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DRESS ME!

No, not me. I’m quite capable of dressing myself, thankyouverymuch. Although I often remain in my pajamas. It’s a comfortable life!

I’m talking about the new book by author-illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy, and it’s a dress-up delight for little readers. What child doesn’t love pretend play, imagining themselves as anything they long to be?

dressme

paintmeSarah Frances, how did DRESS ME! come to be?

I knew I wanted to do a companion book for PAINT ME! which released last year from Sky Pony Press, and I had written a manuscript for a dress up book a few years ago that never quite worked. My agent and I talked through it, and she suggested I take the dress-up idea and do another “me!” book with that.

So did you play dress up as a child? What was your favorite thing to be? Were any of your childhood choices reflected in the book?

Did I ever!

The best Christmas gift I ever received was from my grandmother when I was about eight-years-old. She gave me an antique trunk full of the most fabulous dress up clothes ever—shoes, gloves, funky hats, bridal veil, aprons. Over the years, I added to the collection with anything I could find. My dad was a doctor and he gave me a real stethoscope as well as a set of his scrubs …so those definitely found their way into my book.

doctorme

I don’t remember what my favorite thing to be was, but there are lots of pictures of me wearing a mish-mash of gloves, sparkly dress, high heels and a bridal veil with a hat over it. I can only describe the look as “eccentric hippie bag lady”. And no, that look didn’t make it into the book. 🙂

The little girl in the book is having a fabulous time. What do you think her favorite dress up costume was? (Besides the last one, of course, which we can’t give away!)

Since the book was inspired by (and dedicated to) my middle daughter Sallie who’s a dancer, I’m going to have to say the tutu. Who wouldn’t love getting to do lots of fun twirlies?

dancerme

When did you know you wanted to be an author-illustrator? When did you go from “dressing up” as one to being one?

One of my favorite props to bring to school visits is my paint smock which is one of my husband’s old button-downs that’s now covered in paint. So I still dress the part!

sfhstudio

But to answer your question, my background was in fine art, and I spent years showing in galleries and art shows.

sfhfineart

But I had always had a secret dream of writing and illustrating children’s books, and over the years, I submitted manuscripts and illustrations to a handful of publishers without any luck. When my youngest daughter was a baby (she’s eleven now), I decided to shift gears and really commit to being a published author/illustrator. I started going to SCBWI conferences and learning everything that I could about the entire process. I sent out manuscripts and got rejected. I revised, revised, revised—both the writing and my illustrations. I sold my first book PUZZLED BY PINK in 2010 (it released in 2012).

The story would not be the same without the cute little doggie sidekick. Is he fashioned after anyone you know?

All of my books feature a pet following the main character throughout the story and getting in on the action. In PAINT ME!, a gray Schnauzer follows the little girl around as she paints everything around her. He is based on the dog I had when I was a little girl. In DRESS ME!, I chose a King Charles Spaniel for no other reason except that I think they are the cutest little dogs (we have one in our neighborhood). The dog we have now is a giant Black Lab named Jake, and while I’d love to feature him in a book, I was afraid he’d overwhelm the little girl in the story–both in size and energy level! Also, after painting a black cat in every spread in my first book PUZZLED BY PINK, I vowed to never feature another solid black animal. It was so hard!

Besides having fun, what’s the message at the heart of “Dress Me!”?

The message at the heart of the story is “be yourself.”

But I also wanted to throw in a (not so subtle) message to young girls that it’s doesn’t always have to be about dressing up in sparkles and high heels. Girls can be anything they want to be whether it’s a monster or a doctor or a teacher, and it has more to do with what you can do than what you look like.

sarahfrancesAmen to that!

Thanks, Sarah Frances, for introducing us to your new book. And thank you for offering blog readers a signed copy!

Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite dress-up memory. (One comment per person, please.) A random winner will be selected in a couple weeks. (Which sometimes means more than a couple, LOL.)

You can also learn more about Sarah Frances Hardy, her books and her fine art at www.sfhardy.com.

What a busy April over here! So many creative new picture books to celebrate!

Sarah Frances Hardy certainly has reason to party—even tea party. Her debut picture book releases today!

