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by Cate Berry

Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube…

But I write books for children.

D’oh!

There’s a special time at the end of the day when grown-ups and kids come together. After the dog-and-pony-show—the getting into pajamas, the getting teeth brushed, the endless hijinks—that’s when we finally connect.

Research shows that reading bedtime books has a palpable effect on early literacy. Magic happens when a child sits on a grown-up’s lap at the end of the day listening to a story, watching the text interact with the pictures on the page. Comparing and contrasting the drawn page with the pictures in their minds helps a child develop critical thinking. And the literacy “residue” from reading aloud helps kids develop a broader vocabulary at an earlier age. As the Times article states, “… every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.”

Learning benefits aside, I also believe it’s good for people to laugh with each other. Sharing a giggle can heal the day’s bumps and bruises. My characters, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp, want to share their laughs and smiles. Ultimately, they care about spreading joy and fun—together.

Teamwork.

That’s what this book is about. My two characters work together—the buddy system!—against a common goal of falling asleep. [Don’t tell them, but much yawning will ensue, almost guaranteed.]

Does bedtime make you wiggly? Grab a buddy—a lovey, a sibling, a book! I was paired with a great “buddy” for the making of this book, illustrator Charles Santoso.

My favorite kind of picture book feels like a duet between the author and the illustrator. On one page the text might drive the story, followed by a wordless spread with just illustrations. It’s give and take. Maybe a graceful dance is a better way to put it.

Charles understood Penguin and Tiny Shrimp so authentically. In our interview for Cynsations he described to me how he listens to an author’s characters, letting them guide his illustrations, which is probably why he’s so versatile. At the same time, his signature warmth and emotion are always threaded throughout his work.

So, books. But there is one video I think you should watch: the one for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (Spoiler: look out for Charles’ stealth characters!)

And, watch it with a buddy.

BIG thanks Tara for hosting me today on her wonderful blog!

Up with books, down with bedtime!


Cate Berry is the author of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (May 8th, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive antibedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7).” She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers’ League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as “Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices” and “From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books.” Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.

Cate is giving away a copy of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! upon publication in a few weeks.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

Character
I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Hook
Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

This Build-a-Fort Kit was #1 on my kids’ holiday wish list last year. My ten-year-old wanted it. My teenager wanted it. Heck, even *I* wanted it! It’s got blankets, and clothes pins and ropes, oh my!

So when I heard that Megan Wagner Lloyd released a picture book titled FORT BUILDING TIME this week, I knew I had to get her on the blog pronto.

Megan, OMG! Doesn’t every kid (and grown-up kid) LOVE to build a fort? Why do you think that is?

I think part of it must be that when kids make a fort they’ve created a place over which they have complete ownership. They’ve made a place that’s meant to be occupied solely by them (visitors welcome upon invitation, of course!). Kids have so little say over so many aspects of their life—it’s got to be comforting to create this cozy space that they can control.

So how did you know you hit upon a winning subject for a PB?

I try to make sure there’s something that kids can really relate to in my books—something that is universal or near-universal to the kid experience. Fort building fit the bill!

How did you take it from the initial lightbulb idea to a fleshed-out concept?

I went through a lot of drafts, some of which have almost nothing in common except that core love of building forts. I took the manuscript in a lot of different directions, but, to my own surprise, ended up returning to an earlier version in the end, and fine-tuning that. I guess sometimes you have to figure out what’s not working to understand what will work best.

Could you share with us what didn’t work—and how you ultimately came to realize it?

I ended up rewriting the book as a traditional three-act story, with more developed characters. It was cute and fun to write, but I was really happy when my editor ultimately found something special about the earlier—simpler and more lyrical—draft, a version that really held more of my heart.

So when writing picture books, do you recommend that writers follow their heart and instincts more than solid advice that somehow doesn’t resonate?

