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Thank you, Tara, for allowing Meg and I to reveal the super duper, mega official, cover of our book, LUCY LOVES SHERMAN (Sky Pony Press, 2017)! It’s very kind of you to host us, (and we didn’t even have to hypnotize you!). We’d like to share a behind the scenes sneak-peak of how our cover came to life. Meg will kick it off with her amazing illustrator insights,
An Illustrator’s Eye…
In March of 2015 I was contacted by Julie Matysik, then a senior editor at Sky Pony Press (SSP), the children’s imprint of Skyhorse Publishing. Julie and SSP editor Nicole Frail, had acquired a wonderful picture book text written by Catherine Bailey, called LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. Julie had kept a promotional postcard of mine that she had picked up from a NJ-SCBWI Fall Workshop and thought, based on the postcard artwork, my illustrative style might be a good fit for this new project. Although I have been an illustrator and designer for a long time, and attended SCBWI events for years, this was the first picture book I have illustrated. I was beyond thrilled, and couldn’t wait to illustrate Catherine Bailey’s fun characters and bring her wacky story to life.
Julie sent me the LLS manuscript and I began creating sketches of Lucy and Sherman and thumbnails of the story. Lucy loves polka dots, and loves that Sherman also “wears” polka dots. So I wanted to incorporate dot graphics on the cover, as well as Lucy’s clothes. I also liked that the polka dots resembled water/bubbles. Blub, blub!
The final cover artwork was due to SPP January 2016.
But—as so often happens in publishing—there was a change after the deadline.
In March of 2016 the SPP Marketing Department wanted to move the book release date to coincide with Valentine’s Day to play up the LOVE in LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. They asked me to recreate the cover with more red and add hearts. Marketing also asked that I move an illustration that was on the title page onto the cover. The illustration showed Lucy and Sherman hugging. Here is previous title page art:
I created several new looks for the cover and after a few rounds of edits, here is new Valentines-ish cover March 2016.
Then the publication date was switched to March of 2017. Since the focus was no longer a Valentine’s day release, we were able to go back to the original blue/turquoise background. SPP only asked that I still keep the characters hugging on the cover. And so, here she is – the final, final cover:
Sky Pony Press’s Nicole Frail and Julie Matysik, and Catherine, have been fantastic to work with throughout this whole process. I am thrilled for the March 2017 launch of LUCY LOVES SHERMAN!
The Author’s Note…
I am so glad to talk about the cover design of this book, largely because people always ask me if I draw my own pictures. After a resounding “Nope,” I get the follow-up question about how much input that I—as the author—have in the book’s artwork. That answer is usually “Not a whole heck of a lot.” And that’s fine with me! I love that talented artists like Meg add new layers and depth my stories.
However, the wonderful Sky Pony folks invited my feedback on early drafts of LUCY LOVES SHERMAN. I was super flattered and excited. I poured over the images for days. Seriously. At one point my husband threatened to lock my laptop in the trunk of his car. But I couldn’t help myself. Meg did such a great job!
Then, as Meg mentioned, there was a big shift towards a more “Valentine’s” feel during the cover design process. My editor, Nicole, emailed me the revamped design. It was very red, very adorable, and very perfect for the holiday. But. (Oh yes, there’s a but!) I worried that Sherman’s red shell would get lost against the scarlet background. So I very carefully and very politely voiced my concerns. Nicole really took them to heart, but her hands were tied. The red had to stay but there was talk about adjusting the shade, which I thought was a great compromise. And then—lo and behold—the publication date was pushed back and the problem solved itself. The cover went back to primarily turquoise.
So there you have it. A blow-by-blow of our mini-rollercoaster ride towards the final cover for LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, which splashes out from Sky Pony Press this March. I think Meg and Nicole and Julie totally nailed it. And I hope you to do too!
Pssst! It wouldn’t be a cover reveal without a free giveaway (Free! Everybody loves free!).
Just leave one message in the comments below and you will be entered to win a 20-minute Skype visit with author Catherine Bailey. The visit can be used either by a teacher/media specialist as a school visit, or by aspiring authors who’d like to chat about writing and publishing.
Hey, do you know what time it is?
That’s right, it’s yay o’clock!
And you know what that means, don’t you?
It’s time to meet the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS!
Welcome to the Grumpy Woods!
Just kidding. No one is welcome here.
No, I’m just kidding again. That’s how these brand-spanking new chapter books begin. See, you’re already laughing three sentences in.
