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Today I invited author Laurie Wallmark to pontificate on a female computer science pioneer…and to introduce her new picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, illustrated by Katy Wu.

Laurie and I first met ten years ago (!!!) when I joined her critique group. Who could imagine that a decade later, we would be celebrating each other’s books?

Laurie, this is your second PB biography about an important female computer scientist (the first being award-winning ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE). What drew you to your subjects?

People say, “write what you know,” but I disagree. If you’re not familiar with a topic or an idea, you can always research it. I’d rather say, “write what you’re passionate about.” After all, you and your story will be together for a very long time. From your initial idea to that first draft, from innumerable revisions to a published book, you will read your story over and over and over again. If you’re not passionate about the topic, this will turn from a joy to an agony.

I’m passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Two of my four (so far!) careers have been in computer science, one as a programmer and the other as a professor. Therefore, it seemed logical that I write my first two picture book biographies about people who contributed so much to the field.

My other passion is wanting to make sure that all children—regardless of sex, race, religion, physical or mental challenges, etc.—realize that it’s possible for anyone to have a love for, and possibly a career in, STEM. Picture book biographies of strong women STEM show girls that they too can succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field.

What about Grace Hopper’s story inspired you to write it?

It bothered me that someone who was so instrumental in shaping today’s world of computers had been entirely overlooked in the children’s trade-book market. Grace is the person who made it possible for anyone (including kids) to be able to program a computer, not just engineers and mathematicians. By sharing her love and knowledge of computers and programming, she encouraged others to consider a career in software engineering.

Shouldn’t our children know about the accomplishments of someone who was so important to the birth of our modern technological society? Yes, there are a few school/library titles about her, but these are not books a child would pick up and read. They’re dry recitations of the events of Grace’s life. In addition, they contain factual inaccuracies.

Without Grace’s idea to use English words to program computers, probably fewer people would have chosen programming as a career. Without enough programmers, there would be fewer programs and apps written. Without programs and apps, our computers and phones would not be much less powerful.

So that’s why I wrote this book—to introduce children to one of the most important computer scientists who ever lived.

You write both fiction and biographies. Which do you prefer? (Am I pulling a Sophie’s Choice on you?)

I can’t believe you’re asking me to choose between my beloved children. And what about my third child, poetry? Luckily, as a writer, I don’t have to choose. In fact, my master’s thesis combined all three—fiction, biography, and verse. I wrote a novel in verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace.

If I did have to choose, the answer would have to depend on my current project. I’m working on a biography of a woman mathematician right now, so biography is the favored child. Not to worry, fiction and poetry, you’ll soon have the chance to be number one in my heart.

What interesting facts about Grace Hopper did not make it into the book?

Because of the limited word count, one of the many challenges in writing a picture book biography is deciding what to include and what to leave out. For example, my book has a scene of Grace constructing a doll house. What’s not included in the book is she decorated that dollhouse by making her own tiny furniture, curtains, and rugs. She also sewed clothes for her dolls taking up residence.

Another incident, also from childhood, is when Grace’s canoe capsized. After her mother shouted for her to remember her great-grandfather, the admiral, Grace didn’t abandon ship. Instead she kicked her way back to the shore, dragging the canoe behind her.

These stories emphasize Grace’s self reliance and can-do attitude. But so do some of the stories that did make it into the book, so these two weren’t needed. Stories like how Grace convinced the Navy to let her enlist even though she was too old and too skinny. Or how she convinced her colleagues and the world how important it was for computer languages to use words instead of only numbers.

Laurie, thank you for decoding Grace Hopper’s life and presenting the world with another picture book biography about an important female computer scientist. Congratulations on all your work and success!

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography about Grace Hopper.

Sterling Children’s Books is giving away a copy of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE. Please leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

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.

normanreadingendangeredplanet

Stuffed Norman by dollsforfriends.com!

A four-foot-tall stuffed NORMAL NORMAN sits in my house and my 12-year-old forgets he’s here, so she jumps upon spotting him, not unlike Gloria’s reaction to dog-butler Barkley on Modern Family. OH DIOS MIO!

gloriabarkley

It’s exciting and shocking to see your character come to life. Although, truth be told, Norman is not really MY character. If you were participating in PiBoIdMo this past November, you discovered that I didn’t know what kind of animal Norman was. I left the art note blank in my manuscript. Editor Meredith Mundy asked me what Norman was but I refused to name his species—I thought an illustrator would do a much better job. So Norman, he really belongs to S.britt. Only Stephan could have created a purple orangutan with handsome-nerd glasses and such emotional expressions. But it did take a while to find the real Norman. The first few attempts didn’t feel quite right. But we all knew it when the true Normal Norman revealed himself. On a unicycle.

Normal Norman stripe sketch   Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

Normal Norman unicycle

So if I didn’t imagine Norman, how did he come to life?

I began with his name, the title: Normal Norman. That’s all I had. But I knew there was no way Norman could actually BE normal. No siree. He had to revolt at all I threw at him. By making my character act in unexpected ways, I conveyed a message to readers that I didn’t necessarily intend, but which worked out perfectly: there’s really no such thing as “normal.” We are all different in our own special—sometimes zany—ways. And that’s something that should be celebrated.