Hmmm. I’m not sure. Sometimes I get advice that doesn’t resonate, but it’s just not resonating because I’m being stubborn—and later I’ll realize that the advice giver was, in fact, right. But other times I can tell when someone is just not understanding my vision for a project, and what I need to do is either reach out for more feedback from others or else burrow deep into my own perception of the project and try to make it really glow as brightly as possible. In short—I guess I just don’t have all the answers! Most important of all is to press forward and keep trying. Some manuscripts work out, some ultimately don’t find their way. Each project is a unique process and I’m always learning something new.

I always love learning something new. Maybe you can leave us today with your best fort-building tips…?

  1. Embrace the materials you have on hand, whether they be couch cushions, cardboard boxes, blankets, or driftwood. It can be such a great creative exercise for kids (and adults!) to try to figure out how to translate their ideas into reality without buying anything.
  2. For the inside of your fort, you can’t go wrong with a favorite blanket, a stack of books, and a tasty treat.
  3. Don’t forget to invite a friend or sibling to join in the fun! Little brothers or sisters will be especially honored to be invited . . . though they might end up toppling the whole thing!

But toppling over the whole thing can be a lot of fun, too.

Thanks to Megan and Knopf, we are giving away a copy of FORT BUILDING TIME to a lucky blog reader!

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks. (Or longer, as is known to happen on this blog.)

Good luck and happy building!

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author Finding Wild and Fort-Building Time, as well as the upcoming picture books Building Books, Paper Mice, and The ABCs of Catching Zs. She lives with her family in the Washington D.C. area. For more about Megan and to sign up for her newsletter, stop by meganwagnerlloyd.com. And you can find her on Instagram @meganwagnerlloyd.

Penny Parker Klostermann has cooked up a new fractured fairy tale with Ben Mantle…but the book wouldn’t be a reality without her fairy tale agent, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Knowing many of you are hoping your fairy godmother will deliver a prince (or princess) of an agent, I asked Tricia how the two of them paired up to create kidlit magic.

       

Tricia, how did you and Penny connect? What made you fall in love with her work?

Penny was a referral from Erin. I was instantly interested because of her ability with rhyme. She’s got the elusive skill set and she still studies it all the time.

That’s like music to MY ears. I’m a Thomas Jefferson, INFJ, Hermione Granger personality type, so I love working with people who are always seeking to be better, and that, to a T, is Penny.

She is devoted to her writing. It’s her true love, but also a passion. That really does speak volumes to me. It reminds me of the book by Cal Newport called DEEP WORK, which inspires me constantly, about focused practice and preparation.

What about A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE do you adore?

Penny has an incredible sense of humor. THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT was full of it and A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE came right from that same vein of humor. You have this sense of “oh no!” as the familiar stories get cooked (oh no!), but there’s so much humor as it is happening. It is delightful.

How to you hope readers will react to it?

I hope readers (kids) get a kick out of it just like I did. Yes, I consider myself a reader (and a kid at heart).

Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s next in store for Penny?

Penny has always got something AMAZING cooking (ha, see what I did there) and right now is no different. But that’s all I can say!

You’ll have to ask me back to the blog another time to get the scoop.

Thanks, Tricia. You can count on it. 

Penny, this is your second fractured fairy tale. What do you enjoy about writing them?

I love taking something familiar and twisting it in a new way. And I believe that children connect quickly with the humor when they read something that has familiar parts but has been taken a different direction.

And what is uniquely challenging about writing them?

And the challenges (for me) mirror the reasons I love it.

It’s challenging to take something familiar and twist it in a new way. It’s tough to balance the familiar with the new and have a story arc that makes logical sense and flows smoothly.

Thanks, Penny. You know I love a good story, especially when it involves food.

A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE gives a new twist to the fish-out-of-water story (maybe it should be called a fish-out-of-soup story). William just wants to be a renowned chef, but the problem is that he lives in a fairy tale land where he cooks up a lot of trouble, especially when he bakes the Gingerbread Man.

But when William realizes fairy tales have their own special ingredients—like apples and pumpkins—he learns how to cook up ha-pea-ly ever-after endings.

This book is a delicious treat for all who love mash-ups (and mashed potatoes).

Penny is giving away a copy of A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE to a US resident. Enter by leaving one comment below.