So let me present a more welcoming welcome.
The SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS are unlike anything you’ve seen in a chapter book series. Firstly, they are not some formula regurgitated in rainbow, written by an illusive nom-de-plume. No! These are the first books by up-and-coming author Marcie Colleen. In addition to this series, Marcie has the picture book LOVE, TRIANGLE releasing next year with Bob Shea (BOB SHEA, PEOPLE!!!) and THE ADVENTURE OF THE PENGUINAUT is blasting off soon, too.
Next, these books feature adorable, full color illustrations by Steve James. OMG, you do not know how SUPER HAPPY that makes me!
I have a reluctant reader at home (I know, can you believe it?!) and the thing she dislikes about chapter books are the black-and-white line drawings. She clings to picture books and their boundless art. With SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS, which she has SWIPED FROM ME to take to the first day of school, she doesn’t even realize she’s reading a chapter book because every page features a color illustration. Not only that, but there’s a flip-book animation in the corner of every title. In KNOCK KNOCK ON WOOD, Bubs shimmies with a hula hoop.
So let’s get back to the story. Every morning in the Grumpy Woods, where the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS live, the other residents don their cranky pants (really, a whole outfit).
Mayor Quill and his devoted subjects relish their grumpiness. They thrive on it. And the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS? They are ecstatic, dancing, blissful bears no matter what the forest folk throw at them. Nothing can dampen their desire to party. They just wanna bear hug everyone. They see the positive in everything. And you know, what a great attitude to share.
Now, even though the Mayor, Humphrey Hedgehog, Dawn Fawn and the others make their harumphs for the bears loud and clear, the whole party crew, from Littlest Bear to Big Puff, fail to notice. In fact, they worship Mayor Quill. This, of course, annoys the prickly politician to no pointy end.
Therein lies the humor. But that’s not ALL the humor! For parents reading along, there are clever asides and pop-culture nods.
Meet Ziggy. Ziggy plays guitar. ‘Nuff said.
Then there’s the famous SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS dance.
You wanna dance with me? Well, grab yourself a copy and shimmy, shimmy, shake!
Actually, you can grab TWO copies right here, one GNAWING AROUND and one KNOCK KNOCK ON WOOD, the first two books in the series from Macmillan’s new imprint, imprint. (So nice I said it twice.)
Just leave a comment to enter. PLUS, if you TWEET, FACEBOOK, REBLOG or otherwise share this review, you gain an extra entry, WOO-HOO! Just leave one comment per each method so I can tally your extra entries.
This will be a PARTY TO REMEMBER! GOOD LUCK!
I’m a sucker for monsters.
And in Aaron Zenz’s new picture book, monsters are suckers for suckers.
When Aaron told me about MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT, I have to admit, I got a bit panicked. I have a bedtime book coming out, too! But leave it to Aaron to create a fresh and giggle-worthy take on the bedtime ritual. We may have written on the same subject, but his book is a monster all its own. A snuggly one.
On first glance, if MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT seems like just another going-to-bed read, you’d be monstrously mistaken. Yes, like children, monsters like to eat bedtime snacks, put on pajamas and give kisses. But…monsters do it in their unique monster way.
The page turn surprise is key to the humor in this book. The child reading the book is told “Monsters eat bedtime snacks” and is then presented with a range of delectable options–milk, bread, carrots or an…umbrella? You must turn the page to find out what the monsters prefer.
There are many monsterly midnight conundrums to solve. What kind of pajamas do monsters wear? What do monsters snuggle with? What do monsters take baths with?
You guessed it, chocolate pudding! (Pass the whipped cream shampoo, please.)
The illustrations use contrasting colors to POP those adorable creatures right off the page. There’s a blue monster on an orange background, a yellow monster on a purple background. While the monsters are bright and bold, there is also something soft and lovable about them. Maybe that’s because of the monsters’ creator…and I don’t mean Aaron. I’m talking about Elijah. Who’s Elijah, you ask? Watch this:
Parents, MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT is my new top-rated pick for bedtime with toddlers and preschoolers. If you aren’t snuggled up with a tuba by book’s end, I guarantee you’ll be cuddling with your own little monster.
Win a copy of MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT! Just leave a comment below. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in early September. Good luck!
Let me introduce you to one of the hardest working illustrators in kidlit. I have known Wendy Martin for years, and during that time she has been drawing everything in sight and refining her style. Her diverse range spans from mandala coloring books to art nouveau maidens to the bright watercolors of her illustrative picture book debut, THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. This charming bi-lingual tale features a determined group of students who discover the power of story.
