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Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!


Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at lauragehl.com and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at joshuaheinsz.com and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

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The creators of PEEP & EGG, author Laura Gehl and illustrator Joyce Wan, are letting us hear a peep from their recent conversation about making this seriously cute new book…which is just in time for Easter! It’s all it’s cracked up to be! (Man, I’m really pushing the puns lately.)

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Joyce Asks Laura….

Joyce: How did you first come up with the idea for this book?
Laura: With four kids of my own, I spent many years hearing I’M NOT every day. And by every day, I really mean every minute. But on the rare occasion that I got a full night’s sleep, or a full bar of chocolate, I could recognize that my kids and their peers weren’t actually trying to drive adults crazy (most of the time). A lot of the hesitation and I’M NOT came from nervousness, rather than stubbornness. I hope Peep and Egg will help parents start conversations with their kids about fears—however ridiculous those fears may seem. And I hope Peep and Egg will remind toddlers and preschoolers that they can overcome their fears.

Joyce: You left a lot of room in the text for illustrations, which was great for me! Is that a challenging thing to do as a writer?
Laura: YES!!!!!!!!! It is extremely hard to do! As an author, you have to resist the temptation to write a zillion detailed illustration notes and instead trust the illustrator to make magic happen. I always need to remind myself that if I am doing my job correctly, then my words—without the pictures—should only tell part of the story. If a child could hear only the words and get the full experience of my story, then I’ve totally failed.

Joyce: When you were writing this book, how did you imagine the illustrations?
Laura: I imagined the illustrations like Richard Scarry’s illustrations in I Am A Bunny. Just as you can see every hair on his bunny, I imagined seeing every feather on Peep. It’s hilarious to think about that now, since your style is totally different and yet I LOVE LOVE LOVE your interpretation of my words, and the magic we made together. That’s what I mean about trusting the illustrator—and also trusting the editor to make the perfect partnership between words and pictures. I know Janine, our wonderful editor, had you in mind from the beginning. It was her wisdom that made Peep and Egg the adorable book it is today!

Joyce: Peep and Egg is also written entirely in dialogue. Was that something that evolved as you were writing the story or was that something you decided from the start?
Laura: Over the various versions of Peep and Egg, certain aspects of the story changed—the ending most of all. But the story started in dialogue and stayed that way through every revision.

Joyce: Would you say you are more like Peep or more like Egg? (I’m more like Peep and tend to jump head first into everything!)
Laura: Now I know why we make a great team. I am definitely an Egg. I worry about everything and most days would love to stay inside my safe, cozy shell (as long as I could have chocolate inside, and a good book to read!).

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Laura Asks Joyce…

Laura: When you began developing the characters, who was more difficult to draw–Peep or Egg? (In this case, I mean Egg as an egg. I still can’t believe how much personality you bring out for Egg without the benefit of facial expressions!)
Joyce: The voice in the manuscript was so strong I could see the characters in my head right away. They were a joy to draw because they are such opposites personality-wise, and so expressive in their dialogue. Yes, Egg as an egg was hardest as I was unable to show facial expressions or body movements, but it was a fun challenge.

Laura: How did you decide on the color palate that you used? Did you experiment with other colors before narrowing in?
Joyce: I tend to gravitate to a particular color palette in a lot of my work and they’re usually colors that are a little off from the traditional rainbow colors. So instead of straight red, green and blue, I love colors like blush pink, olive, teal, lime, and aqua, which you will see a lot of in Peep and Egg.

Laura: Can you tell us a little about the process of designing the ridiculously adorable cover?
Joyce: What initially started as a two-book project became a four-book project over the course of working on the first two books [side note from Laura: WOO-HOO!] so I felt like this first book cover needed to be branded in a way so that recognizable design elements could be carried over a few books. I even sought feedback from my design-savvy agent on a number of design ideas, which helped me tremendously throughout the cover design process. That is one of the nice things about having an agent who worked on the design side of publishing before becoming an agent. It took a few rounds of different ideas before I reached a final design that the editor loved.

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Laura: Which illustration from the book is your favorite? Mine is Egg wearing the football helmet.
Joyce: I like the front endpaper, as I hid a little surprise for readers to discover.

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I suppose you’ll have to pick up PEEP AND EGG to find out!

Thanks, ladies. I can see this adorable series easily growing into a dozen books! A DOZEN! GET IT? (Groan, Tara.)

Macmillan is giving away a copy of PEEP & EGG: I’M NOT HATCHING to one lucky blog commenter. U.S. addresses only, please. Just leave a comment below to enter. Giveaway closes March 14th!

 


Laura Gehl is the author of ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title, International Literacy Association Honor Book, and Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice for 2014; HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL and AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP (both PJ library selections for 2015 and 2016); and the PEEP AND EGG series. A former science and reading teacher, she also writes about science for children and adults. Laura lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her husband and four children. Visit her online at lauragehl.com.

Joyce Wan is an award-winning author and illustrator of many best-selling books for children, including YOU ARE MY CUPCAKE, WE BELONG TOGETHER, and THE WHALE IN MY SWIMMING POOL, which was a Junior Library Guild Spring 2015 selection. When she’s not working on books, she teaches courses at The School of Visual Arts in New York City. Joyce is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and currently lives in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Through all her work, she hopes to inspire people to embrace the spirit of childhood and follow their dreams. Visit Joyce online at wanart.com.

by Laura Gehl

kwameUnless you live in a cave (a real cave…hiding from the cold under your covers doesn’t count), you know that Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal on February 2nd for his book THE CROSSOVER.

On February 19th, I was lucky enough to hear Kwame speak informally in a Question & Answer session at the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C.