A winner will be selected by release day, September 5th.

Good luck!

 

by Maria Gianferrari

To know me is to know that I love dogs. LOVE them! In fact, all of my fiction picture books currently under contract contain dogs as main characters (and I have several WIPs with dog characters too ☺).

So, to celebrate the release of HELLO GOODBYE DOG, it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite dogs, both real and literary:

It all begins with … Becca, the best dog in the universe. She’s a rescue dog from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she’s the inspiration for many, most, OK ALL of the dog characters in my books. We adopted her when she was six months old. This photo taken by her rescuers, stole my heart.

Now she’s 11 ½, and the perfect writing companion.

Before Becca, there was quirky Elvis, our junk-yard dog, literally adopted from an auto-body shop:

And this is Mac, short for MacTavish, my parents’ dog (more accurately, my brother Michael’s dog):

Apparently, I was infatuated with dogs, even as a young baby. This was my Nonno’s beagle, Socco, and some random pup I was playing with:

Now it’s time to say “hello” to some of my favorite literary dogs…

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: Bob. LOVE his voice—he’s hilarious!

The Penderwick “tails” by Jeanne Birdsall:
Loyal and loving, Hound.

Kate DiCamillo’s Winn Dixie from the eponymous, Because of Winn Dixie, because whose dog doesn’t smile? In our household, we call it the “happy Hund” syndrome. (Hund is German for dog).

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron:
Tried and true, HMS Beagle.

Wish by Barbara O’Connor
Sweet stray, Wishbone.

Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins:
Rontu/Rontu-Aru—I so wanted to live on an island with my dog, BFF, an introvert’s dream-come-true!

Dismay from the heartbreakingly lovely Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles.

A few other favorites:
Ragweed

Gaston

Daisy

Of course, this doggone good post would not be complete without …
Thyra Heder’s adorable, Jelly:

The Great Houndini, by Danny Chatzikonstantinou:

And last, but not least, Moose, lovingly rendered by Patrice Barton!

And, you guessed it! There’s a new dog in my next fiction book, Operation Rescue Dog, coming from Little Bee in 2018: Lulu! It will be illustrated by Luisa Uribe. Here are two dogs from her book, Un Día, to give you an idea of her style:

Now it’s your turn to say “hello.” Who are your favorite literary dogs?

Leave a comment below, and you’ll be in the running for your very own copy of HELLO GOODBYE DOG! I’m sure that you’ll love Patrice Barton’s illustrations just as much as I do!

Thanks for letting me gush about all these pawsome dogs, Tara!!

HELLO GOODBYE DOG BLOG TOUR
GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!!

*Monday, July 24th: Pragmatic Mom + THREE book giveaway!
*Two for Tuesday, July 25th: Librarian’s Quest & Reading for Research
*Wednesday, July 26th: Homemade City
*Thursday, July 27th: Kid Lit Frenzy
*Friday, July 28th: Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
*Monday, July 31st: Picture Books Help Kids Soar
*Tuesday, August 1st: Bildebok
*Wednesday, August 2nd: The Loud Library Lady
*Thursday, August 3rd: DEBtastic Reads!
*Friday, August 4th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love

EXTRA: August 25th: Kidlit411—Interview with Patrice Barton

 

by Tammi Sauer

I have been a part of Storystorm (formerly known as PiBoIdMo) ever since Tara introduced it back in 2009. Each year, as a guest blogger, I have shared one of my idea-getting strategies. I’ve mentioned everything from “celebrating the weird stuff in your life” to starting with a setting to playing with various structures. Each year, I have also accepted the challenge to come up with at least 30 picture book ideas.

And, each year, do you know how many of my 30+ ideas are good ones?

25? 10? 5?!

The answer is 1. Occasionally 2.

My other 29+ ideas? They are okay ideas. But okay ideas do not result in offers.

During PiBoIdMo 2013, I jotted down this snippet of an idea: funny rules for having an unusual pet.

I felt the idea had potential. But I needed a story. I needed a beginning, middle, and end. I needed a character readers could care about. I needed conflict. I, um, needed a lot.