Wendy, were there any unique challenges to illustrating a bi-lingual picture book?
I received the manuscript in English only. According to the paperwork from the publisher, the text would be translated later. Piñata Books has a fairly standard format for their picture books. Both languages of text on one side of the spread with the English and Spanish separated by a vignette, but the art notes I received wanted art to run across the border. In most cases, when I’m doing my thumbnail sketches, I leave room for text while designing each spread. In this book’s case, I had to allow for a bit more than twice the space of the English copy, because Spanish usually has more words. It’s a good thing the text is very short, since my illustrations take up a lot of space.
How have you gone about marketing and promoting this book as an illustrator rather than an author?
THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS is a wonderful book for classroom usage. But with the release date being May 30, schools have been closed for weeks already here in Missouri. I plan to use the summer months to create a contact list of school resource librarians about coming to area schools to talk about what an illustrator does and how a book is illustrated. I already do this kind of appearance via Skype school visits around the world. The author, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, is an accomplished speaker and teacher. She is promoting the book in Texas at book fairs and local children’s events. She says she is pretty uninvolved in the digital arena, so that’s where I’m focusing my marketing efforts for now. This blog tour is part of that.
Why are picture books with diverse characters important?
I remember as a child always feeling like an outsider at story time, mainly because the characters in the books were never like me. It’s difficult to be a minority, whether it’s by culture or because of skin tone. The United States is a melting pot, where there are many, many cultures, skin tones, religions, lifestyles, what have you. No child should be made to feel as if their families, their cultures or their race are “less than” any other. If they don’t see kids like themselves, in books, doing the things that they do, in the way they do it, it is harmful to them, as well as to the children outside of that group of people. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with Piñata Books is precisely because their editorial focus is inclusive of many cultures. They do tend to lean toward the population breakdown of the Houston, Texas public school area, but since they are located there, that’s understandable.
I have kids of multiple ethnicities in my made up classroom. I loved giving each one of them a personality. I do that a lot. My characters all have backstory (in my head) as to who they are, and how they’ll act in all my books. They become “real” to me, for the length of the time it takes me to create the book. It’s always a little bit sad when I send them out into the world. Just like a mom sending any of her children off on their own.
Thank you, Wendy, for sharing your new book–and for giving away a copy to one of our blog readers!
Leave one comment below to be entered in the random drawing for THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. A winner will be selected in approximately two weeks.
Good luck and happy reading!
“How did you get your start writing?”
“Just like Roald Dahl.” (Yes, I take advantage of any opportunity to compare myself to my favorite writer.)
But, I’m not kidding. When I began this whole crazy ride, I did so by writing short stories for adults, just like Dahl. Except my stories weren’t short stories. They were short, short, extra short stories—flash fiction.
I had found an online magazine called “Six Sentences” that published one flash fiction piece per day. The name of the site said it all—every story was only six sentences long (or six sentences short, chortle chuckle).
To some writers, this presents an enormous challenge, to examine character and emotion and conflict between six periods. Sure, you could exploit the semi-colon and em-dash and maybe stretch it to resemble eight-and-a-half sentences, but still. That’s not much space.
The uber-short format, however, is like prose-poetry. And it’s most definitely like a picture book because some things must be left unsaid, yet the silence remains part of the story’s experience.
by Tara Lazar
Her daughter was achingly beautiful, a delicate loveliness like a paper lantern, illuminated from within. The girl’s long hair separated into fine ringlets, cascading like curled Christmas ribbon down her back. She was the kind of child who made strangers smile and take pause—the kind of child who made other mothers envious. The mother was not so much shunned as politely excluded; excuses were made, apologies provided, but invitations were never extended. She exaggerated her own ordinary features—forgoing makeup, leaving her hair unwashed for days, wearing mismatched clothing—but none of her efforts to elicit pity served to lessen the jealousy; her daughter’s radiance only shone brighter, her extraordinary hair the source of more disdain. The mother closed her eyes, grasped the scissors, and cut.
I’ve long held the belief that aspiring picture book writers would benefit from writing flash fiction, as it’s good writing practice in another format. No pictures are necessary, but a mind for visuals is. Can you imagine the scene above?
Writing these stories is fun as well as a challenge, so I was mighty intrigued when I saw Logitech announce their Very Short Story contest on Twitter.
