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Behold a summer escape in a picture book!

Releasing on August 1st from Flashlight Press, GIANT ISLAND reveals an astonishing secret as a grandfather and his two grandchildren embark upon a common, everyday fishing trip…or so they think…

Jane, this blog emphasizes the importance of brainstorming story ideas often to get to the book-worthy ones. Where did you get the idea for GIANT ISLAND?

Not in the usual way.

I was contacted by an editor I didn’t know, Shari Dash Greenspan, at a publishing company I hadn’t yet worked with, to help rewrite/edit the text of a book by an amazing illustrator, Doug Keith. Doug had the idea for a book about an island that is actually a giant, and what happens when a family visits it. The publisher already had the book dummy and about half of the paintings were done, but there wasn’t a working text because the story was all told visually by the illustrator. The pictures were fantastic, but they needed some assist with an actual story.

In other words, they needed a writer. And that’s where I came in.

I studied the pictures until I knew them by heart. I knew I had to give the book a text/story that matched its lyrical and yet humorous visual telling. The characters were a given—a grandfather, a grandson and granddaughter, a dog…and a giant…  I couldn’t change them, I had to make them live.

I wrote, rewrote, invented, re-invented. Editor Shari edited and illustrator Doug occasionally re-drew, and the book became what you see now. So, NOT your usual way of creating a picture book.

Shari has become a dear friend and I am still trying to sell her something else!!! Or maybe I can convince her to do a RETURN TO GIANT ISLAND where the kids help save the island from becoming someone’s home. Doug could have a grand time with that.

Aha! It was the illustrator’s idea! There are many wordless PBs, though. Why did Shari want to add words?

The book had been meant to be a wordless book, but while the pictures were beautiful, the story’s subtleties were not clear enough without words. And the marvelous Doug was more artist than wordsmith. So we each brought our A games to make the book—artist, editor/art director, and author in that order. Not the usual order, but this time it worked. Whew!!!

Click on spreads to enlarge

What were your concerns as you were writing and wanting to stay true to Doug’s story? Did you communicate with him during the process?

I tried to stay close to what Doug had already done, at least as close as possible. I had my fierce (and funny) editor to keep me on track. We all wanted it to seem seamless. And I think (hope) that is true.

Was it harder than just writing the piece from the start and letting an illustrator go at it?

A bit.

But isn’t that just a reversal of roles? Because that is what artists do all the time—take the words and turn them into pictures!

Also, I have done this before, once with a picture book retelling of Sleeping Beauty with artist Ruth Sanderson. And in about twelve books of poetry in which I wrote poems to go with my son Jason’s photographs of animals on sea, land, and in the sky.

What do you hope readers will take away after reading GIANT ISLAND?

GIANT ISLAND is a book about magic and imagination that spans a family’s generations and ages, from children to grandfather. And it is also about storytelling, though that is subtext. And for me, it had another meaning because I got to meet and befriend both editor Shari and illustrator Doug.

What is it about magic and secrets that children love so much?

I am not sure. I know that from childhood, magic stories sustained me.

But I also remember a young Scottish boy, son of a friend, to whom I gave a witch book I had written, and he handed it back solemnly saying, “Boys like books about real things.” (Of course I know a computer scientist who creates fantasy board games. Go figure!)

This story involves a grandfather and his grandchildren—do you have any secret family stories?

As a grandmother, I often tell the story of MY grandmother and grandfather their eight children living in “the old country” (Ukraine). When the Russian Cossacks came to raid Jewish villages and set houses on fire, my five-foot-nothing, red-headed grandmother would gather her children and her neighbors’ children, put them into a large horse-drawn cart, and cover them with hey and grains. She would drive them out of the village and into the safety of the forest, waving at the Cossacks who thought, with her red hair, that she was probably Polish (and not Jewish). So they left her alone.

I hope I have inherited some of her tough magic, her courage. The family left their big house in the early 1900s and migrated to America. Last month the Russians bombed the house, but we lucky Yolens are safe here. It’s a story that my children and their children will be able to tell forever.

What a beautiful story, Jane! Or I should say, two beautiful stories!

GIANT ISLAND is a gorgeous book, and Jane brings GIANT ISLAND to life with subtlety, to let the majestic illustrations by Doug Keith speak with their wonder. Jane tells the reader only what they need to know—and the rest can be left up to the imagination. Who is this giant? How did he get here? What other adventures await the children?

GIANT ISLAND releases next week from Flashlight Press!

Blog readers, I am giving away a copy of GIANT ISLAND.

Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

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TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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