Also, around this time, I had been wanting to write a book using the how-to structure.

Hmm.

Then one spring day, while I was in PetSmart with my son, everything clicked.

I saw a rack filled with brochures. Each brochure provided information on caring for a particular pet. There was a brochure on dwarf hamsters, a brochure on guinea pigs, a brochure on geckos.

 

I suddenly knew exactly what I needed to do! I was going to write a pet care guide for a lion!

My favorite part about working on this manuscript was that I wanted the text to play the straight man to the art. I wanted the text to read as if caring for a lion is easy. I wanted the art to show that it is anything but. Because of this, I included more art notes than usual.

CARING FOR YOUR LION sold at auction to Sterling.

We ended up finding the perfect illustrator in Troy Cummings. Not only did Troy get the humor of the manuscript, but he amped it up to ridiculously wonderful proportions. Plus, he created the purrr-fect case cover for this book. (I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I won’t reveal it here.)

This is what Kirkus had to say about Caring for Your Lion:

“Sauer’s terse text, presented as the steps in the care manual for the lion, are tongue-in-cheek smile-inducing, as are accompanying black-and-white diagrams from the manual. However, their interaction with Cummings’ full-color, digitally created illustrations of a light-brown-skinned child and the full-grown male lion that was delivered instead of a kitten are laugh-out-loud fun. Allow plenty of time to giggle over the details.”

I am so grateful to Tara for creating this challenge. Because of StoryStorm, the following books got their start:

  • Nugget & Fang (HMH, 2013)
  • Your Alien (Sterling, 2015)
  • Your Alien Returns (Sterling, 2016)
  • Caring for Your Lion (Sterling, 2017)
  • Truck, Truck, Goose! (HarperCollins, 2017)
  • Wordy Birdy + a sequel (Doubleday BFYR, 2018, 2019)
  • Knock, Knock (Scholastic, 2018)
  • Go Fish! (HarperCollins, 2018)
  • The Farm that Mac Built (HMH, TBA)
  • Quiet Wyatt (HMH, TBA)

Plus, I recently received an offer on a book that began as an idea in StoryStorm 2017. I think this world needs Tara Lazar Day. Until then, I came up with one small way to celebrate Tara. One of the aforementioned books is dedicated to her.

Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has sold 29 picture books to major publishing houses including Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish (but no lions). Visit her at tammisauer.com.

 

Tammi is giving away a Caring for Your Lion prize pack to one lucky commenter. A random winner will be selected in two weeks.

This pack may or may not come with a real lion.

You’ve been warned.

One day I’m not home. ONE. DAY.

Ah, the glamorous life of a kidlit author!

Truth be told, that sink is almost always full of dirty dishes…and the day was somewhat glamorous…as I appeared at an Eastern PA SCBWI event.

During the “squibby” shindig at the Bethlehem Area Public Library, an attendee asked me what the best book marketing methods were. I answered honestly: I DO NOT KNOW. (I wish I did.)

There are a multitude of things I do to promote my work, but I really have no way to gauge the effectiveness of any of it. Sometimes I will show up to a book reading and stare at this…

…and think it has been a total disaster. I go home to a pile of dirty dishes and cry.

But I forget the efforts to market the event—my books that sat in the window display for weeks, the mentions in the paper, the little things that helped to promote the unfortunate empty-seat syndrome. It was just dumb luck that the event occurred on the first sunny weekend in October and everyone went pumpkin picking instead. (Hey, can you blame them?) So I do not know how all that publicity actually fared in the long run. I may never know. And so, I keep plugging away.

So today, I have for you WAY PAST BEDTIME Pre-Order Prize Packs.

WAY PAST BEDTIME features a precocious hero who’s determined to stay up late. Joseph imagines a party of epic proportions going on and he doesn’t want to miss all the frivolous fun.

Kirkus Reviews says, “It’s not all DJ dance parties and hot-fudge fountains when parents stay up late…or is it? Forget staying up to wait for Santa Claus. After reading this, kids will clamor to investigate someone a little closer to home.”