So here’s your chance to strut your storytelling skills outside the usual medium. Logitech is giving away their new K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard and a Blurb giftcard for the best short story written in 8 tweets or less. Just use #LogiVSS to tell your tiny tale. Get all the details here—http://blog.logitech.com/2016/02/18/k380veryshortstorychallenge—but hurry! The contest ends at the close of this week.
And guess what? Logitech is also giving away one of their new keyboards to one of my blog readers! If you hate typing on a phone or tablet’s screen, worry no longer. This keyboard is happy to help you out.
Just leave a comment below about short story writing and you’re entered to win. One lucky commenter will be picked randomly in two weeks!
So go ahead and write on! (But don’t write on and on and on!)
by guest blogger Rebecca Colby
I like to think of myself as Tara’s biggest fan. Although we’ve never met, she unwittingly got me through a very rough time. She’s also gotten me into the habit of generating ideas every day, and I credit her with three picture book success stories.
The year 2009 was a very bad year for me. By the time I discovered Tara and her month-long picture book idea challenge, I’d spent five months sick in bed. I needed something to take my mind off my misery and PiBoIdMo did the trick. While none of the ideas I generated that first year amounted to much, the challenge helped keep me sane.
The following year I couldn’t wait for November to arrive. Tara lined up another month of non-stop inspiration from published picture book authors and illustrators, and by acting on guest blogger Sudipta Barden-Quallen’s advice, I came up with a few ideas for fractured fairy tales. A story I wrote from one of those ideas went on to win the SCBWI 2011 Barbara Karlin grant. (The details of this PiBoIdMo success story can be found here.)
Then PiBoIdMo 2011 rolled around. I was absolutely giddy with excitement. Tara wasn’t yet a published rock star picture book author but I still worshiped the cyberspace she typed on, and she now had a fan for life. But instead of setting up a fan club (which I’m still considering doing), I decided the best way to show my appreciation would be to share word of her motivational challenge with anyone and everyone who I thought might be even remotely interested. So that’s what I did, and then I got busy generating more ideas.
Going into the 2011 challenge, I knew I wanted to write a story about a witch, but I couldn’t come up with any story ideas for my character. So I did what I often do when I need to solve a problem—I went for a walk. Now I live in England, and November in England is rainy. In fact, most months in England are rainy, but November is guaranteed to be one of the rainiest and while I was out walking, it started to pour down that heavy kind of rain when people say “it’s raining cats and dogs”. But I was trying to think of a story idea for a witch. That’s when the title came to me: “It’s Raining Bats & Frogs”. As I thought more about this idea, another saying came to me, “It’s raining on my parade.” Because I enjoy the use of juxtaposition in my writing—in this case ‘witches’ and ‘a parade’–I knew I had the rest of my idea. I’d write about a witch parade that was being rained on and how the rain made the witches miserable.
I had a lot of fun developing the idea, but it took me a good ten months to write and revise the story. It was nearly time for PiBoIdMo 2012 before I started submitting it, and despite it being Halloween season, no one wanted it. Soon I was in the midst of an intense teacher training course and put further submissions on hold. Then a few months later, one of my critique partners shared a tweet with me from agent, Kathleen Rushall. Kathleen was looking for picture books with little witches. I immediately sent her It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. Within 24 hours, she offered me representation, and within a week she sold the book. I was over the moon! And I’m over the moon again today because that very book has finally released and Tara has generously allowed me to share some highlights from the book on her blog. So here goes:
The main character, Delia, looks forward all year to flying in the annual Witch Parade, but parade day brings heavy rain. Using her best magic, she changes the rain…
…first to cats and dogs,
…and later to bats and frogs.
But neither of these changes work too well, and each new type of rain brings a new set of problems.
I won’t spoil the story for you but suffice it to say that Delia does eventually find a spell to save the day.
And my PiBoIdMo success stories (and consequently my fan girl adoration) don’t end there. Since contacting Tara about this post, idea #43 from 2014 has sold. But that’s a story for another day–and a story that wouldn’t have been made possible without Tara and Picture Book Idea Month. Thanks for having me today, Tara, and roll on November!
Thank you, Rebecca! This is a phenomenal story and I wish even more success stories for you, PiBoIdMo or not!
To show her gratitude, Rebecca is giving away a signed copy of IT’S RAINING BATS AND FROGS, which releases TODAY! (It is a Tuesday, remember!)
Leave a comment below to enter. If you share via social media, leave one comment per share on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks!
