the World newspaper from the 1870s. I read through stacks of books and shared every exciting fact with my family. (You’re welcome, kids!)

3. Practice patience!
Even after you’ve received multiple critiques and edited your manuscript a bazillion times, publishing takes time—enough time to turn copper green. But waiting for a great book deal and the perfect illustrator is worth it! Illustrator Chuck Groenink captured 1870s America oh-so-beautifully, down to the adorable knickers on the newspaper boy. My editor at Scholastic Dianne Hess and I fact checked every single word. (Fab facts: How many stars were on the U.S. flag in 1876? In how many pieces was Liberty shipped to America? Answers below**!)

4. Take nothing for granted.
Publishing a book is an incredible gift and for that I will always be grateful. I hold my torch high for Dianne, Chuck, my family, my critique partners, the kidlit community (thank you Tara!), and my former agent John Cusick. Most of all, I am grateful to Jackie for giving me the gift of this story. Sadly, Jackie passed away three years ago. She stood for liberty, freedom, and friendship and this book is dedicated to her memory. On that bittersweet note, presenting the cover of LET LIBERTY RISE!

*Liberty on 23rd Street by Jacqueline Glasthal, illus. by Alan Reingold, Silver Moon Press, 2006.
**Answers: 38 stars; 350 pieces


Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. In addition to LET LIBERTY RISE! (Scholastic, 3-2-21), Chana’s books include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH), ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (NatGeoKids), and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends). She is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Learn more at chanastiefel.com. Follow @ChanaStiefel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Author Bridget Heos interviews illustrator Mike Ciccotello…

Here it is! The cover of our upcoming picture book, TREEMENDOUS: DIARY OF A NOT YET MIGHTY OAK. It’s due out March 9, 2021 from Crown.

Mike, I love the image of TREE (as acorn) falling and his hopeful expression! It made me think of a leap of faith that changes everything. How did you think of that cover image?

Thanks so much, Bridget. This idea felt good right from the start. It showed our main character taking that leap of faith you mentioned while the backdrop of her mother is hinting at what the acorn’s future could bring. We knew our acorn was going to be the focus. It was just a question of what point during her journey we were going to show. The combination of the vantage point and her falling made this such an exciting part to showcase.

Were there other covers that the Crown team was considering?

Yes, this was one of three designs. I tried a version with our acorn hanging from a branch, dreaming of all of life’s possibilities. Then I did a much different version that showed our acorn in front of a flat backdrop of her mother’s bark. Both of these options tell a story, just not as exciting as the more dynamic perspective that was selected.

You did such an amazing job bringing warmth and life to TREE. Any sketches that show the evolution of ACORN or TREE?

Of course!

Thank you, Bridget and Mike, for showing us a glimpse of your seedling!

TREEMENDOUS hits bookstore (and virtual) shelves on March 9, 2021!

 

by Hope Lim

I AM A BIRD came together as I reflected on how two interactions I had on the same day evoked opposite emotions.

I live in San Francisco and run most mornings in Golden Gate Park. I have passed the same woman a few times and noticed how she always looks straight ahead with a stone face and carries a big duffel bag. One morning, fear struck me as I saw her, but I was not certain why. I came home from running that day, thinking about how I would write about the stranger.

Later that morning, my husband told me about how my daughter and her bird songs made people smile and wave on their way to school. They rode a tandem bike and my daughter would sit in the back and pretend to be a bird, caw-cawing all the way. His description of my daughter soaring high like a bird brought an immediate contrast to the unfounded fear that I was trying to transfer to paper. At that moment, my daughter jumped into my story as the main character.

I have to thank my editor, Kate Fletcher, for her vision and guidance and to Hyewon Yum who brought the story to life with her rich illustrations and insightful interpretation of the story. I was especially moved by how Hyewon captured a child’s fear in such a creative and authentic way.

The book releases February 2, 2021 from Candlewick, but the cover is here today!

My hope is that I AM A BIRD encourages readers to soar above our differences and bias and celebrate what we have in common.


Hope Lim is a children’s book author from South Korea and currently lives in San Francisco. Her debut book, I AM A BIRD, is to be released by Candlewick on February 2, 2021. Her debut will be followed by MY TREEI, Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in Summer 2021 and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN, Candlewick, in Fall 2022. Find more about Hope and her books at hopelim.com.

 

Today we’re revealing the cover for ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME, illustrated in bright, bold colors and soft edges by Andrés F. Landazábal. It immediately takes me back to another time in picture books! The tale, co-written by Charles Ghigna (a.k.a. Father Goose) and Matt Forrest Esenwine, came to be via a blog post and a subsequent comment. Let’s have the authors share the story behind the story…

CHARLES: The genesis for this book began when I posted the first 9 pages of the manuscript on my Father Goose blog, along with a summary of the entire picture book. Here’s a link to my original blog post. Matt responded with 4 stanzas and some great ideas for the narrative. I was surprised how compatible our styles were and how easily our ideas fit together. I began submitting the finished manuscript about the same time Matt did. I submitted it to Beaming Books via Submittable and he submitted it via #PBPitch, a Twitter event that connects picture book authors with editors and agents. And it worked! Beaming Books picked it up! Matt and I were thrilled with our editor’s choice of illustrator, Andrés F. Landazábal, whose colorful style perfectly captures the lyricism of the text.

MATT: Bouncing manuscripts back and forth was actually very educational for both of us, seeing what each other thought of the other’s writing, as well as discovering new perspectives and ways of describing things. And by the way, tenacity was the name of the game with this book: the manuscript went through nearly 15 revisions and more than 25 different publishing houses before our editor at Beaming Books told us she loved it and wanted to buy it! Even with Father Goose’s name attached to the project, it took an awful lot of persistence and positive energy to get our book to this point! I’m not only thrilled about the illustrations, I’m also thrilled that I got to write a book with my friend, Father Goose himself, the inimitable Charles Ghigna! Seeing our names together on the cover is a real treat.

The illustrations are a real treat, too! Thanks, Charles, Matt and Andrés!

ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME will be released by Beaming Books on August 18, 2020.


Charles Ghigna – Father Goose® lives in a tree house in the middle of Alabama. He is the author of more than 100 award-winning books from Random House, Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, Abrams, Charlesbridge, Capstone and Orca. His poems appear in magazines from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Cricket and Highlights for Children. For more information, please visit: FatherGoose.com.

Matt Forrest Esenwine has published nearly 30 children’s poems in anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (N.G. Children’s Books, 2015) and Construction People (Wordsong, 2020), as well as Highlights for Children magazine. His nationally-acclaimed picture book, Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017) was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Picture Books of 2017. More information is at MattForrest.com.

Andrés F. Landazábal is an illustrator and art director based in Colombia. His work has appeared in animation films, tv shows and print companies. Andrés’ love for drawing and painting was instilled at a young age reading classic illustrated children’s books. He is represented by The Bright Agency.

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.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

BLOOP!
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

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

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