PUZZLED BY PINK is the story of what happens when Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy, with whimsical watercolor illustrations that will delight little girls on both sides of the fence, whether they LOVE pink or just don’t get what the big fuss is all about.

Please welcome Sarah to the blog today! *throws confetti* *serves tea and orange-cranberry scones*

TD: Sarah, on this blog we like to talk about story ideas. Tell us, where did the inspiration for Izzie and her sister Rose come from?

SFH: The inspiration for Izzie came from my oldest daughter. When she was little, it seems like every book geared toward little girls was pink, pink, pink…and she just wasn’t into it. I wanted to write a book for girls who wanted to be girls, but they wanted to do it without having to wear pink-glittered fairy wings.

Rose, Izzie’s little sister, is inspired by my middle daughter who has always loved everything about being a girly-girl—from ballet to pink to tutus.

TD: So is your youngest daughter represented in the book?

SFH: Ha! She’s asked me that too, and I tell her that she is Jinx, the pet cat, who is actually the most fun character in the book. She’s thrilled.

TD: I’d love to be Jinx, too! Izzie a strong character who does her own thing even though it’s not popular. How do you hope young readers will relate to her?

SFH: Well, I think we’ve all had the experience of being excluded because we’re a little different or we’re not wearing the right thing. I hope kids will take away the message that you can be yourself, dress the way you want to, and still go to the party.

It takes courage to say you’re going to do your own thing and stick to your guns! But it’s always best to be true to yourself .

TD: So tell us a little about your journey to publication as an author-illustrator. We authors say it must be “easier” for an author-illustrator to break into the business, while author-illustrators may say it’s easier to wear just one hat. (I tend to think no matter how many hats you wear, it’s never easy! Especially if they’re sombreros and you can’t fit thru the doorway.) What do you think?

SFH: It is a sombrero! And the door feels like it’s tiny!

But I will say that it’s a little easier to get an agent if you are both an author/illustrator because you don’t have to split royalties, and there are more agents out there who are willing to represent you.

The downside is that you are giving editors TWO reasons to reject you, so I always tell people to be sure that their illustrations and text are equally strong.

My journey is fairly typical in that I spent years going to conferences and learning everything I could about the craft of writing and illustrating for children. I wrote some pretty terrible books, submitted them, and amassed a small mountain of rejection letters,

Finally, I came up with this character and concept, and I started getting a little interest. I signed with my amazing agent and worked on revisions for several months with her. In the summer of 2010, I sold my book to Viking Children’s Books.

TD: PUZZLED BY PINK is a great title many little girls (like my green-and-blue-loving one) can relate to. Was this your title from the start of the project?

SFH: No. It actually had the very boring title TEA PARTY at first. PUZZLED BY PINK actually emerged from a brainstorming session that I had when I was sending my manuscript out to agents. In earlier versions of the manuscript, my main character Izzie was an angry little girl—kind of a curmudgeon. I was talking about the book with a friend and I said “Izzie shouldn’t HATE pink…she just doesn’t get what the big deal is. She’s puzzled by pink.”

That phrase not only became the title but it helped me craft Izzie into a more likable character.

TD: Oh, I love that story! And I love how the title is all glittery pink on the cover, with Izzie giving a cute little smirk.

Your book has been described as “Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy”. Wednesday is one of my all-time favorite TV characters. If she were to endorse your book, what do you think she’d say?

SFH: If she were to blurb my book, she’d probably say something like: “Finally! Someone who knows how to throw a decent party. I’ve found a kindred spirit in Izzie.”

TD: And we’ve found a kindred spirit in you, Sarah! Thanks for sharing  the behind-the-tea-party scenes with us.

And now…someone please pass the cucumber sandwiches!

Whoops, sorry…I mean, please comment to win a copy of PUZZLED BY PINK!

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

Comments will close at the end of April 25 with a winner announced on April 26.

Good luck!

Sarah Frances Hardy is an author-illustrator and fine artist living in Mississippi with her husband and three daughters (who are not named Izzie, Rose and Jinx). Visit her at sfhardy.com and connect with her “Picture This” blog…which features photos of a cool local window display (well, TWO displays) dedicated to her book!