Listening to Kwame was so inspiring that I began furiously scribbling notes, with the idea that I could share the experience with other children’s writers.

Ten things I learned (all over again!) from Kwame Alexander:

1. Kwame can’t write at home because his six-year-old daughter tries to make him dress up like a princess. So he writes at Panera instead.

My Takeaway: We all have distractions in our lives.

2. Kwame also likes to write at Panera because he can steal from those around him…a snippet of conversation, the way a man touches a woman’s cheek…

My Takeaway: You are always working as long as you are aware of the world around you. Yes, this means you can totally go to Hawaii, sit on the beach, and consider it work. (Please consult your tax advisor before writing off the trip, however.)

3. THE CROSSOVER took five years from concept to sale.

My Takeaway: Be patient. (My critique partners know that this is not exactly my strong suit.)

4. Kwame got twenty-two rejections on THE CROSSOVER and was considering self-publishing before he finally got an acceptance.

My Takeaway: Those twenty-two editors must feel like idiots. Just kidding. My real takeaway: Don’t give up. Or, as Kwame put it, “You have to say yes to yourself.”

5. When he needed to revise THE CROSSOVER, Kwame Googled “novel in verse writing coach” and then worked with his coach for months.

My Takeaway: Revision is hard. Nobody can do it alone. Also, thank goodness for Google.

6. Kwame said, “Publishers don’t know what they want until they get it.”

My Takeaway: Write what you are passionate about, not what you think editors are looking for. If your book is great, it will get published.

7. When Kwame was speaking, every single person there…from picture book writers to YA writers to nonfiction writers to illustrators…from the unpublished to the multi-award-winning…was captivated. Enthralled. The whole room crackled with excitement, and with happiness and pride for Kwame.

My Takeaway: The kidlit community is amazing, and we can all gain knowledge, inspiration, and support from one another.

8. Other Newbery winners told Kwame, “The price of a Newbery is a book,” meaning that he should give himself a break this year and just enjoy the ride.

My Takeaway: Successes can be few and far between in this business, and it is easy to immediately go from “YAY! I GOT A CONTRACT TODAY!” to “Okay, now I need to sell another book.” We should all take time to truly appreciate and enjoy every success—big and little—along the way.

9. The night before the Newbery announcement, Kwame couldn’t sleep. He drank root beer, watched TV, worried and wondered…could all of those who said THE CROSSOVER was a Newbery contender maybe, just maybe, be right? Around 3:00 am, Kwame decided to re-read the book. He found a bunch of errors and decided that his awful book could not possibly have won the award.

My Takeaway: We all doubt ourselves. Especially at 3:00 am.

10. Kwame said, “We are at our best when our passions become our jobs.”

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My Takeaway: We are incredibly lucky to be writing books for children. Who could possibly ask for a better job???

Oh…and one more thing I learned, as a bonus for those of you who read this far:

11. A year and a half ago, Kwame was selling his books from a small booth at Eastern Market in Washington D.C. (and had happily paid $100 for the privilege of selling books from that booth).

My Takeaway: Just like the boys in SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE don’t realize just how close they are to an enormous diamond, you never know just how close you may be to enormous success. [Refer back to #3…Be patient…and #4…Don’t give up.]

lauragehlLaura Gehl’s newest picture books are AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL. She is also the author of ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, and the PEEP AND EGG series (hatching Spring 2016). You can visit Laura online at LauraGehl.com and Facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.

by Laura Gehl

In November, there are no bad ideas. You write down every single thought that comes into your brain. And that’s good. But then…December comes. And now there are bad ideas. Bad ideas that you need to separate out from your other ideas. So you can focus on pursuing your promising ideas without all the clutter holding you back.

To help categorize your PiBoIdMo ideas, I’ve created this handy diagram, adapted from What If? by Randall Monroe.

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Start by putting all your ideas quickly into the “Possibly Good” or “Possibly Bad” boxes. Don’t think too hard. Most of your ideas will go into Possibly Good. But some will go into Possibly Bad.

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Now it’s time to start moving things around.

  1. Type your title ideas into Amazon. Does one of your brilliant, witty titles already exist, or something too similar? If so, boot that idea out of the “Possibly Good” box. No reason to start with strikes against you. This happened to me recently with my “Possibly Good” idea of Jellyfish Loves Peanut Butter. Turned out there are several Peanut Butter and Jellyfish books out there already.

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  1. Take a look at your “Possibly Bad” ideas. Some of them will go straight into “Probably Bad.”

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Other “Possibly Bad” ideas might go into “Probably Bad” and then get resuscitated later, with a little twist.

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  1. When you read through your “Possibly Good” ideas, there will probably be a few ideas that make you smile just to think about. Make your brain buzz like you drank a cup of coffee. Make you itch to go start writing right this second. Those ideas are the ones you want to move on over to the “Probably Good” box right away.

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Once you identify some “Probably Good” ideas to start working on, keep your PostPiBo diagram handy. When you get stuck, pick out a “Probably Bad” idea and…just for fun…write a few lines of that story. Afterward, your brain may be a little bit more ready to focus. Or maybe you’ll discover a way to twist the bunny-stabbing unicorn into a “Possibly Good” idea….after all, it’s never been done.

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Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, which released in September. She is also the author of four upcoming picture books: And Then Another Sheep Turned Up; Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel; Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching; and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Trick or Treating. Laura is also the author of 57,982 Possibly Good Ideas, and 26, 444 Probably Bad Ideas. She lives with her husband and four children in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Visit Laura online at www.lauragehl.com and http://www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.

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