I’ll be celebrating the release of Normal Norman in just a few days, on March 1st! Sterling Children’s Books is giving away five copies via GoodReads—please click below to enter and add Norman to your want-to-read list!

nngoodreads

If you’d like to pre-order a signed copy, please call my good friends at The Bookworm in Bernardsville, NJ at 908-766-4599. I’ll dash over there to personalize and sign it.

normalnormancoverfinal

A couple of places I’m not dashing are London and Bologna for the international book fairs. But guess who is? Yep, you’ve guessed it: Norman. He’s on a world tour! I hope they don’t serve bananas in first class.

Meanwhile, the author will be on a virtual tour. Be sure to stop by these entertaining blogs for all kinds of uncommon fun and giveaways. But sorry, we’re not giving away stuffed Norman. After all, he’s got a jet-set schedule. Lucky dude!

NNblogtourscheduleFINAL

Meredith Mundy headshotby Meredith Mundy

I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as a children’s book editor. (Still loving it as much as ever!) One of the questions I am still asked most often is why an author and illustrator so rarely collaborate directly. Why WOULDN’T it be a great thing for the two creative parents to discuss and brainstorm? Why don’t I encourage lengthy Skype chats about their amazing book-to-be? What’s up with those control-freak publishers anyway?!

Most people assume the worst: surely author and illustrator are kept apart so the publishers can hold all the cards, hoard all the power. But I am here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth! The reason editors and art directors keep the wordsmith separate from the artist is to allow for maximum inspiration and creative freedom on BOTH sides. Authors needn’t weigh down their manuscripts with descriptions of scenery or characters, and illustrators are allowed unencumbered freedom to conjure with paintbrush or pixels the story’s characters and surroundings without trying to match an author’s vision of them.

I’d like to share three very recent examples of how well it can work out when an author trusts an illustrator and refuses to define how a character should look or how a plot should unfold visually:

  1. When Tara Lazar sent in her hilarious picture book manuscript for NORMAL NORMAN, in which a scientist attempts to pin down a definition for the word “normal,” I needled her to tell me more. Who exactly is this scientist? And who—or what—is Norman?? But Tara could not be persuaded—she had complete faith that illustrator Stephan Britt (AKA S.britt) would know exactly what to do with the scientist narrator and his or her mysterious test subject. It was fascinating to see Stephan experiment.
    .
    First Norman looked a bit like a lion.Normal Norman stripe sketch

    Then he looked more like a friendly monster.

    Normal Norman colorful sketch (1)

    Finally Stephan found exactly the right Norman.

    Normal Norman unicycle

    Who knew he would be a purple orangutan in square-frame glasses?!

    And much to our surprise, the scientist turned out to be a young Latina girl in black Mary Janes and a stylish bob. This certainly would NOT have been the case had Tara (or art director Merideth Harte or I) attempted to sway Stephan in some definite direction.

    normalnormancoverfinal

  2. Tammi Sauer is another author who very rarely includes illustration notes in her manuscripts. When I acquired YOUR ALIEN, I asked Tammi what the lost extraterrestrial in her story might look like, and all she would say is that she hoped it would be so adorable that readers everywhere would wish for an alien to crash land in THEIR front yards.

    youralien
    By giving illustrator Goro Fujita complete carte blanche to imagine the cutest alien in the whole universe, Tammi got exactly what she’d hoped for. See for yourself!Your Alien interior-endpaper
  3. My final example of an author bravely allowing an illustrator’s inspiration to take the driver’s seat is Kim Norman and her charming THIS OLD VAN, sung to the tune of “This Old Man.”
    .
    This Old Van book coverNot only did she boldly leave wide open what exactly the characters should look like . . . she also left the entire ending up for grabs! In this rollicking picture book road trip, a pair of hippie grandparents receive a very important invitation from their grandson. Soon they are zipping cross-country in their trusty old van, which must deliver them to their destination in time for The Big Event. But WHAT IS THAT EVENT?, I kept asking Kim. She assured me that illustrator Carolyn Conahan would come up with something PERFECT, but I was too anxious. Surely an illustrator would want some guidance from the author on something as crucial as the ending, wouldn’t she?? Reluctantly, at my insistence, Kim brainstormed a few ideas—perhaps the grandson was starring in the school play or had a big solo in a recital? Carolyn wisely ignored the illustration notes and surprised us with a grand finale so clever that any alternative is unthinkable now: of course the grandson is racing his own miniature version of the old van in the Downhill Derby!

    This Old Van interior - right side of spread

For those of you writing picture books, I challenge you to leave 50% of the inspiration to an illustrator. You are not alone and by no means have to do all the heavy lifting. Write the story and then step away. And for those of you illustrating picture books, I challenge you to ignore any illustration notes that don’t inspire you! Trust one another from afar, inspire one another at a distance, and then get together AFTER the book is printed to celebrate what your wonderful, individual, untainted visions brought into the world.


Meredith Mundy, Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books, has always had a passion for character-centered picture books with heart, but she is also seeking everything from funny, original board books to unforgettable middle grade novels to gripping contemporary YA fiction. While she enjoys editing lively nonfiction, she wouldn’t be the right editor for poetry collections or projects geared primarily toward the school and library market.

Meredith is very proud to be blogging alongside such a wonderful group of people, including five stellar Sterling authors/illustrators whose picture books are among her very favorites: Josh Funk, Tara Lazar, Kim Norman, Tammi Sauer, and Liza Woodruff.

PrizeDetails (2)
Want to give the slush pile the slip? Want to know what advice a seasoned picture book editor would give you? Now’s your chance! Meredith is giving away a free picture book critique.

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!

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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Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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