Thanks to everyone who visited Salina Yoon’s post about her newest and most challenging novelty book, KALEIDOSCOPE. The winner of the signed copy is:

DONNA SHEPHERD!

Congratulations, Donna! Be on the lookout for an email from me…

Didn’t win? No worries. There’s more giveaways coming in the next two weeks. Yes, it’s a busy Spring over here! Here’s a sneaky peekie (what my five-year-old calls it):

Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino’s BOY + BOT

Sarah Frances Hardy’s PUZZLED BY PINK

Carolyn Crimi and Stephanie Buscema’s PUGS IN A BUG

Ammi-Joan Paquette & Marie Letourneau’s THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS

It’s a Picture Book Palooza!

Plus, don’t forget, if you’re not already subscribed to my blog via email, join today to be entered into a SEPARATE “new follower” three-picture-book-prize-pack giveaway on April 1st (EXTRA YARN, BOY + BOT, ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT). I’m not foolin’! Just enter your email address in the left column.

by Sarah Frances Hardy

As an author/illustrator of picture books, my process for creating picture book characters involves a constant back and forth between my keyboard and sketchbook. I have to “draw them out.”

I start with my keyboard, and the first thing I do is ask myself lots of questions about my main character.

  • What does she love?
  • What does she hate?
  • Is she messy?
  • What type of clothes does she wear?
  • What’s her favorite color?
  • Does she have pets?
  • Is she scared of lizards?
  • Does she play the violin?
  • Is she afraid of her mailman?
  • Does she like to eat Cool Whip sandwiches on white bread? (okay, that one was MY favorite sandwich when I was little!)
  • Would she help her worst enemy?
  • Is she cute? Precocious? Bookish? Obnoxious?. . .

I get pretty specific and allow for the unexpected to pop in. Don’t we all love a character with some weird little surprising personality quirk?

When I finally hit upon the perfect character who has her own unique gumbo of personality traits, then it’s time to pull out the sketchbook. I draw facial expressions and hairdos. Wardrobes and bedrooms. I really get to know my character visually–I need to be able to see how she likes to stand (arms crossed protectively in front or hands sassily on hips), what she likes to wear (tie dyed t-shirts or tutus), and what things she loves to do (ballet or tai kwon do).

Then I think about objects that would inhabit her world. Little details scattered in the illustrations of a picture book help create a rich character, kind of like the world building writers do when writing fantasy stories. I just do my world building visually–actually drawing a world with beds and chairs and clothes and people. For me, visualizing my world is a necessary step before I begin to think about writing plot. I like to have my stage set and my characters in full costume before I turn them loose to tell me their stories.

If I’ve done my job, then my main character and how she relates to the world will lead me to a plot. There will be something in her personality that stands out, and it’s up to me to put something in her way. For example, if she really hates something–like sports. I make her put on a pair of soccer cleats and play. Or, if she’s really embarrassed about something–like her frilly blankie that she sleeps with every night. I make sure someone exposes her at a spend-the-night party.

I ask myself “What’s the worst thing that can happen to my main character based on her unique personality?” And, then I do it to her (I know–I’m such a meanie!). But, since I’m an illustrator, I do this visually. I draw the way she would stand if forced to put on full soccer gear. I draw her reaction to being exposed at the party.

And, this conflicted character that I’ve pulled out, drawn out, of her comfort zone, leads me back to my keyboard to bang out a story . . .

Sarah Frances Hardy, a Southern girl living in Oxford, Mississippi, took an early retirement from practicing law to paint and write full time. She has exhibited her work in galleries throughout the Southeast as well as in New York. Her corporate clients include Steve Wynn who purchased several of Sarah Frances’s paintings for the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Sarah Frances’s debut picture book, pitched as “Wednesday Addams meets Fancy Nancy”, which she wrote and illustrated will be published by Viking Children’s Books in 2012. Sarah Frances also writes middle grade novels which are set in the South. She is inspired by her three daughters, who each couldn’t be more different.

Sarah Frances is represented by Joanna Volpe at Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation. Learn more about Sarah Frances Hardy at her website www.sfhardy.com and her blog www.plotthis.blogspot.com.

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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