If you pre-order WAY PAST BEDTIME before the release on April 25, leave a comment below stating so. (This is on the honor system. No need to send me a receipt. I will believe you.)

You will then be entered to win one of THREE PRIZE PACKS.

Grand Prize Pack:

  • Edu Science 3D Night-Sight Goggles
  • Sleeping Emoji Pillow
  • Superhero cape
  • Three Signed & Personalized Books
  • 45-minute SKYPE visit (with your child’s class or your class if you teach)

Two Runner-Up Prize Packs:

  • Two Signed & Personalized Books
  • 45-minute SKYPE visit (with your child’s class or your class if you teach)

You can preorder a signed copy by calling my local indie, The Bookworm at 908-766-4599.

Or you can order via your favorite local or online bookseller. The choice is yours.

Leave your comment below confirming your order—with one comment per pre-order made—and you will be entered to win.

Winners announced on release day, April 25!

GOOD LUCK!

by Catherine Bailey & Meg Walters

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.

lls_cover_a

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:

lls_titlepage_b

I created several new looks for the cover and after a few rounds of edits, here is new Valentines-ish cover March 2016.

lls_valentines_c

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:

lls_final_d

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!

lucy-sketch-1

lucy-sketch-2

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?

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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!

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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!

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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).

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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.

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Meet Ziggy. Ziggy plays guitar. ‘Nuff said.

Then there’s the famous SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS dance.

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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.)

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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!

 

 

by Colleen Rowan Kosinski

Not long ago I had the book launch for my debut picture book, LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS. It was an exciting, invigorating, and tiring day.

Now I am deep into the marketing phase—not a hat I was prepared to wear. My degree is in visual art, not marketing, but with the help of my husband we are making some progress.

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Here is a synopsis of my story: Lilla and Papa enjoy spending magical times in Lilla’s sunflower patch. Before Papa leaves for a trip that will take him far away from home for a long time, Lilla gives him a sunflower seed. “To remember me, Papa,” Lilla whispers.

Seasons pass, and Lilla’s mood falls like autumn leaves.

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Finally, news comes that her papa is coming home! The following summer, to her surprise, she receives letters from families with photos of their loved ones pictured with sunflowers. She learns that her gift to her father brightened the dark days for many people, and that her one small seed continued spreading sunshine across the country.

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Through the illustrations, the reader learns Lilla’s father has left for military deployment. The story was inspired by videos of children and pets being reunited with their loved ones who’d been deployed to serve our country.

As I wrote my story I knew I wanted it to be heartwarming. Funny stories are great, but not really me. Even as a small child my favorite book was a touching book called THE SHEEP OF THE LAL BAGH. It was about a sheep that was replaced by a lawnmower and is brought back when the townspeople realize what a unique contribution he made to their town.

So I wrote in my quiet style and hoped it would sell. And it did—within months. But I was not prepared for the impact the words and images that once only existed in my mind would have on others.

It didn’t hit me until after the book launch when I received a touching email from a reader who said my book was just what her family needed—her husband was being deployed in 2017 for a year.

Another surprise I received was from a veteran who read my book and bought it to read to his grandchildren. He planned to read to them as a way to open a discussion about how their mom handled his deployment during the Korean War.

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Like the flowers in Lilla’s garden, I hope my little book of hope can continue to reach many readers and bring a little sunshine far and wide.

Colleen Rowan Kosinskibio_pic_colleen_rowan_kosinski is an author-illustrator of children’s books. As a lover of nature and animals, in the spring you can usually find her nursing a sick rabbit or robin back to health. Colleen resides in Cherry Hill, NJ with her husband, three sons, Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler, and Miniature Dachshund. Follow her journey @writergirlrowan.

Thank you, Colleen, for such a touching story behind the story. Colleen is giving away a copy of LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS to a random commenter. Leave a comment below, one comment per person, US addresses only, please. A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.

GOOD LUCK!

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:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

YOUR FIRST DAY OF (CIRCUS) SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

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