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Today I have the pleasure of welcoming author Janna Matthies and her delightful nighttime romp, HERE WE COME!, illustrated in bluesy, moody watercolor by Christine Davenier.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune.

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

Janna, we discuss how to brainstorm story ideas on my blog. Where did the idea for HERE WE COME come from?

Believe it or not, I wrote this manuscript nearly ten years ago, and Beach Lane Books acquired it more than five years ago. So my memory is a little foggy on the story-storming process. However, I can say that marching around singing and dancing with kids is a regular part of my life (I’m a music teacher part-time). So the subject matter was a natural for me. I do remember the phrase, “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum. Wanna come?” popping into my mind. After that, the real brainstorming began as I recognized that subsequent lines would all need to end with words that rhyme with “come.” So I jotted down a long list of every word I could think of. I believe I used everything on the list except for “plum”, “crumb” and “scum”—probably best, on that last word.

Haha! Yes, that is for the best!

This is a cumulative tale. What special tips or recommendations do you have for others creating this kind of story?

Yes, it’s cumulative and told in rhyming verse. Making the rhythm and rhyme as clean as possible is key to a rolicking read-aloud. As for the plot, each accumulated line needs to up the ante in some way. In the case of HERE WE COME!, each new line introduces a different character making a musical sound—“a pick and a strum” (dog), “Little Lu on her thumb with a swish-swish bum” (toddler in a diaper—a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), “fiddle-dee-fiddle-dum” (enormous, jaunty bear), etc.. The characters and their sounds are increasingly unexpected or funny or joyful. And then comes the line that changes everything—“a drip on a drum”. UH-OH! Something climactic is about to happen! Of course, this building excitement or tension is accomplished through the synergy of words and illustrations. I was thrilled with how illustrator Christine Davenier staged this musical parade at night and included kids as well as woodland animals. The two adorable hedgehogs paired with the words “Clap-clap with a chum” nearly steal the show!

Did you include any illustration notes for Christine, or were the characters and setting all from her imagination?

In this case, I provided no illustration notes at all. I was between agents at the time and submitted the manuscript exclusively to Allyn Johnston at Beach Lane, who I’d received a personal note from before. I knew from an interview that Allyn doesn’t like art notes—she’s since told me my wide-open text was part of the appeal for her. So yes, the setting and characters are entirely Christine’s invention.

I’m so curious—did you have anything different in mind and you just didn’t say so?

Yes. In my mind a couple of human siblings or friends were heading outdoors on a sunny day, maybe banging pots like drums, or maybe real drums. And as they moved through the neighborhood, they ran across other kids and invited them along. Some played real instruments, others made up rhythms on everyday items or played “air-instruments” (My husband likes to think he’s very good at air guitar and air drums, for instance.). Funny enough, Christine says that when she read the text and imagined the scene, it was “obviously at night”. Because she used a whimsical, dream-like mix of animal and human characters, it’s perfectly fine for them to be parading alone through the woods at night. I was completely delighted when I saw her sketches and thought, “Brilliant!”

That sincerely demonstrates the trust that author and illustrator must have with each other. Brava to you both!

Finally, what is your message to kids who pick up this book?

I hope kids feel invited into making music—any way, anyhow, anywhere. Sing! Drum on a box! Imitate the hum of a fan or the rhythm of a woodpecker. Say “yes” if the chance comes to learn an instrument. The joy of music is for all, and is especially wonderful when shared. I hope kids’ internally reply, “Yes! I wanna come!”

Blog readers, do you wanna come, too? Janna is giving away a signed copy of HERE WE COME! Just leave a comment below to enter. A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck…and thank you, Janna!


Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include two soon-to-be-announced titles as well as HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not reading, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her husky, and hanging out with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. Visit her at jannamatthies.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @JannaMatthies.

by Janna Matthies

As a guest blogger during this high-gear month of generating Pi Bo ideas, I’m honored to share in the charge to Inspire! My first word of inspiration is this:

My new picture book, TWO IS ENOUGH (adorably illustrated by Tuesday Mourning), releases today! YIPPEE!!

twoisenough

While this might seem like shameless self-promotion (let’s face it, it is), it is also a reminder that people who only a few years ago were not published can one day accomplish that goal. Furthermore, we published authors—after only 4 books or, I hear, even after 25—are still dreaming, churning out ideas, putting bad ones through the shredder, writing, revising, submitting and hoping for the next book. The dream is attainable, and the process is ongoing for us all. We’re in this together!

My second word of inspiration is where I’ll land for today’s post. And it’s good news in a world where life can be hard. Here it is:

Your tough experiences, and those of people you love, can be fodder for meaningful children’s books.

Which brings me back to my new book, TWO IS ENOUGH. This book celebrates the special bond of love in a family of two—one adult and one child. The idea came when my dear, single friend Christine adopted a baby boy, Carter. When I looked for the perfect gift for them, all I found were stories on a theme of “When WE brought you home…” Clearly not the perfect gift for them. I thought about what kind of book Christine and Carter and families like them might need—something that celebrates what they have without reminding them of what they have not. And the answer was clear: LOVE. Whether shaped by adoption, divorce, death of a parent or something else, two-person families have unique challenges. Still…two is completely, fully, wholly, abundantly enough for lots of love. By honing in on the heart of my friend’s real story, I decided the best approach to this book was to stick strictly to the positives.

I’ve taken a different approach to tough topics in two of my other books: THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN and PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA. In writing these fictional books inspired by my own family’s health challenges, I chose to directly address the difficulties and then point toward hope.

One note: When we write directly about tough stuff for our youngest audiences, I believe we must be both honest about the facts and considerate of cognitive and emotional maturity. And because I was not writing a textbook or medical pamphlet, no sterile depiction of treatment events would do! I brainstormed about relatable ways to create a strong story and landed on the bridge-building tool of the metaphor.

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The dragon in PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA is a metaphor for asthma. The brave knight is the child empowered to fight and tame his disease.

GoodbyeCancerGardenCover

In THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, the barren winter ground represents a body with cancer. The seasonal cycle of vegetable gardening is as a metaphor for regeneration and hope. And while I used medical terms like chemotherapy and surgery, I explained them simply amidst a full-bodied story with multi-dimensional characters. We picture book creators, with the powerful combination of words and illustrations, have a unique opportunity to step into dark places and shine a light for our readers.

As an aside, books that help young readers face tough issues often fall within the category of “bibliotherapy” books—particularly those that get down to the nitty gritty like my asthma and cancer books. Even topics like potty training, starting school or how babies are born may fit this category or the broader heading of “concept” books (Check out THE BABY TREE by Sophie Blackall—clever, artistic, fun!). As you pore over piles of pictures books, as all good PiBoIdMo participants should do, notice those that touch on tough topics. Study the ones that transcend the issue and lead you—and ideally the children around you—to laugh, release some tears, take courage, or go plant a garden.

My parting question for you is this: What are the tough topics in the narrative of your life or in the lives of children you love? Consider taking some of these and giving them a shot at redemption through a picture book. What story can you create that will inspire young readers toward hope?


JannaMatthiesJanna Matthies is a children’s book author and guitar-toting early ed music teacher. Her books include TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids, 2015); THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman, 2011), which earned a starred review from School Library Journal and 2011 Best Foreign Children’s Book at the Sharjah International Book Fair; PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA (Albert Whitman, 2009); and MONSTER TRUCKS (Piggy Toes Press, 2009). She’s also written for Spider and Humpty Dumpty magazines. Janna lives in Indianapolis with her husband and three kids.

Find her at JannaMatthies.com and on Facebook.

PrizeDetails (2)

Janna is giving away a copy of her new book TWO IS ENOUGH.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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