Rebecca is a picture book author and poet. Her books include: It’s Raining Bats & Frogs (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2015) and There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie (Floris Picture Kelpies, 2014).
Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose, taught English in Taiwan, worked for a Russian comedian and traveled the world as a tour director. Learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccacolbybooks.com or follow her on Twitter at @amscribbler.
A few years ago, my sister in agent-hood Pat Zietlow Miller asked if I would take a peek at her manuscript. That manuscript turned out to be the newly-released WHEREVER YOU GO. I immediately knew it would be a beloved hit because of its lyrical text and universal theme, but once Eliza Wheeler signed on to illustrate, I became certain her art would exponentially elevate WHEREVER YOU GO into the stratosphere. (Don’t you wish we had flying cars to take on that trip?)
Since this blog loves to talk about how ideas originate, I asked Pat and Eliza a few questions about the path to this book’s publication. (Get it? THE PATH???)
Pat, what was the genesis of WHEREVER YOU GO?
This book started when I was at work and a few lines of random poetry popped into my head:
Over a hill, under a bridge, deep in a dale, high on a ridge …
I liked the way the words sounded, so I emailed them to myself at home and started working with them to see where they could go. (Ha! See what I did there?) I realized that the words described places roads could go, which got me thinking about other places roads could go, which led to a first draft of the book.
But, I felt it needed something more. Some heart. So, I set it aside and proceeded to do something I do really well. Worry about my children. This time, it was my oldest daughter. She was growing up so fast! In a few years she wouldn’t even be living with us! Was she ready to be on her own? Would she make good choices?
After some time, I realized that could be the heart my book needed. All the places roads could go also could represent life and its many choices. So I revised my draft keeping all the things I wanted my oldest daughter to know in mind, and that became the book that sold.
And it came out this spring, right before her high school graduation. I could not have planned that, but it was perfect timing.
Eliza, as the illustrator, how were you approached for this project and what attracted you to it?
Connie Hsu, the book’s editor at Little Brown at the time, sent the manuscript to my agent with the loveliest email introducing the project. When I read it, I could see the pictures flowing in my imagination. This is a dream text for an illustrator; no frivolous details or lengthy descriptions—a blank canvas for the art to tell its own part of the story. But I didn’t say ‘yes’ right away, because I could see two directions this story could take: 1) The story of life’s roads, or 2) A cars and trucks book. I wanted to make sure that my vision of it as the first direction was also what the publishing team envisioned, and I was happy to hear that we were all on the same page about staying true to the deeper meaning under Pat’s text. I found out later from Pat that this was a deciding factor for her in choosing Little Brown as the publisher, so it seems it was all meant to be!
Any creature could be the lead character traveling these roads. What made you select a bunny on a bike?
I did try a few different animal choices while doing character development, and it came down to a cat, owl, and bunny. These animals in particular are all pretty cute, but in the end the bunny felt the most age-less and gender neutral. The editor and art director also loved the idea of the bunny’s ears flying behind him/her to help emphasize the motion of the bike. That’s how we landed on the bunny!
Oh, so it really had nothing to do with your last name being WHEELER?
Hahaha! Maybe that was the whole subconscious reason! You can change my answer to that. 😉
Pat, what do you hope the child (and adult) reading this book will take away?
The message I’d like people to take away is this:
Life isn’t a straight line.
It’s good to have goals in life. It’s good to pursue them and to celebrate when you reach them. But, there will be unexpected detours along the way. Those detours may take you somewhere greater than you ever expected, or they may lead you somewhere you never wanted to be. But, either way, you can chose how to react to where you end up and to take a different path if you’re not happy with your current location.
A long time ago, I read that the most mentally healthy people are the people who see the most options in their life because they can get unstuck from the nasty places more easily than people who can’t envision a different future. So I hope readers will internalize the message that they’re in charge of their own lives and that they always have choices about where they want to be.
*SNIFF* *SNIFF* *BLOW*
That’s a beautiful message, Pat. And it’s one that’s true for writing as well as life. No career is a straight line. It’s rather bumpy. But hold on and you will indeed get the ride of your life!
Thank you, Pat and Eliza, for sharing your journey (GET IT AGAIN???) and for offering the book and an art print from Eliza as prizes to our blog readers!
To win a copy of WHEREVER YOU GO, just leave a comment below. One comment per person and a random winner will be chosen at the end of June.
To win Eliza’s print, take a photo of you with WHEREVER YOU GO and post it on Twitter with the hashtag #whereveryougo. A random winner will be selected at the end of June.