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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.

by Kerri Kokias

I’ve been quietly participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) since 2009. You know the type, the writer who lurks on the sidelines, observing and taking notes, but not necessarily being vocal in the comments. Well, it’s time for me to speak up!

I owe Storystorm a big THANK YOU for helping me come up with the idea for my debut picture book, SNOW SISTERS!, which is illustrated by Teagan White and being published by Knopf in January.

Actually, many of my current manuscripts incorporate elements of ideas I came up with in Novembers and Januaries past, and Storystorm has also changed the way I recognize and record ideas throughout the year.

I always think it’s funny when Storystorm participants ask, “What counts as an idea?”

For me, it’s any thought that gives me a little tingle or flash of curiosity. I’ve never tried to come up with 30 developed book ideas. Instead I record little bits of inspiration. I may think of a potential character, a structure, a title, a nonfiction topic, a plot or concept idea, or even just a few words that I like the sound of together. I jot the idea down by category and when I’m ready to start a new story I pull out my list and combine ideas from here and there.

For SNOW SISTERS! I had the idea of writing a story in mirrored language in 2010. I took note of the idea but never tried to do anything with it.

In 2012, I made a note about writing a story about sisters who were opposites.

In 2013, I took note when an editor questioned on Twitter why there weren’t any books about characters who hated the snow.

I pulled out my idea list and brainstormed ways that the different past pieces of inspiration could work with that concept. Through the process of writing and revising, the story didn’t end up implementing the ideas in the way I first thought; the sisters aren’t exactly opposite, they just have their own distinct personalities, which gives them room to connect in unexpected ways. And neither hate the snow, they just interact with it differently. And that specific editor didn’t connect with the story…but someone else did!

And now, 8 years after its first piece of inspiration, it’s a book!

So, thank you to Tara, all of her guest bloggers, and all of the participants over the years for keeping Storystorm going strong! I very much look forward to being a participant and guest blogger this coming January.

Kerri’s writing features unique structures, playful language, humor, tension, tenderness, simple text, and complicated characters. She has a good vision for how text and art can work together to tell a complete story. Kerri credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, two children, and three dogs.

You can learn more about Kerri at KerriKokias.com. Or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KerriKokias.

I am so absolutely thrilled that BOY + BOT releases today because I’ve been waiting for it for a long, long time.

It’s the debut picture book by my good friend, Ame Dyckman—and get this—it’s illustrated by the hugely talented Dan Yaccarino! I mean, this has got to be the best picture book EVER with an author-illustrator team just as lovable as Boy and Bot themselves.

And for this very special day, I’ve got prizes to give away! One AFFIRMATIVELY AWESOME prize pack including BOY + BOT, stickers, bookmarks, and an *exclusive* BOT keychain clip made by author-zoologist-educator-sculptor Jess Keating!

So let’s get on with the fun!

TL: Ame, you and I have been friends for a few years now, after meeting at NJ-SCBWI first page sessions. (I knew I had to get to know you, with your spiky pink hair and Lego bracelet.) Is that how you began your kidlit career, attending SCBWI events?

AD: *laughing* Was my hair pink back then? I don’t remember my hair color at the time (it’s blue, now), but I remember thinking, “Wow! This Tara person is funny and nice and she really knows her kidlit! I like her!” BAM! Friends!

And yes, attending SCBWI events–YAY, NJ-SCBWI!–started everything for me! When I first joined, I knew I wanted to write picture books, but I didn’t know how. My first manuscripts were REALLY bad, but nobody made fun of me. Everybody was helpful. (YOU taught me how to page a PB, remember? I still have your diagram!) I went to as many events as I could—First Page Sessions, Mentoring Workshops, Networking Dinners, Annual Conferences, etc. I learned tons—still do!—and met lots of amazing industry professionals and made lots of wonderful friends. At the 2009 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference, I pitched BOY + BOT to Super Agent Scott Treimel, and he said, “I love it! Let’s work together!”

TL: I distinctly remember the 2009 conference and a certain editor making goo-goo eyes at you during lunch…but he had read your manuscript and was bonkers over BOY + BOT. I thought to myself, GO AME! You could feel the buzz about that manuscript at the event. You were in deep conversation with several agents.

So we want to know—how did this beep-worthy book idea come about?

AD: The short answer: I love robots! (I used to doodle robots instead of doing my math homework. Even in college!) The long answer: I love robots and unusual friendship stories and mirror stories always make me laugh, so I hoped mine would make other people laugh, too.

TL: So BOY + BOT is your debut and it has something like 347 starred industry reviews! Are you thrilled or what?

AD: I’m SO happy, and really grateful for all the reviewer love. Here’s hoping the little Boys (and Girls!) and Bots that Dan and I made the book for love it, too!

TL: We’re chatting on the eve of your book’s release. Will you be able to sleep tonight? It’s a little like Christmas Eve, isn’t it?

AD: It feels like Christmas Eve and Birthday Eve and Leaving-for-Disney-World-Tomorrow Eve all smooshed together! I was up until 3:45 this morning because I was so excited already! (But, I think I’d better try to nap later today—I just searched the fridge and then the entire house looking for the bag of baby carrots, only to find I’d put them in the clothes dryer!)

TL: How awesome was it to see Dan Yaccarino’s vision of your characters? Were they anything like you imagined?

AD: Seeing Dan’s first sketches was the greatest! My family gathered around, we clicked “Open,” and then we all shouted, “Look! Bot’s… BIG! That’s BRILLIANT!” (Up until then, we’d envisioned Boy and Bot being the same small size! I dunno why!) But a small Boy and a big Bot is GENIUS! We could already see all the wonderful humor and affection Dan was putting into the characters, and knew his final artwork would be amazing. When it came in, I loved it SO MUCH, I hugged my computer!

TL: *insert clever segue to Dan here*

Howdy Dan, Mr. Keeno Yaccarino! Tell me, when you read Ame’s manuscript, it was love at first sight, right? Kind of like BOY + BOT themselves, right? RIGHT?! (Say “affirmative,” Dan.)

DY: AFFIRMATIVE.

TL: Ame said said when the illustrations came in, she was surprised to see BOT was a big bot and not a small one, like Boy. Why did you make the friends different sizes?

DY: Hmmm. I’m not sure. I guess it was the vision that formed in my mind when I read the manuscript.

There is rarely a logical reason why I do things visually. I listen to my impulse and trust my vision. If it feels right and is right for the book, then I do it.

Then perhaps I’ll rationalize it later.

TL: OK, would you care to rationalize why the inventor is bald?

DY: All inventors should be bald!

TL: *spittake* You’ve got a point there. Plus he reminds me of a lightbulb, so that’s very clever.

And here’s something else that’s clever—our contest to win the AFFIRMATIVELY AWESOME prize pack (book, Bot clip, stickers & bookmarks) PLUS there’s also TWO MORE copies of BOY + BOT to give away!

WOWZA!

Enter by telling us what you think Boy’s real name is. Ame says she’s always wondered about it. So let her know!

You get one entry for commenting and then one entry for every share on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Just mention it when you comment!

Have fun and good luck! Comments will close the end of April 20 and winners will be announced on April 21.

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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COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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